Most GMs don’t consider moving roster pieces until after the conclusion of the MLB Draft. Now that the draft is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to start pilfering the best players from the teams with no real shot at making the playoffs.
The Braves have outpaced even the most optimistic of projections through the first 62 games of 2018 and there are an even 100 left to be played in the regular season. Even if they play .500 ball from now until the end of the season, this will place their record at 86-76, which is right on the fringe of a wild card berth. With the eventual returns of Ronald Acuña and Mike Soroka, they could actually find themselves poised for a playoff run.
It still remains to be seen whether Alex Anthopoulos wants to push his chips into the middle of the table and make a run this year but if so, the Braves are going to need some reinforcements. Despite stellar play from many of their everyday starters, there is definite room for improvement in several areas - particularly third base and the bullpen, with the starting rotation as another possible area of need.
Even with indications that Johan Camargo’s underlying stats are better than his overall output, and that he is poised to put up stronger production as his numbers normalize, the offense has lost some of its early season magic and could use another reliable bat in the middle of the lineup. The bullpen has cleaned up its act a bit since an ugly run early in the season, but even with these strides it’s still a glaring area of need. The starting pitching has been up and down this year, and a case could be made that another dependable starter is needed to solidify the rotation.
Let’s take a look at a few candidates the Braves could pursue.
Eduardo Escobar, 3B, Minnesota Twins
The AL Central has been up for grabs for the first part of the season, and only now have the Indians started playing up to their talent level. They have the pieces to make another run at the postseason, which could spell bad news for the underachieving Twins. Their third baseman, Eduardo Escobar, is a free agent at the end of this season, and if they fall far enough back by July 31, they could dangle Escobar.
He is having a career year on offense, slashing .286/.340/.562 with 12 HR and 38 RBI, and has been worth 139 wRC+ and 1.9 fWAR through 56 games. He is a switch hitter with considerable pop, and would slot nicely into the five spot in the Braves’ lineup. He currently has higher numbers than Mike Moustakas in every slash line category with the same amount of home runs (12), and has provided more overall value, especially relative to his contract. He also leads all of MLB with 24 doubles.
Though a natural shortstop, he has been better defensively at the hot corner (1 DRS at third, as opposed to -8 DRS at short). His presence would allow Camargo to slide back into his super-utility role, and lengthen the bench but jettisoning a lesser offensive piece like Ryan Flaherty.
If acquired, Escobar would be a low-priced rental. His contract, which is worth approximately $3M for the remainder of 2018, is up at the end of the season. He is at the perfect intersection of production, cost, and value.
Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals
The connection is an obvious one, and has been bandied about for much of the season. To be honest, the idea of Moustakas at SunTrust Park is tantalizing, as his left handed power would certainly play up in Atlanta. He is currently hitting .272/.328/.494 with 12 HR, and has been worth 118 wRC+ and 1.4 fWAR through just over ⅓ of the season. He is also making hard contact at the highest clip of his entire career (43.8%), and could leverage this into a fair amount of home runs into The ChopHouse.
His contract includes a $15M mutual option for 2019. If picked up, this would allow some extra development time for Austin Riley, who is currently on the disabled list for Gwinnett. Prior to his DL stint, Riley had struggled to adjust to AAA pitching (aside from one monster game), and the addition of Moustakas would allow him to evolve without being rushed to the big leagues.
While the price of acquisition could give the front office pause, he will certainly be a more logical target than Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson. Machado would obviously cost multiple high-end prospects, and even though Donaldson has struggled with injuries and has sacrificed production at the plate accordingly, he could still cost a haul. Outside of the aforementioned Escobar, most of the players ahead of Moose in terms of fWAR are on contending teams, and likely won’t be going anywhere.
J.A. Happ, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
The rotation has not suffered the same hiccups the bullpen has, but it has not been without its warts either. Between inconsistencies and injuries, the starting five could use a stabilizing force. Meanwhile, in Toronto, the Blue Jays are already eight games under .500 - 15½ behind the Yankees in early June - and stand to lose Happ (and Donaldson) at the end of the season, so they may already be kicking around the idea of capitalizing on Happ’s present value. His 3 year/ $36M deal going into 2016 seemed like a bit of a stretch, but he has certainly earned it, going 37-18 with a 3.46 ERA since the contract was signed.
So far in 2018, he is 7-3 with a 4.08 ERA / 3.47 FIP / 3.17 xFIP, and is striking out 11.1 batters per nine innings. Considering the $13M he is making this season (approximately $8M through the end of 2018), the prospect cost may not be astronomical if the Braves take on the entire salary.
Blake Treinen, RHP, Oakland Athletics
While Oakland is playing slightly above .500 right now, they are 4th in a brutal AL West and could look to cash in some profitable pieces. If you’ve ever seen Treinen pitch, it becomes slightly obvious why he should be a target for the Braves. The former Nationals hurler has found new life in Oakland and has tapped into an arsenal that is positively witch-like. Not only has he posted a 2-1 record with 14 saves and a 0.92 ERA / 1.92 FIP, along with 11.05 K/9 and 2.45 BB/9, he has made batters look foolish throughout the American League. He is currently tied with Edwin Diaz and Aroldis Chapman as the second-highest rated reliever in baseball in terms of fWAR (1.3), and would bolster a bullpen that has battled inconsistency. He still has two years of arbitration remaining, so he would be a multi-year addition if the Braves were able to pry him away from the A’s.
Kelvin Herrera, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Like Moustakas, Herrera is another Royal whose name has been kicked around as a target for Atlanta. His long reputation as a staunch bullpen piece would serve to rearrange the relief corps into a more logical fashion, possibly supplanting Arodys Vizcaino from the closer role and into more of a set-up position. While Herrera’s acquisition would be desirable from the standpoint of having a lockdown closer, this would also be an example of addition by subtraction. Herrera would immediately one of the team’s strongest relievers, and would push the weakest arm out of the ‘pen.
Herrera’s strikeout rates are down from previous years (7.61 K/9), but he is still having a dominant season on a non-contending team: 1-1, 13 saves, 0.76 ERA / 1.97 FIP, 0.9 fWAR in 25 appearances (23.2 IP). His WHIP is a ridiculous 0.72, and he has allowed one home run all season. Also, for a bullpen that was beleaguered by free passes early in the season, it would be nice to add a guy who hasn’t walked anyone all year. That’s right. Kelvin Herrera has not walked one single batter all season.
It’s hard to gauge the price it would take to add Herrera. While he is a free agent at the end of this season, shutdown relievers are always a hot commodity and he could command a strong prospect at the very least.
The Braves’ 2018 season essentially mirrors that of the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers were also a year ahead of schedule in their rebuild, and eventually stood pat at the deadline. The Brew Crew missed out on the playoffs, as they decided to hold tight and wait for the rebuild to end organically, rather than forcing it. Whether the Braves decide to do the same remains to be seen, but if they decide to go all-in, any of the five player above could be a huge help.