Three weeks until the trade deadline. John Coppolella, the Atlanta Braves’ general manager, responded last month to a will-you-buy-or-sell question by saying, “Both.” I take him at his word. If the Angels offer Mike Trout for Matt Adams, expect Coppolella to say yes.
But, given that we don’t know what’s apt to be offered by other teams, today’s exercise is limited to the Braves. Who stays? Who goes? In descending order of probability:
The aforementioned Adams: The Braves aren’t sold long-term on having Freddie Freeman play third base, which means the view of Adams remains unchanged. He proved an excellent fill-in at first base, but first base – in 2018 and beyond – is Freeman’s. Adams is eligible for arbitration, and the Braves aren’t eager to pay $5 million for a backup/pinch hitter. As it happens, there’s a natural trade fit out there: The Yankees DFA’ed Chris Carter last week, turning to Ji-Man Choi, a 26-year-old journeyman on his third organization who has more MLB strikeouts (30) than hits (21). The Yankees have baseball’s second-best farm system. Adams offers a real opportunity for the team with baseball’s best farm system to go shopping.
Jaime Garcia: His value has dropped over the last month, but he’s still a starting pitcher and he’s still left-handed. (And he has a walkaway contract.) Even good teams need pitching. That’s why the Braves loaded up on it. There’s always a demand.
Jim Johnson: He’s tied for the MLB lead in blown saves. Still, Johnson’s history is to wax and wane. His past four seasons, going by Baseball-Reference WAR: 2013 with Baltimore, 1.5 (not bad by closer standards); 2014 with Oakland and Detroit, minus-1.7; first part of 2015 as a Brave, 1.5; last part of 2015 as a Dodger, minus-1.6; 2016 as a Brave, 1.5. And he’s 34, which isn’t ancient as relievers go. It’s time the Braves gave Arodys Vizcaino another shot at closing, but don’t sleep on Jose Ramirez, who’s pretty darn good.
Nick Markakis: The four-year contract at $10 million per annum expires after next season. He was pretty good in Years 1 and 2. He has been less good this year. (B-Ref WAR of 0.1.) What makes this a prime opportunity for the Braves to pursue a deal is the ascendant Ronald Acuna, who’s at Double-A Mississippi and who was just anointed the Braves’ No. 1 prospect (and No. 10 in baseball) by Baseball America. Acuna is 19, but he’ll playing the outfield in SunTrust Park very soon, meaning Markakis or Matt Kemp will have to make way. Owing to a more affordable contract, Markakis seems more apt to depart.
Julio Teheran: A year ago, everybody wanted him. The Braves rebuffed all requests because, duh, they wanted him, too. That ardor has surely cooled. Going by B-Ref WAR, Teheran has been the least valuable member of this current rotation. (Bartolo Colon is gone, I remind you.) His ERA, WHIP, strikeout rate, walk rate and FIP (fielding independent pitching) mark career worsts since he established himself as a big-league pitcher. For years, the debate was whether Teheran could be a true No. 1 starter; today he’s not even a No. 3. That his past two starts have been excellent only deepens the concern: If he’s capable of doing that, why doesn’t he do it every time? I’d have been stunned had he been traded last summer. I wouldn’t be stunned now.
Brandon Phillips: On paper, he’s the most logical guy to go. He’s 36 and he’s about to become a free agent and he’s playing a position that could soon be manned by Sean Rodriguez if not Ozzie Albies if not both. Trouble is, he’s a second baseman. Most good teams have a good second baseman. (Altuve, Murphy, Pedroia, LeMahieu, Castro, Kipnis, Baez/Zobrist) There’s nobody desperate for Phillips.
Kemp: I’ve addressed this at length, but here’s the short version – the Braves like Kemp because of what he does, yes, and they like him even more because of the effect (hard to quantify, admittedly) he has on Freeman. A team forever pinching pennies isn’t crazy about paying $18 million per year through 2019, and his B-Ref WAR (minus-0.4) doesn’t reflect much value. That takes us back to the hard-to-quantify part. The Braves believe Kemp makes them – and their best player – better. If they could find someone to take that $18 million off their hands, they might trade him. I’m guessing they won’t find such a buyer.
R.A. Dickey: Remember that team option for $8 million for next season? The Braves could wind up exercising it. Dickey has been very good lately – three earned runs over his past four starts, all of the quality variety – and $8 million for an OK starting pitcher isn’t excessive. Also: The best pitchers in their farm system (Allard, Soroka, Wright, Gohara) are projected to start next season in the minors. There might be a continuing need for Dickey over the first half of 2018. Besides, there’s not much of a midseason market for a knuckleballer.