The 2019 Winter Meetings are behind us, and several top free agents have been signed. In fact, going by FanGraphs’ 2020 Top 50 list, eight of the top 10 free agents this year have signed with a team — including outfielder J.D. Martinez, who decided NOT to exercise his opt-out and Madison Bumgarner, who agreed to a 5-year, $85 million deal with the Diamondbacks on Sunday. Free agents are moving fast, meaning in order to acquire top-tier talent, teams will have to explore the trade market soon.
As so, the Rangers and Indians hooked up in a trade on Sunday, with Texas acquiring starting pitcher Corey Kluber. The Rangers were forced to give up their No. 19 prospect (via FanGraphs), reliever Emmanuel Clase, as well as center fielder Delino DeShields in the deal – a decent bargain that allows them to roster a potential American League Cy Young pitcher in 2020 as they play in their new stadium.
Moving over to the Braves, they’ve been named in rumors regarding highly touted players such as Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, and even Starling Marte — four players that would surely make Atlanta a better team in 2020. However, acquiring such players, unfortunately, cost prospects. Though, as we already know, the Braves are well-positioned in that regard. So with the trading season upon us, let’s look at several projects on the farm that could be attractive to opposing teams. Think of these guys below as players the Braves wouldn’t necessarily want to move, but at the same time could stand to lose:
*I’ve also included each player’s prospect ranking — as of the end of 2019 season — within the Braves’ farm system (per FanGraphs’ THE BOARD).
C, William Contreras — No. 6
Let’s face it, Contreras didn’t make the strides we were hoping for in 2019, as the Braves got a little aggressive and moved him up to Double-A Mississippi after just 50 games in High-A Florida. The 21-year-old hit just .246 with the M-Braves and, once again, failed to develop much power, only hitting six home runs total in 2019 (three in Florida and three in Mississippi). Fortunately for the Braves, Contreras’ prospect stock remains high. Heck, FanGraphs ranked the catcher as the No. 6 prospect in the Braves’ system, and MLB Pipeline has him eighth currently.
Teams are always looking for talent at the catcher position, and the Braves could sell organizations on Contreras’ name as well as his rank in the prospect industry. Add in the fact the Braves already have at least three other viable minor league catchers in their system right now, and Contreras looks like a solid trade piece this winter.
RHP, Touki Toussaint — NR
I’m sure at least of few of you saw this one coming. Toussiant was once a top 10 prospect within the Braves’ farm system, but since 2018 he hasn’t pitched to his ability and has been mostly an afterthought amongst the rest of the organizations’ top pitching talent. This seems like a perfect change-of-scenery deal.
In 2018, Touki made 24 starts for Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett, posting a 2.38 ERA while striking out 163 batters in 136.1 innings (10.8 K/9). However, this past season, the 22-year-old right-hander finished with a 7.49 ERA in Gwinnett and 5.62 mark in the majors, bouncing between levels as a starter and reliever. If the Braves can turn a teams’ attention towards those 2018 numbers, perhaps persuading suitors of what Toussaint is capable of, Touki could be a nice trade chip, maybe even a headliner in a deal.
RHP, Kyle Wright — No. 4 & RHP, Bryse Wilson — No. 5
I have these two together as they both seem to be at similar junctures in their pro careers, and quite frankly, they look to carry the same trade value as well. I recently wrote a Prospect Rewind on the Braves’ top pitching prospect, Ian Anderson, who would turn some heads on the trade market, but I think the Braves would rather hold on to Anderson, as he seems right on the cusp of being able to contribute at the major league level.
This leads us to Wright and Wilson, two starting pitchers that have the name recognition and past performance to generate a quality return for the Braves. There’s bound to be a rebuilding team out there that could utilize these two in their big-league rotation.
LHP, Kyle Muller — No. 7 & LHP, Tucker Davidson — No. 14
Wright and Wilson are two righties that could help the Braves acquire a big-time player on the trade market, well Muller and Davidson are two lefties that could do the same… maybe even better. Muller’s stock rose this past season after he built off his 2018 campaign and posted similar numbers in Double-A Mississippi, striking out 9.7 batters per nine and maintaining a strong 3.14 ERA in his first full season at the Double-A level.
Davidson, who I profiled in November, has been even more impressive, rising all the way to Triple-A Gwinnett in 2019. After leading the Southern League (Double-A) in ERA (2.03), Davidson was promoted to Gwinnett, where he posted a 2.84 ERA and finished with 134 strikeouts over 129.2 total innings across the two minor league levels. Moving either of these ascending lefties would hurt, but these are the type prospects that are required to land guys like Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant.
OF, Trey Harris — No. 24
Speaking of hurting, man would it be painful to see Harris traded after all he did in 2019, advancing from Single-A Rome to Double-A Mississippi, all the while earning Batter of the Year within the Braves’ minor league organization. The numbers were remarkable: 131 games, .323 AVG, 14 HR, 26 doubles, and eight stolen bases.
Although, the Braves could be hesitant to move top prospect outfielders Cristian Pache and Drew Waters (which is understandable), meaning Harris would be the next in line. Also, the former Mizzou infielder is trending upwards at the moment, meaning his trade value is extremely high. Harris could net Atlanta an excellent return IF they are willing to move him.
RHP, Jassel De La Cruz — No. 12
Cruz is another upward trender coming off an excellent 2019 season. Across three levels (A, A+, AA), he held a 3.25 ERA, even throwing a no-hitter back in May (the first ever for High-A Florida). If the Braves’ aren’t yet interested in parting with their more notable pitching prospects, the 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic may be a viable option. Cruz plus one solid position-player prospect should land the Braves some major-league help, though they might have to add a player closer to the majors.
Braves’ GM Alex Anthopoulos has shown a bit of a reluctance to move his higher-ranked prospects, though he did trade a couple of ranked players – Tristan Beck (No. 19 at the time) and Joey Wentz (No. 11) – when he acquired relievers Mark Melancon and Shane Greene at the deadline this past season.
Considering his conservative approach thus far, I think it would be surprising if Anthopoulos suddenly started trading his top prospects; however, the Braves had not been linked to such high caliber players on the trade market during the rebuild. This is an exciting time and unchartered territory for the current regime. Anthopoulos might feel a little more inspired to cash in on a few of these prospects, especially where he has a surplus (starting pitching, outfield, catcher).
For hoarders like me, it’s hard to see a young talented player traded, but it’s necessary sometimes and required for mid-market teams such as the Braves. One thing’s for sure, Anthopoulos will have a rather large pool of talent to choose from this offseason, as Atlanta’s farm system is once again stacked.