It’s no secret the Braves need help all over the diamond. After losing Mark Melancon and Darren O’Day this offseason, Alex Anthopoulos attempted to right his previous wrongs by bringing Shane Greene back on a very team-friendly one-year contract. However, with so many injuries to the starting rotation, Greene isn’t guaranteed to fix any of these issues. He missed Spring Training, and it’s a month into the season. The Braves aren’t even planning on bringing him to Atlanta for at least a few more weeks. While it’s a little early for trade talks, I’ll be focusing on versatile hitters and arms that can immediately improve Atlanta’s team right now. This is the first edition, and next will be trade hypotheticals with National League partners.
Detroit Tigers: RHP Michael Fulmer & UTIL Niko Goodrum
I’ll start with a much more mild “blockbuster” if you still want to call it that. It feels like Michael Fulmer has been connected to the Braves for forever, but he fell off a cliff after winning Rookie of the Year in 2016. The Braves already sent Joey Wentz to the Tigers in exchange for Shane Greene, so could they call Detroit again? After posting a horrific 8.78 ERA in 2020, Fulmer has been much better in 2021. Over 29.2 innings, he has saved three games and only given up 11 earned runs. He wouldn’t be the answer, but he could be a big help at a low cost.
The Atlanta native Niko Goodrum can play almost any position on the diamond. He has some decent pop in his bat and good speed. This would be an acquisition that wouldn’t move the needle a ton for the Braves, but the cost shouldn’t be very much, and it has the potential to fill two critical needs — the bullpen and the bench.
Texas Rangers: LHP John King & UTIL Nick Solak
Okay, the rest of these will be true blockbusters, I promise. The Rangers are another team Alex Anthopoulos has cut a deal with, and I think it’s safe to say the Chris Martin trade worked out pretty nicely for the Braves. John King has been fantastic in 2021, only allowing four earned runs over 21.1 innings pitched. He would immediately provide some juice to Atlanta’s ‘pen. Nick Solak is another versatile piece that can play almost anywhere, and his .792 OPS would be a welcome addition to Atlanta’s bench. I’d prefer this trade over the Detroit one, but this one would probably cost a little more in prospect capital for Atlanta.
Kansas City Royals: LHP Danny Duffy & UTIL Whit Merrifield
Two more names that have been connected to the Braves for what feels like forever, and two guys who have seen their trade values go in different directions. Duffy is currently on the 10-Day IL, but he has posted an excellent 1.94 ERA over 41.2 innings pitched. The Drew Smyly experiment hasn’t gone well thus far, so if the Braves want to add another lefty in a division full of powerful left-handed bats, Duffy could come in and hopefully continue what he has done in 2021. He’s on the last year of a five-year, $65 million contract, so perhaps the Braves could send less back in return in exchange for taking on his salary.
Whit Merrifield was once one of the most coveted trade pieces in baseball, but the Royals have held onto him and his VERY team-friendly contract. Merrifield is incredibly valuable; he can play almost any position, has a career .783 OPS, and is only scheduled to make $2.95 million in 2022, and has a $6.5 million club option for 2023. Merrifield led the majors in hits and triples in 2019, so he’s not a guy you would bring on to ride the pine. Merrifield can immediately start at center field and help out the top of the batting order. The prospect capital sent back to Kansas City wouldn’t be cheap, but I think it would be palatable.
Baltimore Orioles: LHP John Means, LHP Paul Fry or LHP Tanner Scott
I’ve been a pretty big John Means fan for a while; the guy goes absolutely crazy in franchise simulation on MLB The Show. I even listed him as a trade target at last year’s trade deadline. However, you may remember his name because he was a dropped third strike away from throwing a perfect game this season. Just one day before that game, our own Sam Peebles broke down Means in-depth as a trade target. He will be expensive, considering his 1.21 ERA over 52 innings in 2021, but he could be the rotation stabilizer under pre-arbitration that the Braves need.
The Braves could pick between Paul Fry or Tanner Scott; both are fantastic bullpen lefties that have had great 2021 seasons. Fry has only allowed two runs over 15.1 innings while striking out 22 batters. Tanner Scott throws 100 mph from the left side and was absolutely lockdown in 2020. He has continued that trend in 2021. These guys are good options, but combined with Means, the Braves would have to pay up to make this happen.
Cleveland Indians: RHP Emmanuel Clase & RHP James Karinchak
This is the biggest blockbuster trade on this list, and it’s a move I’ve been asking for. Matters get complicated when you consider the Indians are in second place and have a much better record than the Braves right now, but this is a team that slashed almost $100 million in salary this offseason. There’s a chance they decide to have a massive sell-off at the deadline, even if they’re hanging around in an AL Central that’s currently pretty bad. That’s still a long time from now, but I want to talk about both of these guys.
I’ve gone into depth on Karinchak before, and he’s a guy that I’m willing to trade a lot to get. After looking very impressive in his short 2019 debut, he dominated hitters in 2020 to the tune of a 2.67 ERA and 17.7 K/9. His 1.52 FIP would indicate that he was even better than that too, and he has somehow improved in 2021, only allowing one run over 17.1 innings while still striking out more than 17 batters per nine innings. Karinchak is straight-up dominant and would immediately stabilize Atlanta’s bullpen.
If adding him wasn’t enough, the Braves could also target Emmanuel Clase and his 100 MPH cutter. Clase has seven saves in 2021 and has only allowed two earned runs over 18 innings pitched. He doesn’t strike out batters at the rate that Karinchak does, but 9.5 K/9 is still nothing to sneeze at. Clase has given up a decent amount of hits and walks, but he is one of the nastiest pitchers in baseball and gets himself out of trouble. Both of these guys would cost an arm and a leg, but they would undoubtedly turn Atlanta’s bullpen into a real weapon again.
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