Sure, we may only be 25 games into the season, but we are less than two weeks away from the August 31st trade deadline, and the Braves have a few needs. Most notably, they must find some answers in their rotation. Max Fried has been unbelievable so far, putting himself in the Cy Young conversation with a 3-0 record and 1.24 ERA in five starts, but they have absolutely nothing after him.
Touki Toussaint looked like he was turning the corner a couple of weeks ago, tossing 6.2 innings and striking out nine in the best outing of his major league career thus far. But he’s been miserable in his two starts since, and there’s a chance the Braves don’t even send him back out there again when his turn is up in the rotation.
Kyle Wright has the talent to be a #2 behind Fried, but he’s performed like a right-handed Sean Newcomb to this point, showing a total lack of control of his pitches, which is why he’s only been able to make it through four innings once in four starts. If he doesn’t show some signs of improvement tonight, it may be his last start as well.
After that, the Braves don’t even have another starting pitcher on their roster. Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb are currently at Gwinnett camp; Huascar Ynoa has shown some promise, but he’s not a starter at this point in his career, and Bryse Wilson still doesn’t have any secondary pitches. The Braves have turned to Robbie Erlin, who was DFA’d by the lowly Pirates earlier this month, and Josh Tomlin for starts over the last week. And while they have performed admirably, they won’t be the answer come October.
Atlanta needs a lot of help if they want to consider themselves World Series contenders down the stretch. Perhaps that could come from one of their highly-touted prospects, but to this point, none of them have been called upon, so it’s fair to wonder if they would be an upgrade over what the Braves currently have. But even if one is, they still need at least one more reliable starter.
That means the Braves will be active at the trade deadline, but as our Clint Manry pointed out, deals are going to be extremely difficult to complete over this shortened season. There won’t be many sellers because almost every team will still have a chance to make the playoffs, and even the ones that are ready to wave the white flag will be hesitant to trade controllable assets for prospects that they haven’t been able to scout this season.
Buyers will also be cautious in this year’s trade market because they probably won’t want to give up their best prospects in a shortened season where it sort of feels like a crapshoot. It’s going to take the perfect formula for a significant deal to go down over these next two weeks, but the Braves might have just that with the Cleveland Indians.
Yesterday, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi provided us with exactly why that is.
Cleveland's reasons to trade Clevinger or Plesac go beyond recent turmoil. The Indians must address their AL-worst .642 OPS. Some teams needing rotation help (Braves, Angels, DBacks) have outfielders among @MLBPipeline's top 100 prospects. That is Cleveland's greatest need. @MLB
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) August 18, 2020
If you are unaware, both Plesac and Clevinger have been removed from the active roster after the team found out that they were at a bar — a no-no in the COVID-19 era. But as Morosi points out, there is more reason for the Indians to consider dealing one of them.
Even after parting ways with Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, Cleveland’s rotation is stacked with studs — the exact opposite of the Braves current group. However, the Indians outfield has been horrid at the plate, which is worrisome because that is where a lot of offense is supposed to come from. Moving one of their star pitchers could help patch that up for years to come.
Coincidently, the Braves have a loaded group of young outfield candidates. Ronald Acuña is locked up through 2028. Cristian Pache is slated to make his MLB debut tonight; he looks to be a piece of Atlanta’s future for equally as long. And the Braves also have Drew Waters, who is currently their second-best prospect and can play all three positions in the outfield. Obviously, Acuña is off-limits, but Pache or Waters could be discussed for the right price.
Mike Clevinger has been incredible for the Indians since 2017, recording a 2.97 ERA over the last four seasons combined, and 2019 was his best year, posting a 2.71 ERA and 12.1 K/9. He is off to a similar start this year, boasting a 3.24 ERA in three outings. Clevinger also comes with two more arbitration years after this season, which is critical to any potential deal the Braves make. They don’t just need help in their rotation this season; they need it for years to come.
Plesac may not have the track record of Clevinger, but he looks to be on the same path. After recording a 3.81 ERA in 21 starts last season as a rookie, he was electric in his first three starts of 2020, posting a 1.29 ERA with a 10.3 K/9 — good for a 1.1 bWAR. Plesac might even make more sense for the Braves, too, considering he has five more seasons of team control left after this year. He, along with Max Fried and Mike Soroka, would become quite the trio at the top of the rotation over the next decade. However, the prospect capital to pry Plesac away from the Indians would be substantial.
It’s going to take a lot of work for Alex Anthopoulos to complete any trade, but if a deal is going to get done, the Indians make a lot of sense as a partner. Their needs match up, and they both receive assets that can help them for multiple years, which is a critical aspect when thinking about trades in this shortened season.
Photo: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire