Could Braves Trade for a Top of the Rotation Starter?
Welcome to the Hot Stove.
Unlike recent winters, where the big name arms were typically found on the free agent market looking for big money, there appears to be a plethora of top of the rotation pitchers who may be available via trade this offseason.
The Atlanta Braves’ surprising rise to the top of the National League East included some promising signs in the rotation. Mike Foltynewicz officially arrived. Sean Newcomb showed signs. Anibal Sanchez surpassed all reasonable expectations. Julio Teheran was Julio Teheran, ups and downs included. Additionally, several top prospects made their major league debuts.
It was far and away more good than bad, but the starting five lacked a proven front of the rotation presence.
That could very well change this winter.
An arm that can match up with the top teams come October is one piece of the puzzle that is not in place yet. General manager Alex Anthopoulos has money to spend and is poised to do some wheeling and dealing this winter. He's already moved swiftly to add considerable punch to the Atlanta lineup by signing former American League MVP Josh Donaldson and brokering a reunion with longtime Braves catcher Brian McCann.
Despite the available funds, Atlanta seems unlikely to get into a bidding war for the services of free agent starters like Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel, both of whom will be looking for long term deals likely to eclipse $100 million.
That leaves the trade market as the obvious place for Anthopoulos to work some magic and perhaps find the missing link to the Braves rotation. Atlanta's farm system gives him considerable assets to work with, though some may prove harder to part with than others. Nevertheless, he'll have to weigh the pros and cons and cost of a potential deal in deciding whether or not to pull the trigger.
Here are five names the Braves and other clubs may consider:
Jacob deGrom – Let’s go ahead and get this one out of the way first. The National League Cy Young Award winner may be the most popular option for a variety of reasons. I'll get to the numbers, but wanted to start with one little factoid. He’ll turn 31 next season, which many casual fans may not realize. That’s certainly not old, but also a bit different than rotation mate Noah Syndergaard (also on this list), who is only 26 and came up just one season after deGrom. Be that as it may, deGrom is coming off a 10.0 WAR season (8.8 fWAR if you prefer FanGraphs' version). The campaign was highlighted a 1.70 ERA which was the best in baseball and a career-high 269 strikeouts. deGrom is, without question, an ace-level starting pitcher. Given that he is property of a division rival and will already command a king’s ransom in trade, Atlanta may not be able to turn this current pipe dream into a reality. deGrom has two seasons of team control remaining, though his arbitration numbers stand to skyrocket after officially becoming one of the best pitchers in all of baseball in 2018. The Mets have a new GM, Brodie Van Wagenen, who just so happens to be deGrom's former agent. What exactly New York plans to do in 2019 and beyond is unclear, but Van Wagenen is already trying his hand at the blockbuster trade business. For better or worse, deGrom's future is tied directly to whether or not the Mets see themselves as contenders in the years ahead. For what it's worth, I don't see him going anywhere.
Corey Kluber could be available as the Cleveland Indians seek to keep their record payroll under control. The two-time Cy Young Award winner is coming off another strong season and has put together a five-year run that established him as one of the American League's top arms. It’s not unreasonable to think that Kluber could at the very least continue that success and perhaps benefit from a move to the National League. Kluber, 32, is under team control for three more seasons. This includes team options for 2020 ($17.5 million) and 2021 ($18 million) with $1 million buyouts. Multiple clubs will pursue Kluber if the Indians make him available, with teams like the Dodgers and Yankees lurking as obvious suitors after getting themselves below the luxury tax threshold in the last year. To add some intrigue to this situation, Cleveland extended Kluber's rotation mate Carlos Carrasco through 2022 but could still field offers for Trevor Bauer (two arbitration eligible seasons remaining). So, that is another name to add to the shopping list. Regardless of which Indians starter ends up being moved, Cleveland will command a considerable prospect package and likely be asking for major league pieces as well. Atlanta may not be interested in relinquishing that much talent in one deal for a single player.
Madison Bumgarner is a tried-and-true October hero with a World Series MVP trophy and three rings to show for it. The Giants, however, don’t figure to be rekindling the dynasty that captured those three championships in a five-year span from 2010-2014. Despite making some splashy moves and pushing team payroll to the $200 million range, San Francisco has regressed mightily. All of that leads to speculation that the Giants may tear it down and start rebuilding in 2019. If they do, Bumgarner, who is 29 years old, would be an ideal target for a team like the Braves. He would provide instant credibility to a rotation that still figures to be on the young side next season. However, the North Carolina native was slowed by injury and made just 38 starts over the past two seasons combined. He pitched to a 3.29 ERA (3.97 FIP), 7.9 K/9 and a 3.1 fWAR in those 240.2 IP. Bumgarner is under control for $12 million in 2019 before becoming a free agent. That would make him a rental, but the Braves have already shown their intent to add what could be an impact player on a one-year pact when they signed Donaldson. While it would mark a change in direction for a team like San Francisco, Bumgarner's trade price tag figures to be lower than Kluber and others on this list. In fact, some believe Bumgarner's decline, though not precipitous, may not fetch the Giants much at all. There is some risk involved here, but the reward seems to outweigh that in my eyes.
Zack Greinke is one of the highest paid pitchers in the game and may be on the move after Arizona failed to live up to expectations in 2018. The Diamondbacks' fast start melted during a long summer in the desert, but Greinke turned in a typical strong season. The All-Star righty won 15 games to go along with a 3.21 ERA (3.70 FIP) and 8.6 K/9 over 207.2 IP. Now 35, Greinke is in the midst of a monster contract which will pay him roughly $35 million per season through 2021. Any trade that involves Greinke would be as much about salary relief for Arizona as the actual players that come back in return. The Diamondbacks would do well to recoup over half of the $105 million owed to Greinke over the next three years, but that simply may not happen. While it will be difficult to find a team that would take a significant portion of that money, the Diamondbacks could eat enough of Greinke’s remaining contract to get his annual salary to the $20 million range. For what amounts to a three-year deal, that would make a lot more sense than some of the free-agent alternatives. Atlanta, or any other club in the market for a proven veteran, could be a fit if Arizona decides to get Greinke off its books.
Noah Syndergaard is perhaps the most fascinating name on this list. After all, we just discussed that the Mets aren't throwing in the towel and making Jacob deGrom available. Instead they seem intent on adding talent. Could New York make deals that bring in new stars while simultaneously trading away one of their brightest and most recognizable young starting pitchers? Well, maybe. Make no mistake, his services will justifiably not come cheap. Syndergaard has one of the best arms in baseball and has developed into an ace during his tenure with the Mets. The problem of late has been staying healthy. The Mets may want to minimize some of their risk and deal Syndergaard while his value is high and then look to fill that void by signing another starting pitcher. At least that seems to be one working theory. Syndergaard, 26, went 13-4 with a 3.03 ERA in 25 starts last season, striking out 155 batters in 154,2 IP. He limits home runs (0.7 HR/9 career) and doesn't walk many batters (2.0 BB/9) either. Dubbed "Thor" for his Nordic surname and striking resemblance to Marvel's god of thunder, Syndergaard is what it would look like if you were to go a factory and build an ace starting pitcher. With three years of team control through arbitration, he would give any team that acquires him a window to compete utilizing his services. As mentioned in the deGrom section, the Braves ability to pull of this kind of deal with a division rival would be just one of the many hurdles to clear. Trading a talented and proven arm like Syndergaard would require a package of top prospects that would give any GM reason to pause. To make it a little more interesting, Anthopoulos was the one who traded Syndergaard from the Blue Jays to the Mets in 2012. It would truly be something to see Anthopoulos reacquire that same arm some six years later in a new city and with much higher expectations attached this time around. Long term health will be the major question looming in deciding whether or not to deal for Syndergaard.