Braves: Potential sellers that matchup well as trade partners

aav1908023 braves vs reds

With the 2020 MLB trade deadline exactly one week away from today — set for Monday, August 31 this season — the usual hype involving viable trade candidates has already begun to surface all across the internet. The Braves, like essentially every other team in the majors, need to hook up with a team and acquire some reinforcements. 

Considering the team’s needs and the current competitive landscape of the league (remember, the 2020 postseason increases to 16 teams), there are several opposing clubs that could provide a one-stop shop for Braves’ GM Alex Anthopoulos. The following teams may not cover all of the Braves’ existing holes, but there are at least multiple options available if Anthopoulos was to try and land more than just one player in a deadline deal. Here are the Braves’ best trade partners, starting with the team’s best fit…

 

San Francisco Giants 

Kevin Gausman, LHP / Johnny Cueto, RHP / Tony Watson, LHP

After Sunday night’s win, the Giants are actually playing above expectations at 14-16 and have now won six-straight to maintain a tie for third-place in the NL West. It’s fall-off-the-cliff just hasn’t happened yet, and San Francisco’s early-season success has them holding current playoff odds of 30%, according to FanGraphs. Although let’s be real… it’s only a matter of time before the decline begins. 

However, speaking of playing above expectations, 29-year-old Kevin Gausman is having the season of his life in 2020. Through his first 31 innings (5 starts / 1 relief app.), he’s has a 3.12 FIP (4.65 ERA) and has already accumulated 0.8 fWAR for the Giants, not to mention a career-high 12.19 strikeouts per nine.

Gausman’s numbers should actually be even better, too, given his xFIP (expected FIP) sits at an even stingier 2.93 so far. The former Brave will be a free agent at the still-capable age of 30 next offseason, and his initial 2020 salary was an affordable $9 million. There will only be 27 days remaining this season once the Aug. 31 trade deadline concludes, leaving starting pitchers with only five or six starts to end the year. With the way he’s pitching, coupled with how awful the Braves’ rotation has been as a whole, Gausman could definitely move the needle. 

Finally healthy, Johnny Cueto appears to be at least somewhat picking up where he left off during his most-recent healthy campaign — a 2017 season in which he made 25 starts and posted a 4.49 FIP (4.52 ERA). Like Gausman, Cueto has also logged 31 innings thus far in 2020, and though his overall run-prevention hasn’t been as pristine, he has only surrendered three home runs this season. The only hang-up regarding the 34-year-old Cueto is his salary ($21 million in 2020 and 2021, before a potential $22 million club-option for the 2022 season). The Braves desperately need starting pitching, but I highly doubt GM Alex Anthopoulos is interested in spending that sort of cash right now. 

The Braves currently wield a top-ten bullpen, having accrued 1.4 fWAR as a group entering Sunday’s game versus the Phillies (8th-most bullpen WAR in MLB), however, there’s always room for another dominant left-hander, especially a four-pitch pitcher like Tony Watson. Through his first 12 innings of work, Watson is flashing a solid 3.50 FIP (1.04 ERA) and has walked just one batter. This could be a cheap rental for the Braves, as Watson was slated to earn just $3 million this season before hitting the FA market this coming winter. 

 

Baltimore Orioles

Mychal Givens, RHP / Alex Cobb, RHP

Baltimore just split a four-game series with Boston, thanks to a win Sunday night, to improve to .500 (14-14 record). No matter how hard they try to lose, the Orioles are still hanging around in fourth-place, just 4.5 games out of first in the AL East with an 18.5% chance at making the postseason. This 60-game season is really just prolonging the inevitable for one of MLB’s worst teams, even though the Orioles have actually played some pretty good baseball. 

You’ve probably seen Mychal Givens named in several trade posts regarding the Braves over the last few years, as the 30-year-old righty has perhaps been Baltimore’s most consistent performer for five seasons now. Since the start of 2016, Givens has averaged roughly 1.2 fWAR, while also making at least 65 relief appearances and combining to put up a 3.65 FIP (3.61 ERA). Again… it’s not exactly a position of weakness for the Braves right now, but that type of consistency should always be pursued. Plus, Givens would be another cheap rental, given his 2020 salary was originally just $3.25 million. 

Our own Chase Irle explained the attraction of acquiring Alex Cobb in his post on Saturday, and though that was two wins ago for the Orioles, Chase’s point about Baltimore “being true to themselves” still stands. The 32-year-old Cobb doesn’t get enough credit, primarily because… well… he pitches for the Orioles, but also because he missed pretty much all of last season (and only logged 22 innings with the Rays in 2016). Look at it this way: during the five healthy seasons of Cobb’s career (not counting 2020), the righty has combined to post a 3.84 FIP (3.64 ERA) and has been right at a 2-WAR pitcher. With a $15-million salary next season, and a free agent in 2022, I could see Cobb as a solid no. 3 or 4 in the Braves’ rotation for the next season in-a-half, though more importantly… a huge improvement right now.

 

Seattle Mariners

Kyle Seager, 3B / Marco Gonzalez, LHP

The Mariners currently sit at 11-19 after beating the Rangers on Sunday, though the season is already pretty much over for the AL West’s worst team as they’re currently 9.5 games out of first and sport a minuscule 1.9% odds at making the playoffs. It’s time for Seattle’s GM Jerry Dipito to do his thing… which is make lots and lots of trades. 

The Braves were reportedly interested in 32-year-old Kyle Seager this past offseason, as they continued to mull over replacement candidates for Josh Donaldson at third base. Hitting from the left side and capable of Gold Glove defense at the hot corner, in retrospect perhaps acquiring Seager would’ve been the right move, given Austin Riley’s struggles this season. And to top it off, Seager’s having a fine year so far, hitting .300 with five home runs through his first 23 games, entering Sunday’s contest. Although like Cueto above, Seager is quite costly. Not counting the current season, he’s scheduled to potentially earn $33 million combined in salary over the next two years, thanks to a player-option for the 2022 season if he’s traded by the Mariners. 

Marco Gonzales, 28-years-old, was also part of Chase’s piece a few days ago, making his list of AL trade options primarily due to an ultra team-friendly contract that begins in 2021 (4 years, $30 million). Although, it’s not just Gonzales’ cheap deal that makes acquiring him a worthy proposal — for two seasons in a row now he has been a damn good pitcher, having racked up 7.1 fWAR combined from 2018-19, including just over two walked batters per nine (2.1 BB/9). And that strong performance has continued in 2020 as well.

Through 29.2 innings (five starts) this season, Gonzales has walked just three batters (0.91 BB/9) and is pitching to a 3.66 FIP (3.34 ERA). Dipito would be crazy to trade him, given the team control aspect, but maybe the Mariner’s GM makes a mistake during a flurry of moves, allowing the Braves to land a once highly touted prospect. 

 

Colorado Rockies

Ryan McMahon, INF / Jon Gray, RHP

After a strong start to the 2020 season, the poor Rockies were tasked with a three-game series versus the Dodgers this past weekend. Colorado was outscored by a combined score of 20-7 during the series, including an 11-3 rout Sunday night that featured seven home runs by LA’s offense. Thankfully the NL West is a bit congested at the moment, so even though the Rockies’ 13-15 record has them sitting in last-place… they still have a 25.3% chance at making the playoffs this season. But c’mon… when the Dodgers are at 91.8% odds to win the division, does it really matter if you make it just to get put out? 

ESPN/FanGraphs‘ writer Dan Szymborski has third baseman Ryan McMahon as a trade target for the Braves at this year’s deadline, and I have to say it is quite an interesting choice. McMahon, 25-years-old, is a former third-ranked prospect in Colorado’s organization, and though he’s looked at as a potential replacement for the Braves at the hot corner, he has spent the majority of his time at second base in 2020 (also 10 games at first and only two at third).

Last year was his coming out party, as well as his first full-season in the majors, and he didn’t disappoint, hitting .250 (88 wRC+) with 24 homers in 141 games while providing below-average defense. So far in 2020, McMahon has played better on D and is flashing a career-high .233 ISO before Sunday’s game, thanks to five home runs and three doubles through his first 101 plate appearances (25 games). Although his contact has regressed (.209 AVG) and K rate has swelled (34.7 K%), so there are definitely still some concerns, even when considering the fact that McMahon has three more seasons of team control after this one (FA in 2024). 

I’ve always been interested in Jon Gray, who has spent his entire six-year career pitching in the worst possible place but still manages to post an average seasonal WAR of 2.2, highlighted by back-to-back 3+ WAR seasons in 2016 and 2017. He’ll turn 29 this November and he’s having a rough year so far, but as expected when pitching at Coors, a lot of the ugliness has come from some bad luck (4.80 FIP / 6.23 ERA).

His profile is certainly an odd one: this season Gray’s homer rate is about average (1.19 HR/9), his walk rate is solid (2.37 BB/9) and his BABIP is just fine (.282). However, he’s getting barely any strikeouts (4.75 K/9) and doing a poor job of keeping the ball on the ground (38.3 GB%). If he could get at least a few of those going in the right direction, his 2020 would look exponentially better.

The Rockies tossed Gray’s name around in trade talks last November, and for good reason, considering next season will be his final year of arbitration before hitting the market as a solid 30-year-old starter in 2022. He was on tap to earn $5.3 million this year, so with a bit of a pay raise in arbitration next season, the Braves could add another mid-90s mph starter to their staff, and even benefit from his contributions during the team’s stretch run in 2020.

 

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