The Winter meetings begin this weekend, and for some baseball fans, it’s the best time of the year because of all the rumors.
Others might not be interested, but I’m not one of them. I love the thought of a particular piece of news coming to fruition; it kind of feels like you’re playing GM in a video game.
Alex Anthopoulos could have a few tricks left up his sleeves. He’s done a good job of rounding out the roster, bolstering the bullpen, which is already in a better spot today than last year. Anthopoulos also brought Charlie Morton back, and the club is in a similar position as it was last year, outside of the relief core.
Left field has a hole, and many fans would like the rotation to have one more reliable arm, but the Braves are geared up for another run at the postseason as currently constructed. That doesn’t mean upgrades aren’t welcomed.
The free agent and trade markets are ripe, which AA is certainly monitoring. Jordan Montgomery, Eduardo Rodriguez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Adam Duvall, Tommy Pham, and Joc Pederson are free agents that could fill Atlanta’s holes. Dylan Cease, Corbin Burnes, Tyler Glasnow, and Randy Arozarena are potential trade targets that could do the same thing.
But none of those players are who Jim Bowden of The Athletic wants to see in Atlanta next season. The MLB insider prefers the idea of the Braves acquiring Shane Bieber in trade with the Guardians this offseason.
The Braves tried to land Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray last month before the right-handers signed with the Phillies and Cardinals, respectively. Now, their best play might be to try to trade for a righty starter and Bieber could be a good fit — if his medical reports are to the Braves’ liking. Bieber logged a 3.80 ERA and 1.234 WHIP in 21 starts this year but missed time because of right elbow inflammation. He will be a free agent after next season.
The Braves could offer a package of pitching prospect Spencer Schwellenbach and middle infielder Vaughn Grissom. Schwellenbach, incidentally, was drafted by Cleveland in the 34th round in 2018 but did not sign and then was selected by Atlanta in the second round of the 2021 draft out of the University of Nebraska. He went 5-2 with a 2.49 ERA this year in 16 games between Low A and High A. The 23-year-old is slated to start next year at Double A and could come fast to the majors. Grissom can play second base, shortstop and left field and when fully developed profiles as a 15-home run, 25-stolen base type player. He was rushed to the big leagues in 2022 and over the past two seasons has slashed .287/.339/.407 in the majors with five home runs in 236 plate appearances and five steals. If that package doesn’t work, Atlanta could offer right-hander AJ Smith-Shawver straight up for Bieber or get a third team involved that has what the Guardians really need — a corner outfielder with power, something the Braves don’t have in their system.
A couple of years ago, Bieber would’ve fetched a haul that would make a king blush, but the 2020 AL Cy Young winner is a shell of that guy.
His punchouts have fallen each year since 2020, when he fanned over 14 batters per nine innings, to 12.5 K/9 in 2021 down to 8.9 last year, and tumbled even further to 7.5 this season. A lot of that can be attributed to his dip in velocity.
Bieber suffered a shoulder injury in 2021, which Braves Country has become keenly aware of in recent weeks after watching the club move Kyle Wright for pennies on the dollar. It’s unlikely Bieber will ever return to what he once was, but his overall effectiveness is still impressive, recording a 2.88 ERA in 2022 over 31 starts and a 3.80 ERA in 2023.
However, Bieber is entering his final year of arbitration, projected to make around $12 million. A deteriorating arm on a one-year, $12 million contract is not extremely attractive. For a couple of mid-tier prospects, I could get behind it. But for anything more, it’s a hard pass.
Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire