MLB Trade Rumors predicts Braves land a top starter in free agency

MLB: MAY 17 Twins at Dodgers

MLB free agency is officially underway, and MLB Trade Rumors just released their list of the top 50 free agents in this class, along with predictions of where they will land this winter. The Braves are not mentioned a ton, but they were predicted to land a couple of high-end starters.

The first is a guy I have already talked about at length, Sonny Gray. The former Minnesota Twin is a Cy Young finalist in the AL and would go a long way in stabilizing the Braves rotation in 2024 and beyond, which is imperative considering both Max Fried and Charlie Morton may not be around past this year.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, Gray is the ninth best free agent in this class and the fifth best starting pitcher, and they have him landing a four-year, $90 million deal in free agency.

9. Sonny Gray. Four years, $90MM

Tim: Braves / Anthony: Dodgers / Darragh: Tigers

Gray, who turns 34 tomorrow, is likely to earn AL Cy Young votes after placing second in the American League with a 2.79 ERA. The Twins’ 11-year veteran righty is one of the more desirable starting pitchers on the market this winter, despite his age and the burden of the qualifying offer.

For a 34-year-old pitcher, four years for $90 million is extremely rare. Most projections have Gray earning a three-year deal, similar to what Chris Bassitt received a year ago from the Blue Jays (3 years, $63 million). However, I tend to side with the folks over at MLB Trade Rumors. I think Gray will get a four-year deal, because he’ll still be significantly less than the younger elite arms on the market and has produced at an equal rate over the last several years.

Gray is coming off a season in which he posted a 2.79 ERA. He’s a three-time All-Star and has finished top-three in the Cy Young race twice, along with one other top-seven finish. There was a brief moment where Gray hit some bumps in the road after being traded to the Yankees, but since being shipped to the Reds in 2019, he’s been one of the most consistent starting arms in the game. His age and the fact that he was extended a qualifying offer may deter the Braves from pursuing him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he received a four-year deal from somebody.

The other starting pitcher MLB Trade Rumors linked to the Braves was 32-year-old veteran Michael Wacha, who they project will earn a three-year, $36 million contract in free agency.

24. Michael Wacha. Three years, $36MM

Tim: Reds / Anthony: Braves / Darragh: Reds

Since a seven-year run with the Cardinals to begin his career, Wacha has bounced around the league. He spent successive seasons with the Mets and Rays before joining the Red Sox in 2022. Wacha had his best season in years for Boston, pitching to a 3.32 ERA over 127 1/3 innings. That came in spite of a middling 20.2% strikeout rate that led the Sox to opt against issuing him a qualifying offer.

The lack of swing-and-miss contributed to a lengthy stay on the open market. Wacha was one of the last notable players to sign, waiting until mid-February to ink a deal with the Padres. It was a four-year, $26MM guarantee that paid the veteran $7.5MM for the 2023 season. The contract included a creative series of options seemingly designed to lower the Padres’ CBT hit.

His 2023 campaign was remarkably similar to the previous season. Wacha allowed 3.22 earned runs per nine innings pitched through 24 starts. He struck out an average 22.4% of batters faced behind a fine but unexceptional 10.7% swinging strike rate. For the second straight season, his bottom-line results were better than his strikeout/walk profile would suggest. He owns a 3.27 ERA/4.00 FIP in 47 starts over the past two years.

Wacha struggled with the Mets and Rays following a long stint to begin his career with the Cardinals, but he’s bounced back strongly with the Red Sox and Padres over the last two years. He’s never been a high strikeout guy, but he’s compiled a 25-6 record with a 3.27 ERA since 2022. That likely makes him a candidate for a multi-year contract.

It wouldn’t be the sexiest signing for the Braves, but it’s probably a more realistic option, given the way Alex Anthopoulos generally approaches free agency. He’s not one to get into bidding wars, and due to the lack of high profile starting pitchers available, the top targets will likely cost much more than they are worth. Wacha would add a veteran presence to Atlanta’s rotation while some of the younger guys — like AJ Smith-Shawver, Bryce Elder, and Hurston Waldrep — come into their own.

Photographer: Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire

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