It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for the Braves to pack things in for the offseason and start preparing for spring training. Their projected payroll is already as high as it’s ever been, they might expect a boost from their youth much like last season, and they happen to be run by Liberty Media, who never have seemed too interested in building a championship-caliber team if it meant taking a risk financially. However, this offseason has felt a little different, and it would be surprising for them to enter 2020 with 40% of their payroll dedicated to the bullpen.
The belief is they still have at least one more substantial splash left before spring training kicks off in a little over a month. That could come through free agency, in the form of Marcell Ozuna or Nick Castellanos, or via trade. Now, the trade market has two stars – Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado – that have been mentioned profusely over the last couple of months, but while there may be a 50% chance one of them is dealt before the season, it probably won’t be the Braves. So if Anthopoulos doesn’t sign Ozuna or Castellanos, he might have to get creative to keep this team near the level they were at last year.
Outfielder, Pittsburgh Pirates
Outside the four primary candidates to fill the Braves’ cleanup hole (Bryant, Arenado, Castellanos, and Ozuna), Marte is a name that is starting to pick up some steam among Braves circles, and it’s reasonable to expect the Pirates will be shopping him, as they are projected to finish dead last in the NL Central by a country mile.
There are no issues with Marte. He plays excellent defense, hits for contact, has some pop, and can steal 20-30 bases a year. Last season, Marte hit .295 with a .845 OPS and a career-high 23 homers to go along with 25 stolen bases. The only fault you could possibly come up with for him is that he’s not necessarily the cleanup bat the Braves need, as he only had 16 homers combined in 2016-2017. Although 2017 was a shortened season due to injury. However, with a little maneuvering of the lineup, a deal for Marte makes complete sense. Here is how I’d have the top of the order if the Braves went in this direction:
Yes, I know Braves fans LOVE Acuña in the leadoff role, and so do I, but the narrative that Acuña is a far better hitter at the top of the lineup isn’t true. He only hit two percentage points higher when batting first rather than cleanup and actually got on base more when batting fourth. Furthermore, Acuña only hit .196 to leadoff games, so this notion that he has to bat there is nonsense. That’s as formidable of a top four in the order as they come, and the Braves have the prospect capital to make this happen. Marte even has a manageable club option in 2021 that will surely be picked up.
Third Baseman, Kansas City Royals
Here’s a name you probably haven’t heard much of when talking about potential trades. After a so-so rookie campaign, Hunter Dozier broke out last season for the Royals, smacking 26 homers, a league-high ten triples, and 29 doubles in 139 games – good for a .870 OPS.
After that kind of a season, it’s going to be difficult to pry him away from the Royals, but Kansas City is a team that won 58 games in 2018 and 59 games in 2019, and their farm system is in the bottom third of the league. They need to be making some deals, and Dozier would fetch them a couple of top tier prospects. The 27-year-old enters his first year of arbitration in 2021 and is under team control through 2023.
This would require a haul from Atlanta, but it would sure up the hot corner and complete a championship roster for years to come. The biggest question for Anthopoulos in this hypothetical situation will probably be if Dozier’s success is sustainable. After all, he only has two years of major-league experience, and one year of All-Star caliber production.
Outfielder, Boston Red Sox
Betts is in his final year of arbitration and is scheduled to make $27 million this year. There hasn’t been much talk about moving of him since the beginning of the offseason, but given the upcoming punishment the Red Sox are going to face in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal, you almost think they have to move Betts.
The Braves have the necessary prospect capital to make a deal for the former MVP, but they are going to be hesitant giving up too much for a one-year rental that they will have to pay $27 million in 2020. However, if the asking price is reasonable, Betts is the kind of talent that would load up the Braves for a one-year run, while still keeping Anthopoulos’ options open in the future.
Third Baseman, Seattle Mariners
Seager’s one of the few guys on the Mariners roster they haven’t let go of yet, and that might be because his production hasn’t quite matched his salary. But as the contract nears an end, there’s likely to be many more teams interested, and the Braves are probably one of them.
The 31-year-old Seager is scheduled to make $19 million in 2020, $18 million in 2021, and then has a club option for 2022 worth $15 million. From 2012-2018, he played in 154 games or more and hit 20+ bombs in each season. Last year, Seager experienced his first taste of a significant injury and was limited to just 109 games, but he still provided Seattle with 23 homers. Seager’s never been much of an average guy (.256 career hitter), but he possesses some pop and is good for at least 20 bombs and 30 doubles each year. And unless the Mariners eat a good bit of the money, it shouldn’t take too much for the Braves to acquire him prospect-wise.
Third Baseman, Oakland Athletics
This is more of a dream of mine rather than a reality because he still has four more years of team control remaining. However, his arbitration does begin next season, and his elite production both at the plate and on the field will lead to him being paid handsomely, which isn’t music to the ears of the Athletics’ front office, who have been known to be stingy. Eventually, they will probably trade Chapman, but it’s unlikely to happen this season unless a team blows them away with a package that is out of this world.
The Braves would have to throw in a major league talent, as well as a bundle of their top prospects if they wanted any chance of landing Chapman, but this is the kind of player worth his price tag. He’s the best defensive third baseman in baseball and set a career-high in home runs with 36 of them last season at 25 years of age. Chapman finished 2019 with a 6.7 bWAR, good for fifth in the AL. In the year before, he recorded an 8.2 bWAR – third in the AL. He’s just entering his prime, and the Braves would have control of him for four years. It would be an ideal scenario.
The thing is, despite their low payroll, the Athletics keep finding a way to stay competitive, and they aren’t ready to pack things in yet after winning 97 games in 2019. A Chapman trade is much more likely in a couple of years.