Though things have been quiet of late on Josh Donaldson’s front, he’s the last remaining position player left in the elite category, so a signing could take place at any moment. Ken Rosenthal said last week that he believes it will come down to the two division rivals – the Braves and Nationals – but also included a fourth year could be the deciding factor. Jim Bowden reported that several teams would be willing to offer Donaldson a fourth year, and The Athletic’s David O’Brien has repeated on numerous occasions that he does not see the Braves being one of those teams. With all that in mind, there’s a real chance the Braves star third baseman signs elsewhere, forcing Anthopoulos to mull over his backup options.
Those moves could come from free agency, the trade market, or both. But one thing is certain: Atlanta plans to stay busy. They’ve already spent close to $100 million this offseason, made a run at Anthony Rendon, and have discussed a Nolan Arenado trade with the Rockies. Anthopoulos is thinking big, as the Braves look to go all-in, so here are a few Plan B’s if Donaldson chooses to walk.
I’ll start with the obvious one. I’ve already talked in detail why I believe trading for Bryant instead of re-signing Donaldson may be in the Braves’ best interest. You can read that, here. Bryant and Donaldson are similar in terms of value. The difference is Bryant is much younger, less of an injury risk, will cost less, and only requires two years of commitment. After that, the Braves can decide whether they want to pony up the immoral salary that he will likely command (probably not). But still, Atlanta will have him under contract for two years – provided he does not win his arbitration case – in the middle of their window of contention.
There is risk involved, considering the young talent the Braves will have to part ways with, but there might be even more risk to signing a 34-year-old Donaldson for four years. And if you take into account that Bryant is likely to be owed $10 million less than the Bringer of Rain next year, it might leave room for Atlanta to make even more additions to their roster before next season.
When people first started asking me if the Braves are going to go after Nolan Arenado, I giggled a little bit. Sure, the Rockies are listening on deals because they have to if Arenado wants out, but it will probably cost an arm and a leg to acquire him. On top of that, the Braves have had a hesitancy to make any long-term deals, so why would they be willing to take on the remaining seven years and $234 million of Arenado’s contract?
However, on the Ryen Russilo podcast, Jeff Passan said not only did the Braves make a run at Anthony Rendon, but they have discussed a trade for Nolan Arenado. Anthopoulos seems to have a lot more money at his disposal this offseason for the right deal. But given Arenado’s contract, the Braves are not going to want to give up several blue-chip prospects as well, which is what it is going to require for his services. A potential deal is more likely than I originally thought but remains highly inprobable.
If the Braves don’t land Donaldson, it’s not absolutely necessary that they bring in another third baseman. Johan Camargo and Austin Riley could platoon at the position, and perhaps create a deadly duo, but their inconsistencies in the past makes that risky. If the Braves choose to go in that direction, though, that will not signal the end to their offseason. Anthopoulos is looking for a middle-of-the-order bat. Third base is a natural fit, but if he has to create a spot in the outfield, it can be done. Nick Markakis can be used off the bench, and Ender Inciarte is also a candidate to be traded. Atlanta’s had rumored interest in Ozuna since the beginning of the offseason and plan to pursue him if Donaldson leaves in free agency.
As I said, the Braves don’t have to upgrade at third base; they don’t even have to bring in another position player. Their lineup, as things stand now, would be quite potent. Maybe not as powerful as last year, but it would be enough to contend, especially if the Braves were able to add Hyun-Jin Ryu to their rotation.
Atlanta has been linked to Ryu this offseason, although the level of interest was not revealed. Looking towards 2020, the Braves currently have a pretty good rotation, but signing last year’s leader in ERA would make it one of the more elite groups in baseball – something the Braves haven’t had since the 90s. So far, this might be the least likely option on the list – Anthopoulos appears keen on adding a bat – but it is a legitimate backup plan nonetheless. Atlanta could do far worse than ending their offseason with a Ryu signing.
The Yankees may have a surplus of third baseman with Miguel Andujar returning to full health this season, which makes him an obvious trade candidate. The problem is not many teams seem too interested in taking a risk on a player who had a .271 OPS in the 12 games he played last year – at least not at the Yankees’ asking price. Andujar hit .297 with 27 homers and 92 RBIs as a rookie in 2018 and is under contract through 2024. He’s a picture-perfect fit for the Braves timeline. However, his injury history, combined with the Yankees’ ask, will make this a challenging deal for any team to complete.
Dozier fits the Braves M.O. of this offseason – experienced players with a fantastic reputation on the field and in the clubhouse. He’s coming off a World Series title with the Washington Nationals after signing with them for a year last offseason. At 33, he’s probably in for a one-year contract in the $5-10 million range. If the Braves can’t make a deal for a star third baseman, settling for Dozier at a reasonable rate makes sense, assuming he can make the switch from second to third base. He would ease the concern at the position while allowing Atlanta to upgrade with their money in other areas. Dozier had a .771 OPS with 20 home runs in 2019.
Marte falls under the category of outfielders in the trade market the Braves could acquire. He may not be the cleanup hitter Anthopoulos is looking for, but he would be a substantial upgrade over Ender Inciarte at the plate and can play center field. The Pirates are actively looking to move Marte, and I’d be surprised if he plays a game for them this season. He hit .295 with 23 homers and 25 stolen bases in just 132 games last year. It’s not a natural fit in terms of position, but he could probably be had a reasonable price and would give the Braves tons of more confidence in their outfield heading into 2020.