The Atlanta Braves came into the offseason with a handful of wants and needs, one of which was the desire to add a frontline starting pitcher to pair with Mike Foltynewicz atop the rotation. It seems like the Braves have been in pursuit of an ace for roughly three years now, but a trade (or signing) is yet to come to fruition.
It’s a fair argument to ask if the Braves need to add a starting pitcher. Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman and Sean Newcomb are slated for the top three spots, and some mixture of Julio Teheran (assuming not traded), Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, Luiz Gohara, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson and others will likely comprise the final two spots. There is enviable depth here, although the club may lack the top-end talent the Dodgers and Nationals posses.
As we begin the second half of the offseason, let’s take a look at some of the remaining options. We also examined the corner outfield options here.
Dallas Keuchel - The 31-year-old former Cy Young winner hasn’t been able to repeat his fantastic 2015 season in recent years, although he’s coming off a strong 2018 campaign in which he posted a 3.74 ERA, 3.69 FIP and 3.6 WAR across 34 starts. Keuchel would make the Braves a better team in 2019 and his ability to induce ground balls would play well with the elite infield defense, but he’s reportedly seeking a lucrative five-year deal that will take him into his mid-30s. There’s some familiarity here with the addition of Mike Fast to the front office and Brian McCann behind the plate, but I’d imagine Alex Anthopoulos will pass unless the price significantly comes down.
Gio Gonzalez - There is a drastic drop off in free agent options after Keuchel. The Braves know Gonzalez well as the 33-year-old southpaw spent a good chunk of his career in Washington before he was dealt to Milwaukee last summer. Gonzalez is coming off the worst season to date, posting a 4.21 ERA and 4.16 FIP over 32 starts. His strikeouts dropped, his walks increased and he continued to see his velocity dip from a few seasons ago. MLBTR predicted a two-year deal for Gonzalez worth $24 million; he wouldn’t be a sexy addition, but if the Braves are seeking a veteran innings eater and shed Julio Teheran, Gonzalez could be an option.
Derek Holland - Holland, 32, doesn’t have the same track record as Gonzalez, although he’s coming off a solid bounce-back year in 2018 in which he made 30 starts with a 3.57 ERA and 3.87 FIP in San Francisco. MLBTR predicted 2 years and $15 million at the start of the winter. I’d imagine would only be an option if Teheran is dealt.
And that’s about it for free agents. There could be a no-risk addition (like Anibal Sanchez was last spring) to serve as depth in AAA, but anyone else added would likely not provide an upgrade over the handful of young pitchers already in the organization.
This is a tougher area to peg. For example, we have no idea if Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer are actually available. (I lean towards no.) Secondly, outside of James Paxton, there’s been little movement on the starting pitcher market and it’s tough to really gauge what asking prices are. Nonetheless, here are some trade targets who could appeal to the Braves to various degrees.
Madison Bumgarner - There is a perception that Bumgarner is still the ace who led the Giants to multiple World Series titles, and it’s just not the case anymore. Bumgarner, who is signed through 2019, missed time in 2017 and 2018 with hand and shoulder injuries. He owns a 3.33 ERA since returning from the shoulder injury in mid-2017, but a 4.15 FIP, 4.30 xFIP and dip in velocity indicates some regression is on the way. He is an intriguing buy-low guy with just one year of control remaining at an affordable $12 million — the cost to acquire Bumgarner would not be much — but it doesn’t seem like the Giants are in a huge hurry to move him.
Sonny Gray - The Yankees are likely to trade Gray this winter, who did not work out in New York following a successful tenure in Oakland. The asking price for Gray is reportedly high despite his uneven 2018 season, and the 29-year-old righty has just one year of arbitration remaining before becoming a free agent. Gray needs a change of scenery; he was terrible at Yankee Stadium but fantastic on the road, posting a 3.17 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 9.89 K/9 and 2.79 BB/9 across 71 innings. I would be in favor of a Gray trade if the asking price comes down.
Marcus Stroman - It’s unclear if Toronto would trade Stroman after a poor season that saw him deal with serious blister injuries (the photo is pretty gross), but there would likely be interest if he’s available. He owns a career 3.62 FIP and 3.49 xFIP in the hitter-friendly AL East, and he’s still somehow just 27 years old. Stroman would benefit from getting out of Rogers Centre and gets a lot of ground balls, which would play nicely in Atlanta. The price would likely be multiple top-15 prospects.
Zack Greinke - I hesitated putting Greinke here because his contract is so hefty, but let’s do it simply for the fact Anthopoulos has constructed big-dollar deals in the past. Greinke, 35, has an astounding three years and $104 million remaining on his deal. There are some salary deferrals if he’s traded, but shy of Arizona including considerable money to the Braves and taking on, say, Julio Teheran’s and Darren O’Day’s remaining $20 million, it’s hard to make the numbers work. Greinke is still a good starter and would improve the rotation for 2019, but significant money would have to change hands and the idea of being on the hook his age 35, 36 and 37 seasons isn’t overly appealing.
Robbie Ray - Ray, 27, is another Arizona starter who could be on the move, although he’s coming off his worst year as a pro. He’s (more or less) what Sean Newcomb could become if he takes a step forward; Ray struggles to throw consistent strikes, but his stuff is so nasty that it often doesn’t matter. He also has problems working deep into games, which can really tax a bullpen. Ray has two years of control remaining, and despite his inconsistent 2018 campaign, he would not come cheap. The Diamondbacks make a lot of sense as a trade partner, but they’ve have been fairly quiet this winter outside of trading Paul Goldschmidt. They should go into a full-on rebuild and deal their remaining assets, although the front office may not want to go all-in.
What do you think? Are there any starters not listed above that you’d like the Braves to pursue? It should be a fun next two months as Spring Training nears.