The Braves have invested a half-decade in accumulating pitching, but with the team ahead of schedule, it’ll consider the pluses and minuses of acquiring a seasoned front-line arm.
It’s not a new discussion. Even when the Braves were mired in losing seasons, they frolicked in trade discussions for Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Chris Archer, Sonny Gray and others.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos considered an Archer deal in July, but the cost was prohibitive. He appears wise for holding steady. In fact, Sale was the only of the aforementioned names who was worth his cost (note that Anthopoulos wasn’t the team’s GM when those players were traded).
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But Sale is the rare optimal outcome. Does anyone care what Boston surrendered for the lefty? The prospects are worth it if you acquire the right player. He’s a top two pitcher in the American League for the best team in baseball. He started Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday.
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That’s why the Braves need another top-rated starter. That’s not a knock on Mike Foltynewicz, who was excellent in his first All-Star campaign. The Braves lost both his starts in the postseason, though the second one wasn’t his doing.
Even with “bullpening” a prominent postseason verb, the cream of the crop has rich rotations with a frontliner, if not multiple. The Braves didn’t have a Clayton Kershaw to give them seven shutout innings. They didn’t even have a Hyun-Jin Ryu. Two of their five regular starters, Kevin Gausman and Julio Teheran, were consigned to the bullpen.
Another reliable name atop that rotation with Foltynewicz – it doesn’t have to be a Sale, perhaps a Patrick Corbin, who’s a free agent this winter – alters the group’s perception. It’s OK for the Braves to start thinking like a postseason team.
Anthopoulos traded for David Price during his Toronto tenure. He was part of the Dodgers’ front office that acquired Yu Darvish. Both were rentals, but challenging deals to consummate. The tough part is determining if such investment’s pros outweigh the cons.
“If there’s a deal that makes sense for us, and it’s a good asset to have, we’ll do it,” Anthopoulos said. “I think the one where you scratch and really push, and you want to call it overpay in years or dollars, you feel like that’s the one final piece. Everything else is in place. That could be a trade in July. You step up a little bit. Your 24 is that good and your 25th piece is going to carry the 24, that’s where you stretch a little bit.
“I don’t think we’re there yet right now. So I do think, especially with our payroll and so on, we have to make smart deals.”
And so the Braves and Corbin could be an unlikely match. He’ll command a robust market entering “overpay” territory. Anthopoulos believes in studying past free-agent markets to cite trends; such would indicate a rewarding pay day for Corbin.
Corbin, 29, is outstanding and would be a coup for the Braves, but he isn’t the difference between a first-round exit and World Series right now. They’ll need a few dominoes to fall their way for that signing.
The wealth of prospects plays a role. Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint and Kyle Wright could develop into “the guy.”
“Some of these young guys have a chance, you just don’t know what their path is going to be,” Anthopoulos said. “If you would’ve told me three years ago Mike Foltynewicz would have a chance to be an All-Star, when you see his stuff, the ability, first-round draft pick, that wouldn’t shock me. And he finally did it.”
Anthopoulos and company will identify potential All-Stars and perhaps look to cash in others. The Braves made bigger name prospects available at the deadline, the GM confirmed, which indicates a willingness to move pitching for immediate help.
Jacob deGrom will be the center of rumors. The Mets are hiring a new GM, and Brodie Van Wagenen, deGrom’s agent, is among their three finalists. Indications are that the team intends to compete in 2019, so even if Van Wagenen doesn’t get the job, a deGrom trade might have to wait.
He certainly would be worth the prospects. deGrom presents a Sale-like opportunity after posting a 1.70 ERA across 217 innings, likely earning the Cy Young award. They received trade calls around the deadline, but no offers scratched the surface of consideration.
If the Mets listen, the Braves should be involved, even if the rivals reaching an agreement is doubtful. It would take a prospect bounty that would probably still prove worth it. DeGrom even grew up watching the Braves and Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. Both hail from the DeLand, Florida, area.
“He’s a good guy,” deGrom told The AJC during All-Star week. “Anytime we’re in Atlanta I get to talk to him, see how he’s doing. I grew up watching him play, so definitely pretty cool to be able to meet him and play this game.”
After Corbin and deGrom, the market is less clear. Arizona reportedly could move Zack Greinke, whose 35 and due over $100 million across the next three seasons. He’s been an All-Star back-to-back years, and his contract doesn’t look as ludicrous as it once did.
That said, the Braves probably don’t want to pay for Greinke’s potential down years. Anthopoulos saw him up close two years in the NL West, and his former co-workers in L.A. knew Greinke well. It just doesn’t feel like an ideal match.
Perhaps Robbie Ray, a Diamondback with two years of arbitration remaining, makes more sense. The Yankees will work to trade Gray, but he might not be the difference maker worth adding.
There’s the big what-if in Madison Bumgarner. The Giants have resisted rebuilding, and like the Mets are bringing in a new GM. He’ll have his $12 million club option exercised and hit free agency as a 30-year-old in 2020.
If San Francisco puts him out there, the Braves would explore it. He’s a proven postseason pitcher. There’s belief that if he were to change jerseys, the Braves are a preferred destination. A North Carolina native, an extension seems palatable, though you risk paying for his decline.
The Braves won’t force the issue. There’s the 2019 trade deadline and many more winters. They have a cupboard of pitchers to assess. Maybe they have their own deGrom or Bumgarner for another five years.
“We’ll come up with our own internal values on guys,” Anthopoulos said. “If that value is there early, we’ll jump. Part of it is trying to get a sense of the market. Part of it is, as you’re talking to the other 29 clubs about trades, you’re getting a sense for – basically teams will sit down and say ‘What are you going to do? What areas?’ Everyone’s going to take notes on what everyone’s going to do. That’s a normal thing.
“And as you start to look at it, if 15 teams are telling you they need one area, and you look at the free agent part in that respective area and there’s only two or three viable guys, you know that market has a chance to really climb and inflate. Maybe that’s one you check the market early, the supply and demand component, and you think it’s advantageous to wait because the dropoff between the guy you ranked one and three is pretty close.”