About the Atlanta Braves and trades, we should know never to say never. About the possibility that they might include Ronald Acuna in a deal for Oakland’s Sonny Gray, I’ll eliminate all wiggle room and say …
Reports circulated that the A’s are seeking a center fielder in return for Gray. Subsequent reports held that they’d be interested in Acuna. They should be interested in Acuna. He’s the best player in baseball’s best farm system. He had an OPS of .814 in High-A this season. Then he moved to Double-AA, where his OPS was .895. Now he’s at Triple-A Gwinnett, where his OPS is .935.
Got that? He has moved twice this year, and he has gotten better at every stop. Oh, and he’s 19.
There’s a real chance he could be starting for the big-league Braves on Opening Day 2018. He wouldn’t be at Gwinnett if the Braves were slow-tracking him. He’s the reason Nick Markakis is very likely to be traded very soon. He’s the commodity the Braves’ rebuild-around-arms was believed to lack, meaning position players with power. (He has 15 home runs this year, and he’s growing into his body. He can also run: He has 35 stolen bases.)
He’s the No. 8 prospect in MLB Pipeline’s just-updated Top 100. He’s the second-youngest among the top 20. This Braves’ administration inherited Acuna from the Frank Wren days and has been ecstatic about his potential — “ecstatic” is not an overstatement — since the fall of 2015. Now he’s almost here. No way he goes anywhere else, not for Sonny Gray, probably not for anybody.
Maybe for Mike Trout, but he’s not yet available. Maybe for Clayton Kershaw, assuming the Braves’ doctors get a look at his latest back X-rays. But you can count the number of players who would tempt the Braves to part with Acuna on one hand, and you mightn’t need the thumb. In an organization where almost nobody is untouchable, he’s the closest thing. (Yes, closer than Freddie Freeman. Because Acuna is eight years younger.)
As for Gray: The Braves want him for the reasons everybody wants him — he’s good and he’s under contract through the 2019 season. He also has a history of injury, and he’s 5-foot-10. (Some believe there’s a correlation between the two.) If you got a completely healthy Gray, you’d get 60-some starts over the next two seasons, at which point he’d become a free agent. If you keep Acuna and he stays healthy and comes close to fulfilling his promise, you’d get 450 games before he’s eligible for arbitration.
No, not every prospect pans out. Dansby Swanson is no longer starting. Jason Heyward has become a solid all-around player, but he’s not a superstar. (Though he’s paid like one.) But we need to note the velocity in Acuna’s rise. In the spring of 2016, he wasn’t on any Top 100 lists; today he’s in everyone’s top 10.
The Braves will not, I feel confident in saying, trade him for Sonny Gray. They might, however, trade Ozzie Albies. Might, I said.