As the offseason continues to unfold in Major League Baseball, one truth that is becoming more and more clear is that there are four clear pennant contenders in the National League. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, and San Diego Padres have all either made significant moves or likely will make significant moves to stay among the elite in the NL. While the “splashiness” of these moves is not what determines their true value, the significance of these additions cannot be denied. As a result, another truth certainly continues to emerge for the Braves: more moves should be made.
Sensible options add for Atlanta include adding another bullpen arm and an additional bat or two. Familiar names such as Marcell Ozuna, Adam Duvall, Mark Melancon, and Shane Greene all remain available as options to fill these needs. Other names such as Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, and Trevor Rosenthal could be considered as well. It is very likely one or more of these names are in play for Atlanta via free agency. However, the need to know when it comes to the the Universal DH for 2021 looms large in determining just how much sense it makes to sign several of these offensive options.
Assuming the DH does not return to the NL in 2021, Ozuna, Pederson, and Rosario may be less attractive. As a result, another avenue that could make sense for Atlanta is to pursue an upgrade via a trade. Names such as Jose Ramirez and Kris Bryant come to mind as options that could play at third base for Atlanta, with Austin Riley either becoming a utility option for the outfield or even being involved in the trade return. However, there has been no indication that Atlanta has shown interest in either option, even to the point of Mark Bowman saying the Braves have no interest in Bryant.
Cardinals, Rockies talking Arenado. Story: https://t.co/nefoGysvmg— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 29, 2021
However, in that same piece from Bowman, he did speculate that the Braves could pursue another big bat via trade if a deal made sense. That speculation gained some validity last night, as Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic revealed that the St. Louis Cardinals were in talks to acquire Nolan Arenado from the Colorado Rockies. Furthermore, as Talking Chop’s own Scott Coleman highlights above, there was an eye-opening news nugget that the Braves had also talked with the Rockies about Arenado, though talks went nowhere.
If this all sounds familiar, it should. Around this time last year, the Rockies and Arenado were experiencing plenty of tension due to a deteriorating relationship between Arenado and the front office, and an eventual trade was a source of heavy speculation. At the time, both the Cardinals and the Braves were viewed as two logical landing spots for Arenado, as Daniel Hutchinson-Kausch highlighted here in the case of Atlanta. Eventually, as the uncertainty around COVID-19 and the start of the 2020 approached, no trade occurred.
While the Braves have potentially discussed Arenado with the Rockies on multiple occasions, he never seemed to be a likely option for the Braves. Not only has Alex Anthopoulos been very hesitant to trade his top prospects, he also has been very mindful to focus on short-term contracts. Though Arenado has an opt-out option after the 2021 season, these uncertain times and the amount of guaranteed money he would be giving up make it seem counterintuitive for him to forgo the rest of his contract. For similar reasons, due to the uncertainty surrounding present and future payrolls and with potential extensions to Freddie Freeman and others on the horizon, trading valuable prospects for Arenado’s long-term financial commitments would be out of character for the Atlanta version of Anthopoulos.
Yet, the developments with Arenado are still worth monitoring for Atlanta even if it is clear they would not have much interest in trading for him. If the Rockies were to actually trade Arenado, it clearly would be a sign they are committing to rebuilding. In that case, another very talented offensive player’s future would come into focus for the Rockies and other teams. After trading Arenado, it would make sense for the Rockies to turn their attention to Trevor Story. With the money gained from trading Arenado, the Rockies could simply offer an extension to Story and make him the clear face of their franchise for the future. However, they could also fully embrace a needed rebuild and trade him for another valuable prospect package.
If the latter option were to be the case, it certainly makes plenty of sense for the Braves to consider making a move for Story.
This may seem a bit odd, as the Braves already have a young shortstop in his prime who is continuing to improve offensively in Dansby Swanson. However, that certainly should not deter the Braves from pursuing Story due to his offensive potential. In 2.296 career plate appearances, Story has a triple slash line of .277/,343/.535, along with an .877 OPS, .368 wOBA, and 114 wRC+. Since 2016, Story has truly emerged as one of the most dynamic offensive threats in the National League, finishing in the top 15 of MVP voting in each of the last three years. In fact, Story is one of only two players in the MLB who has produced 60 or more steals and 80 or more home runs since the beginning of 2018. The other player is Ronald Acuna Jr.
Of course, one factor in Story’s production that certainly cannot be ignored is that he plays half his games in the offensive oasis that is Coors Park. For his career, Story has produced a .994 OPS, .410 wOBA, and 128 wRC+ in home games; on the road, Story has a .250/.315/.445 career triple slash line, good for a .760 OPS, .328 wOBA and 100 wRC+.
Obviously, a significant difference exists between the hitter Story is at Coors and who he is away from home. However, as Eno Sarris points out in a few quick thoughts he had on Arenado and the Cardinals, several former Rockies have fared pretty well away from Coors as they went to other teams. While the drop-off in Story’s production on the road certainly is relevant, it should be reasonably expected that he can remain a middle of the order producer in a new setting.
Another positive trait of Story’s is that he has emerged as a significant value in the field over his career as well. While he has not won a Gold Glove, he certainly is a reliable fielder who is in his prime. Even with Swanson in the mix, both Story and Swanson seem to be good enough fielders for one of them to make the transition to third base, with both players having good enough production at the plate to offer very good value at either position. Furthermore, with Riley’s ability to play the outfield, the Braves fill two needs with one move by getting the middle of the order bat in Story and gaining another outfield option in Riley.
So far what we know of the New York-Cleveland blockbuster:— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 7, 2021
Mets get: SS Francisco Lindor and RHP Carlos Carrasco (as @Feinsand reported)
Cleveland gets: SS Andres Gimenez, RHP Josh Wolf, OF Isaiah Greene
Of course, despite all the positives that can be found in adding Story to the Braves, the biggest factor is the cost to get him. In terms of finances, Story signed a two year, $27M dollar extension before the 2020 season, and is owed $17.5M (could become $18.5M with incentives) this year before free agency. The one year commitment to Story certainly fits the mold of past offensive targets Anthopoulos has pursued in Josh Donaldson and Ozuna; however, the difference this time is that prospects would have to be surrendered to get Story. Fortunately, since Story only has one year remaining before free agency, as the Mets deal to acquire Francisco Lindor above shows, that is one of a few factors that could keep his overall acquisition cost reasonable.
In the Lindor trade, the Mets did give up one former top overall organization prospect in Andres Gimenez. Though he is not listed above, the Mets also traded Amed Rosario in the deal, though part of Rosario’s inclusion was because the Mets also received Carlos Carrasco. Considering Story’s limited control, lower overall value compared to Lindor, and expected slight decline in offensive value leaving Coors, the Braves could make a trade work without giving a clear part of their future core, such as Cristian Pache, Drew Waters, Ian Anderson, or Austin Riley.
Two significant areas of need for the Rockies are starting pitching and catching. The Braves depth at both positions in the minors could produce an attractive package headlined by a name, or names, such as Shae Langeliers, William Contreras, Kyle Mueller, or Tucker Davidson. If the cost is reasonable, there is a good chance a trade for Story would certainly be worthwhile for Atlanta.
Even with Swanson and Riley already in Atlanta, Story is an overall upgrade over both options. Trading for Story would mean Riley becomes an option for the outfield in 2021. Furthermore, if the Braves were to acquire Story, and decide a long-term extension for him also makes sense, both Swanson and Riley could become attractive, controllable trade assets to be used in the present or the future to make the club even stronger. Again, it is much more likely the Braves fill their needs via free agency and Story remains in Colorado. However, though these scenarios may seem far fetched, if the cost to acquire Story makes sense, having multiple ways to maximize the value of young, talented players in the present and future is a good problem to have.
If Anthopoulos traded for Story, this would not be the first time he looked to upgrade a clear playoff contender with a shortstop from Colorado, as he traded for Troy Tulowitzki back in 2015 when he was the general manager in Toronto. His goal then was to upgrade his lineup to improve his chances of a World Series run. That same goal is clearly in place for the Braves now after being within one game of the World Series in 2020. While Anthopoulos has certainly been conservative during his time with the Braves (and for good reason), there seems to be some logic in becoming creative to land Story in the right scenario. Though the odds are certainly against a trade for Story actually happening, its hard to deny the odds that the Braves would be a better team in the present and future with Story in Atlanta.