With pitchers and catchers set to report in less than a week, one would think the Braves have their roster ready — outside of perhaps a minor move — for spring training. Atlanta doesn’t seem to be seriously considering a blockbuster deal for Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado, and they are already going into the season with the highest payroll they have ever had. But there is one other area the Braves could improve, and it might fit within their price range — both financially and prospect-wise.
Last week, the Angels and Dodgers had a deal in place that was going to send Ross Stripling and Joc Pederson to the Angels for Luis Renfigo, who played 108 games for the Angels last season, recording a 1.2 fWAR. He was the 7th ranked prospect in their system in 2019 and had an FV of 45, according to Fangraphs.
Just two years ago, Stripling was an All-Star that finished the year with a 3.02 ERA, striking out ten batters per nine innings with a 1.6 BB/9. He wasn’t too much worse last season in 32 appearances (15 starts), posting a 3.47 ERA over 90 innings, and would be a decent cheap option to serve at the back-end of a rotation or out of the bullpen, but the real prize of this deal was 27-year-old lefty slugger Joc Pederson.
Pederson is in the last year of his contract, scheduled to make $7.75 million, and you can tell the relationship between him and the Dodgers has gone sour. He already took the team to arbitration over $1.75 million, which he unsurprisingly lost. Now, he’s been replaced in the Dodgers lineup after the acquisition of Mookie Betts and traded. For both sides, it seems as if parting ways is best before the start of spring training, but the Angels no longer seem to be a suitor.
Here’s a statement from Angels GM Billy Eppler:
Statement from #Angels GM Billy Eppler: pic.twitter.com/sVxbsO22LK
— Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger) February 10, 2020
That should open the door for other teams, and the Braves could be among the parties interested. Their most apparent hole may be at third base, but they could still upgrade their outfield by moving Ronald Acuña to center and moving on from Ender Inciarte. Surely, there is a team out there willing to take on Inciarte’s manageable two-years, $15 million remaining on his contract with a $9 million team option in 2022. By trading him, it would open up the room to bring in Joc Pederson financially, as the cash is essentially a wash.
Ender Inciarte has been a valuable piece over the course of this rebuild, but he and Nick Markakis have not cut it in the playoffs and haven’t been too much better in the regular season. Their days are numbered in Atlanta with Drew Waters and Cristian Pache nearing their MLB debuts. Adding a power bat like Pederson that has had success in October and strikes fear into opposing pitchers would change the entire outlook of Atlanta’s lineup. He also wouldn’t block either Pache or Waters in the future, allowing them to spend an entire season in AAA. However, the Braves and Dodgers would still have to agree on the return, which may be impossible.
While Alex Anthopoulos could easily look into his deep farm system and find a prospect more appealing the Renfigo — the Braves currently have eleven players with an FV of 45 or better in the minors — the asking price won’t be the same for a National League team that may be competing with Los Angeles come October. If I’m the Dodgers, who have the most talented roster in the NL, I’m only looking at a couple of teams that scare me in the playoffs. The Braves are one of those teams, and they would get even stronger by acquiring Joc Pederson.
Yesterday, Clint Manry broke down just how close the Dodgers and Braves are (in terms of fWAR projections) — even after the Mookie Betts trade. Giving Atlanta another player who can hit 25+ bombs in his sleep doesn’t seem like it is in Los Angeles’ best interest unless, of course, the Braves give up too much, which Alex Anthopoulos has shown no desire to do.
That’s where a trade like this might break down. Ideally, Pederson would complete a powerful Braves outfield capable of combining for 100 homers this season. But when you look at the Dodgers and Braves, they are two of a few organizations set up to win now and for many more years. These two could be competing this October and for the next nine to come. Neither side should be looking to help the other.
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