Donaldson is the integral cog of the Braves’ offseason machine. Should he leave, they’ll face the task of adding a middle-of-the-order bat and likely a third baseman, as youngster Austin Riley didn’t cement himself as the clear Plan B.
“The internal (options) are Riley and (Johan) Camargo,” Anthopoulos said. “So obviously if the season was to start today, those are the guys on the roster. They’d compete. We’ll see if we add from the outside.”
When asked about Donaldson: “Normally I would speak on it, but I’m not going to get into free agents.”
A name bantered about if Donaldson leaves: Milwaukee free agent Mike Moustakas. “Moose” likely will want a multi-year commitment after living off one-year deals recently, but the infielder presents perhaps the best free-agent option after Donaldson and Rendon.
Moustakas, 31, is coming off his third All-Star season. He hit .254/.329/.516 with 35 homers and 87 RBIs in 143 games, making him a logical candidate to fill the clean-up spot in the order.
MLB Trade Rumors projected Moustakas would land in Atlanta on a two-year, $20 million deal. It's a reasonable price – maybe even a conservative estimation – that makes sense if the Braves miss on Donaldson.
But their preference, undoubtedly, is to retain Donaldson, who despite turning 34 next month should command a deal over two years. And while his market appears robust, the Braves are still commonly considered the front-runners to keep him.
The Giants’ Madison Bumgarner and Mets’ Zack Wheeler are oft-mentioned names connected to the Braves as they (again) try to supplement their rotation with veteran help. Wheeler, the third-best starter available in free agency, likely winds up priced out of their range.
The same could be said for Bumgarner, though it's less likely. Bumgarner, 30, and the Braves have long felt like a match. It would be a homecoming for the North Carolina native who possesses an unmatched postseason resume. NBC Sports California recently reported the Braves are the favorites to sign Bumgarner should he leave San Francisco.
“Those are all nice things,” Anthopoulos said of starters with bigger resumes and track records. “But generally speaking, we just evaluate players based on what we think they’ll do for us. Added experience is always a nice thing to have. I wouldn’t say it drives anything but it’s better to have it than not.”
There are roadblocks: Bumgarner received a qualifying offer, meaning the Braves sacrifice a premium draft pick for signing him. The domestic draft is all-the-more important given the team’s limitations on the international market. Wheeler and Twins All-Star starter Jake Odorizzi also received qualifying offers.
The Braves aren’t inclined to hand out longer, lucrative deals to starters. That could prevent them from adding Wheeler. Bumgarner could fetch a bigger payday than some expect, money that some might conclude exceeds his future value. Maybe he gives the Braves a discount.
Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu led the NL with a 2.32 ERA. Ryu, who accepted the qualifying offer last season and comes with no strings attached this winter, has ties to Anthopoulos from his Dodgers days. Lefty Cole Hamels is interested in signing with a contender, but a Philadelphia reunion might sway him over the Braves.
Adam Wainwright was briefly speculated before he (expectedly) re-signed with the Cardinals on Tuesday. Beyond that, you’re into the Rick Porcello, Kyle Gibson, Tanner Roark, etc. range that doesn’t offer much beyond what the Braves got from Julio Teheran. The team is unlikely to bring back lefty Dallas Keuchel.
Options will emerge on the trade front. The Braves also believe in their bevy of young pitchers, including Touki Toussaint, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson and top prospect Ian Anderson.
“You’re hoping with all this other young talent we have on the mound, another one or two guys take a step forward,” Anthopoulos said. “That might be spring training. It might be midseason. You don’t know when they’re going to come, but we do believe in the talent long-term.”
Don’t rule out the Braves making a move in the outfield, but their current plan is to use Ronald Acuna in right, Ender Inciarte in center and a Nick Markakis-Adam Duvall combination in left. Anthopoulos praised Acuna’s play in right field, though he stressed they’re comfortable with their All-Star at any of the outfield spots.
“That’s where we sit today,” Anthopoulos said. “If other trades present themselves, things like that, that could change. But that’s how our depth chart sits right now.”
Top prospects Drew Waters and Cristian Pache are expected to open the season in Triple-A.
There are big names available (!)
The Braves aren’t usually ones for paying a prospect premium for a shorter-term player. They’ve repeatedly rejected the idea of paying one player a historic amount. Yet Chicago’s Kris Bryant, Boston’s Mookie Betts and Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor are potentially out there.
But Anthopoulos doesn’t feel this trade market is particularly different from past years.
“Same as any other year,” he said. “Sometimes names are reported correctly, incorrectly, but at the outset of the offseason, clubs are pretty open-minded about trades. It’s a long winter. We tend to forget this is just the beginning of it. Trades happen so late in the winter now, it just takes time. It doesn’t feel any different than past offseasons.”
As for acquiring a player with only a year or two left on his deal: “It all depends on who the player is. You’re always weighing short-term, long-term. You’d rather get players with control, but if you feel like at that acquisition cost, even if it’s a short-term player – you’d prefer not to have a player short term, but we don’t have any set rules. We’re open to anything. Generally speaking, everyone would rather have more control.”
New catcher incoming
Anthopoulos was clear they want their young backstops to be depth, not relied upon. They’re searching for a veteran player to join Flowers.
“I don’t know who that’s going to be yet,” Anthopoulos said. “That’s obviously on our list. We’d like for our kids to be our depth. (Alex) Jackson right now is our next man up. (William) Contreras is eligible to be put on the 40-man this offseason. But we’d like to get someone with experience, established and so on.”