The Braves have a bit of a dilemma at third base. Ideally, they would love to keep Josh Donaldson around for at least two more seasons, but there is probably going to be a team or two willing to overpay after the stellar campaign he put together in his first year in Atlanta. Donaldson smashed 37 homers with a .900 OPS on his way to the NL Comeback Player of the Year award. With that in mind, the Braves have to start thinking about a plan B.
The most simple path to replacing Donaldson would be going all-in on Austin Riley and moving him back to his natural position of third base. Atlanta also has Johan Camargo, so they could platoon the two until Riley is viewed as a player that can play every day. However, there’s a chance the Riley we saw at the end of last year is who he is, and Alex Anthopoulos did not sound too keen at his season-ending press conference on handing him a starting spot going into next season.
The free-agent market for third baseman is extremely top-heavy. Anthony Rendon will command a mega-deal the Braves cannot match. Josh Donaldson is the next best option, and he’s being plucked from Atlanta in this hypothetical situation. Mike Moustakas was an All-Star last year, but he’s a candidate to be overpaid as well, given that it is slim pickings behind him. The next best option would be Todd Frazier, which would be a massive downgrade from Donaldson. The Braves would be better off sticking with a platoon of Riley and Camargo at that point.
The trade market is a little more promising, featuring a couple of superstars that could be shopped. Jake Gordon talked earlier this week about the Cubs moving Kris Bryant, who still has two more years of arbitration remaining on his contract. Chicago needs to shake things up if they want to remain competitive, and Atlanta has the young pitching to pique the Cubs’ interest. But if Theo Epstein isn’t fond of trading his former MVP third baseman, there’s another competing NL team that could be ready to make a move.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are itching for a championship. For years, they have been the class of the National League, only to fall short time and time again. They have all the money in the world, and the pressure is on their front office to win a World Series and perhaps more than one. The Dodgers are going to be spenders this offseason, and 29-year-old Anthony Rendon is going to be at the top of their wish list.
So, let’s say the Dodgers land Rendon. They have to do something with their current All-Star third baseman, Justin Turner. Turner will be 35 and in the last year of his contract next season. While he has been an MVP candidate for the Dodgers the last four seasons, eventually Los Angeles has to move on, and this appears like the ideal opportunity to land their third baseman of the future while getting a return on Turner.
Turner hit .290 with 27 homers and 67 RBIs in 135 games last season and is owed $20 million in 2020. He could be another ideal stopgap until the Braves feel Austin Riley is 100% ready to assume the starting third base spot. There might be people hesitant to pay a 35-year-old that has experienced some injury issues over the last couple of years $20 million, but isn’t that exactly what the Braves did last year with Josh Donaldson? As I remember, he worked out pretty well. Riley can’t yet be trusted, Donaldson might not be an option, leaving Turner as a plausible replacement via trade.
So what would it take?
Turner wouldn’t cost nearly as much prospect-wise as Kris Bryant, who still has two years of control remaining. The price tag might be one of the Braves’ top ten prospects – not named Cristian Pache, Ian Anderson, Drew Waters, or Kyle Wright – and a lower-level guy or two. Atlanta easily would have the prospect depth to make such a deal. However, the most significant obstacle may be the Dodgers’ willingness to move Turner to a club that finished with the second-best record in the National League. I’m sure Los Angeles would love to send him to the AL and never have to worry about him again.
Like the Bryant deal, several things would have to go right to make this happen. Most notably, the Dodgers would have to sign Rendon. If that happens, Anthopoulos will be one of the several GMs calling in regards to the availability of Justin Turner.