with Grant McAuley

  • Grant McAuley

Braves' winter shopping creates interesting decisions with young talent

Updated: Dec 12, 2018

With rumors swirling at baseball’s annual winter meetings, the Atlanta Braves will find their search for upgrades taking on many forms as discussions continue and offers roll in.

There will be trade speculation involving a number of Braves who are already in the big leagues. Names like Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Ender Inciarte, Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson just to name a few. That may feel like a bit of a foreign concept for many fans who may have become accustomed to hearing and talking about the many prospects in Atlanta’s minor league system and those who could end up traded.

Of course, the reason for those rumors is that other clubs would like to acquire some of the young, big league talent that helped Atlanta through its rebuild and back to the top of the National League East last season.

The pros and cons of the Braves dealing from the major league roster are many.

Perhaps most importantly, it should only be done in order to provide the club with a major acquisition. To that end, adding a front of the rotation starter is the most discussed pursuit that may force Alex Anthopoulos to consider moving pieces from his big league squad.

Despite all of the rumors and the first reaction upon hearing certain names, it’s important to keep in mind that only two players should be truly untouchable for Atlanta.

Those two are Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr.

That is why it is not at all surprising to hear rumors that other big leagues clubs are calling on the likes of a Foltynewicz, an Inciarte or even an Albies and Swanson. Each of those men played a role in Atlanta’s turnaround and are looked upon as the kind of building blocks for teams looking to build by trading a top talent to the Braves.

Let’s just take the case of Foltynewicz, who was rumored and then “unrumored” rather quickly on Monday. While his trade availability is remote, dealing away a young starter works if you acquire the big gun you’re looking for and then sign a capable arm via free agency.

For the sake of this exercise, say Atlanta traded for Corey Kluber and Foltynewicz or Newcomb went to Cleveland in the process. The Braves could then opt to sign a veteran free agent to slot into the spot that was opened by dealing away a piece already in place. The problem is that the picking could get rather slim rather quickly.

Conversely, if you traded for Kluber and the cost included Inciarte, then you’d need not one but two outfielders to fill the void left by dealing away a major league asset. Ronald Acuña Jr. could move to center field, but you’d be left with a need on both corners.

Could Adam Duvall find playing time in that case? Sure, he could. And he would probably benefit from playing every day again, but it does not seem the Braves are likely to settle for that outcome without thoroughly assessing the free agent and trade markets to add another outfielder.

The free agent avenue is a double-edged sword for Atlanta. While Anthopoulos would no doubt like to add to his club in that fashion, he is justifiably hesitant to make the wrong deal. This is especially true when it comes to players over the age of 30. While several big market clubs may be able to absorb the financial repercussions of a bad contract, Atlanta does not have that luxury.

After all, the Braves just got several years’ worth of bad contracts off the books in 2018. No need to risk immediately go right back down that road. They'd much rather spend that money supplementing the roster with the right free agents on one or two-year deals while simultaneously attempting to secure the young core of the team through possible contract extensions.

Short term arrangements seem to be the preferred method in free agency for now. That's why signing Andrew McCutchen for three-years and $50 million was a deal the Braves were not comfortable with making, but the Phillies reportedly were.

Yes, the rumor mill will continue to churn over the coming hours, days and weeks. All of it will give plenty of food for thought for Anthopoulos and other baseball executives as they seek to complete their winter shopping.

The Braves have plenty of areas to pull from in trades. And that still feels like the most likely avenue to make an impactful acquisition or two. It's also worth mentioning that Atlanta is not solely limited to packaging up minor league assets and parting with top prospects.

When it comes to the infield, the Braves have more big league talent stockpiled there than at any time in recent memory. Following the signing of Josh Donaldson, the newfound depth is a huge plus for constructing the most talented 25-man roster for 2019. Inquiries about the availability of Albies, Swanson or Johan Camargo feel more like opposing GM’s handling their due diligence for the moment.

But, as we’ve seen in winters past, things can change rather suddenly.