Atlanta has certainly experienced their fair share of injuries, and as a result, have endured through many adventures with one of the worst starting staffs in baseball (25th or worse in starter’s ERA, FIP, and xFIP this season.) Injury concerns with Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. have also been less than ideal occurrences, though Acuna Jr looked just fine last night. However, Atlanta’s bullpen and offense have shown the quality to still make this season special. Though there is still plenty of risk and concern both in and out of the Braves control, they currently have the second highest World Series odds in the National League.
In other words, there is plenty of reason for this team to aggressively pursue the National League Pennant.
As a result, there is widespread speculation that Atlanta will be one of the most active teams at this year’s trade deadline. Whether that is through multiple minor moves or a major splash, the Braves clearly seem to be on the search for improvements. As the season has progressed, an upgrade at third base seemed sensible. However, the incremental improvements in the offensive production of Austin Riley in recent days, combined with an impressive lineup almost at full health, may have reduced the need for a change at the hot corner.
Therefore, the one glaring area for Atlanta to address is their starting rotation. Talking Chop’s own Daniel Hutchinson-Kausch provided wonderful insight as to which teams would be sensible trade partners for Atlanta as we near the end of August.
At first glance, a name such as Trevor Bauer becomes immediately attractive, but he is a free agent after the season, will have plenty of suitors, and will likely be a “top prospect for rental” situation. Familiar faces such as Kevin Gausman and Mike Minor could be targets, but are also rentals and may not be as attractive due to past and present ineffectiveness. Nathan Eovaldi and Johnny Cueto have been impressive in the past and have shown flashes of that past success this season, but come with large financial commitments beyond this year. As for Mike Clevinger and Marco Gonzalez, it certainly makes sense to aim high for potential difference makers for multiple years of control. However, the cost in prospects to acquire them would likely reach a level that the Braves have been reluctant to pay in the past.
Any of the names mentioned above could be targets for Atlanta, with some being clear difference makers that would bolster the Braves pennant pursuits. However, with general manager Alex Anthopoulos’s past preferences of targeting controllable upgrades while keeping his best prospects, intriguing yet reasonably priced starting pitchers seem to make more sense. Furthermore, with the financial uncertainty surrounding all of baseball due to COVID-19, Anthopoulos may be reluctant to add major future financial commitments in a move.
As a result, the Braves may prefer to do a move that would qualify as being short of a major splash but bigger than a simple tinkering effort. The starting pitchers who fit the category of intriguing and reasonably expensive with control beyond this year could be ideal. As a result, here are a few sensible names that the Braves could target in a trade by next Monday.
Though several other names are more highly regarded in the the game, Lynn has actually produced the sixth highest fWAR among starting pitchers since 2018, including 6.8 fWAR in 2019. He finished fifth in the 2019 American League Cy Young voting, and has not let up since the 2020 season has started. Lynn is currently 4-0, with a 1.59 ERA (third in MLB) and 50 strikeouts to 14 walks in 45 1⁄3 innings. Beyond the quality of his work, Lynn also has proven to be a reliable workhorse. In 40 starts since the beginning of last year, Lynn has completed six or more innings 31 times. He has failed to complete five innings in just one of those starts.
Of course, Lynn does come with a bit of risk. While a 3.38 FIP and 4.01 xFIP are not terrible, they do suggest a bit of regression could be on the horizon. Furthermore, Lynn will likely be one of, if not the most, targeted commodities over the next few days. He can certainly be viewed as the most logical trade target for Atlanta due to his success and reasonable contract total for next year. However, the question becomes whether or not he is worth parting with a top prospect to acquire. Due to past dealings and conversations between Jon Daniels and Anthopoulos, the Rangers will know which Braves prospects to target. As a result, Lynn may simply be too costly to acquire.
This past offseason, in an effort to make their rotation feasible, the Angels traded for Bundy with the hopes he would emerge as a valuable reclamation project. So far, their plan has worked. Bundy (2.58 ERA/ 3.08 FIP/ 3.51 xFIP) has been of the biggest surprises so far this year. Though his emergence has not helped the Angels in the standings, he could be a valuable trade trip. A significant increase and decrease in his strikeout and walk rates, respectively, suggest Bundy has improved his control. He also is keeping the ball in the ball park at career best rates, and has produced positive results with his secondary offerings, primarily his curveball and change-up.
However, while Bundy has improved, there are also some concerning trends. A continued decrease in velocity and career low .237 BABIP allowed seem to suggest Bundy has been a bit lucky. His overall track record should also caution suitors from overvaluing his small sample size of success this season. Yet, his prospect pedigree, control through 2021, and immediate success now that he is outside of Baltimore could make him attractive. Overall, Bundy is likely not a top target for Atlanta. However, similar to when they acquired Gausman in 2018, the Braves may feel Bundy could offer relevant upside to their rotation if the price is right.
The Boston Red Sox have made it clear that they are pure sellers. While names such Xander Bogaerts and Nathan Eovaldi have created plenty of speculation, another name who could be on the Braves radar is Martin Perez. Perez is experiencing a bit of a bounce back in 2020, with a 3.45 ERA. He has maintained an uptick in his strikeouts from last year, and increased the quality of his fastball, curve, and changeup. He also has manged to limit home runs at a better rate than previous years.
However, it is highly likely Perez will experience some regression in the near future. A 4.56 FIP and 5.56 xFIP paint a less than ideal picture for how well Perez has actually done on the mound. Furthermore, an 11.7% walk rate and .224 BABIP, compared to 8.4% and .325 career rates, shows Perez has been quite lucky at times. Perez has shown potential as a back end starter and innings eater in the past, and is owed only $6.5M in 2021. While he could be viewed as a back of the rotation option to take the ball every five days, it seems the Braves could target options with more potential.
Along with Bundy, Andrew Heaney is another cost controlled option from the Angels who has some intriguing aspects to his profile that could make him an option for contenders. On the season, Heaney has a 5.52 ERA, mainly due to giving up five runs in two of his last three outings. His walk rates and hard hit rates are higher than they were in 2018 or 2019, and he has also experienced a slight decline in strikeouts
However, there is a bit of encouragement that Haney has been a bit unlucky and has pitched better than his surface numbers indicate. A 3.16 FIP and 4.27 xFIP indicate that Heaney has shown flashes of quality this season. A .338 BABIP allowed and LOB mark of 60.2% may also offer hope for positive regression. Though Heaney is yielding more line drives this season, he also as allowed fewer fly balls, which has resulted in a significant decline in his HR/9 rate.
Similar to Bundy, Heaney does offer an impressive pedigree, and finally seems to have health on his side. However, because of injuries and stretches of ineffectiveness in the past, Heaney comes with as much risk as he does upside, but he also could be one of the better natural talents among these options. I feel he is certainly a logical option to explore, but could also be at a higher cost if the Angels want to contend next season.
Though the Orioles seem to be fading into the back of the baseball pack daily, they have been more competitive than expected this year, thanks in large part to bounce back seasons from Tommy Milone and Alex Cobb. Though Milone could be a Braves target, he is a free agent at the end of the season. Cobb, on the other hand, is controllable through next year, and though his price tag is $15M, there are indications that he is returning to the form that made him a valuable pitcher in the middle of last decade.
Cobb (3.73 ERA/ 4.99 FIP/ 3.99 xFIP) has been decent to start the season. He has been hit hard at times, as his HR/FB rate and hard hit percentages are significantly higher than his career marks. Though it may seem logical to expect positive regression in those areas, Cobb also is coming off an injury plagued 2019 season, and will be 33 in October. He may be more susceptible now to harder contact than he was during his peak.
There are encouraging signs that Cobb’s talent still remains at a respectable level. His 58% GB rate and 19% FB rate are near or at career peaks. While he may eventually allow more fly balls, the rate at which they leave the park should go down, and Cobb has displayed plenty of proof he can keep his ground ball rates in the 50-55% percent range over significant stretches. He is throwing harder across the board than at any other point in his career, and while his strikeout rates remain below average, his SwStr% is at its highest point since 2014, the year he produced the highest fWAR of his career.
It is hard to validate Cobb being worth his price tag in 2021, but the Braves could get creative to make it work. If they could include a contract such as Ender Inciarte, the cost becomes less of a hurdle. Even if that does not work, Cobb could become 2021’s version of the “past his prime yet intriguing veteran innings eater” that Anthopoulos has shown preference to previously through Dallas Keuchel and Cole Hamels.
Though Cobb is not as ideal as other names mentioned, if the prospect price is right, he could be a decent to good middle of the rotation find to eat innings and keep games close. That trait alone is likely valuable for the Braves, especially after this season. Atlanta and Baltimore have worked out deals in the past, so the organizations know each others’ rosters.
Staying focused on familiar faces, a name that was popular last year that could make sense this year for the Braves is Matthew Boyd. However, while his price last year may have been too high due to a breakout in the first half of 2019, he has seen an unfortunate reversal of fortunes in 2020. His ERA currently stands at 8.48 (YIKES!). That is the result of giving up 27 runs and 8 home runs over 28 2⁄3 innings. Obviously, Boyd is getting hit harder than at any other point in his career. Fortunately, there are signs that his current 2.51 HR/9 rate and .373 BABIP allowed could be short lived.
Boyd’s 4.60 xFIP suggests he has been better than his ERA shows. He is producing near career best GB rates, and the lowest FB rates of his career. Though slightly below last year’s numbers, Boyd is maintaining the improvement in strikeouts and swinging strikes he showed in 2019. The big issue for Boyd has been a significant drop in the effectiveness of his slider and the inability to miss barrels. If Boyd can figure out how to get those measures back to career norms, he should have better success.
Overall, Boyd can easily be viewed as a target to avoid. But with still two years of control remaining beyond 2020, the fact that he was drafted by Anthopouls, and that Atlanta and Detroit know each other from the Shane Greene trade, Boyd could make sense for the Braves. Furthermore, he could become the best bargain of this group due to his lower price tag and years of control. Detroit has notoriously held on to assets for too long in the past, as they did with Boyd last year. Though they may not want to trade him when his value is low, the Braves may be able to make something happen without giving up a top prospect.
Duffy has been mentioned a time or two as a potential Braves target in the past. However, due to injury concern and bouts of ineffectiveness, he has never appeared as an ideal target. Duffy has always been an intriguing talent, and his 3.99 ERA/ 3.74 FIP/ 4.16 xFIP triple slash production so far this season shows he would be a talented addition to any rotation.
Duffy, unlike some of the aforementioned names, has been mostly inline with his career norms to start 2020. However, he is producing the best strikeout rates of his career without sacrificing an increase in walk rates. While he has lost a bit of velocity over time, his fastball utilization has helped it produce its highest value since 2015. Though his sinker is not as effective this year, this is the first season Duffy has seen both his fastball and sinker produce positive values at the same time.
A few concerns for Duffy is a recent bout with forearm tightness and his $15.5M price tag in 2021. The extra year of control is not as unreasonable if Duffy could be relied upon to throw 180 or more innings at the level of production he has shown this season. However, he has never thrown 180 innings in a season, and never seems to go a long stretch without injury concerns. If the Braves could add him for a low prospect price, or get creative in a contract swap with Inciarte, a deal may make sense. Despite his solid numbers this season, it seems unlikely that the Braves would pay a relevant cost for Duffy.
As can be seen, there are plenty of options out there for Atlanta. Though each of these options has flaws and concerns, that is why many of them could come at a reasonable price for the Braves and become a middle of the rotation bargain. Atlanta may decide to make an aggressive, get the team over the top type move by Monday’s deadline , but previous creative efforts in trades by Anthopoulos could result in one of the names above. Without a doubt, the short sample sizes from each of these players should be kept in mind when considering their production in 2020. In the end, while an ace or top of the rotation option would be ideal, an arm that can simply eat innings and keep the Braves in the game could, if the price is right, be of significant value for Atlanta in the present and future