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Starting Nine: Trade targets Braves should have their sights on

Players that can fill Atlanta’s needs in outfield, bullpen and rotation 

Chicago Cubs v Philadelphia Phillies
Switch-hitting Ian Happ could bring a .920 OPS vs. left-handers to the Braves, as well as defensive versatility. He has the ability to play all three outfield spots and has 67 games at second base.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The last week has certainly changed the focus for the Atlanta Braves ahead of the Aug. 2 trade deadline. Have this conversation days ago, and a bullpen upgrade seemed the most likely route. An addition to the rotation or corner outfielder or could be helpful but weren’t necessarily pressing matters.

That’s changed with the loss of outfielder Adam Duvall to season-ending wrist surgery, and the continued inconsistencies of Ian Anderson on the mound. If you thought Kyle Muller was pitching well enough at Triple-A to be an answer should the Braves take a break from Anderson getting turns in the rotation, that took a hit with word that Muller was hit on his non-pitching hand by a comebacker and will be out of Gwinnett’s plans for at least the next five days.

Machinations of epic proportions won’t be required like they were last summer — when general manager Alex Anthopoulos remade Atlanta’s outfield in acquiring Duvall, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler — but the defending champs suddenly have more things to check off the shopping list.

With a focus on the outfield — and some players that can help as well at second base were the Braves have been 26th in wRC+ (73) sans Ozzie Albies — rotation and bullpen, running through the targets that should be on Anthopoulos’ shortlist.


1. Ian Happ, Cubs

Happ would make for a perfect fit on a number of levels. While he’s primarily played in left field for the Cubs this season, he can man all three positions in the defensive backfield, and also played 380 innings over 67 games at second base. He could help fill the void without Albies, especially if his rehab from foot surgery stretched into September.

The switch hitter has been above league average from both sides of the plate, with 117 wRC+ as a lefty and 159 as a righty and has posted a .920 OPS vs. southpaws en route to setting a career high in fWAR (2.3). But the biggest positive about Happ is the reason why the Cubs may not feel the inherent need to unload home.

The 27-year-old has another year of club control, going into his third year of arbitration eligibility next season after making $6.85 million this season, and shouldn’t be much higher than $10 million next season.

Affordable and versatile, he’s going to draw serious attention.

2. Brandon Drury, Reds

Think of Drury as Happ Lite, in only because he doesn’t come with any years of club control. But he’s ultra-cheap, making just $900,000 this season and the offensive numbers have been a tick better than Happ with a 2.3 fWAR, 129 wRC+, a .271/.330/.517 slash line and 19 home runs.

The 29-year-old journeyman, who is on his fifth team since 2017, does come with his concerns, as he’s clearly taken advantage of playing in the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark. Drury has hit 44 percent below league average at home, compared to 15 percent above elsewhere and he’s hit 11 of his home runs in Cincinnati and 26 of his 41 extra-base hits in all.

Expecting the same offensive return outside of the banks of the Ohio River may give Drury the tinge of fool’s gold, but he also brings immense versatility in the field. He’s played in the outfield, first base, second base, third base, shortstop and designated hitter for the Reds.

He figures to be had at less of an expense than Happ, and there’s also the potential he could be included into a package deal with one of Cincinnati’s starting pitchers.

3. Anthony Santander, Orioles

Braves Twitter is angling from a reunion with Jorge Soler, who is on the injured list with lower back spasms, and frankly is underperforming with a .695 OPS and 99 wRC+.

The champs instead turn to the Orioles, where they have a pair of outfielders that could help in Trey Mancini or Anthony Santander. There’s the chance that the Orioles, now over .500 and within three games of a wild-card spot, may not be as apt to deal either, and if they did, Mancini would seem the most logical candidate on a contract that includes a mutual option for next season.

But a team that’s making strides isn’t likely to get much for a rental in Mancini, and it would no doubt be tough on the fanbase and clubhouse after the 30-year-old’s return from Stage 3 cancer. Santander, on the other hand, comes with two years of control as he’ll be in his third year of arbitration eligibility next winter.

A switch hitter, Santander has a 134 wRC+ from the right side of the plate and 105 from the left, slashing .242/.347/.433 with 17 home runs, has a career-high walk rate at 9.3 percent and has dropped his strikeout rate by nearly five percent year over year. He can also play either corner outfield spot.


4. Tyler Mahle, Reds

The starting pitching market centers around Mahle, his rotation mate, Luis Castillo, and the A’s Frankie Montas. The pecking order goes Castillo (2.77 ERA, 2.1 fWAR), Montas (3.16 ERA, 2.1 fWAR) and then Mahle (4.48 ERA, 1.8 fWAR), and if the Braves don’t want to get into the level of return that would be expected for the first two, Mahle would fit nicely into the back end of their rotation.

He comes with concerns. First, he had a shoulder injury that cost him three weeks, though he did look sharp in his first start back, going six innings against the Cardinals and allowing three runs on two hits with five strikeouts. To no surprise, he’s also been much better outside of Great American Ballpark, holding opponents to a .189 average and 0.975 WHIP on the road compared to a .260 average and 1.474 WHIP at home.

Mahle also comes with a year of control and packaging him with Drury could make Cincinnati a viable aisle for Anthopoulos to shop in.

5. Jose Quintana, Pirates

If the intent is hoping that Anderson can figure things out in time for another postseason run, or if the Braves end up trying to save some innings for Spencer Strider, Quintana would be an acquisition that could fill a need without much of a hit to the farm system in return.

The 33-year-old lefty has bounced back with his best ERA+ (113) since his All-Star year of 2016, pitching to a 3.70 ERA through 97 1/3 innings and is allowing home runs at his lowest rate (0.65 per nine) in eight years. Averaging just under five innings through his first 11 starts, Quintana has averaged 5 1/2 his last six, including seven shutout innings in his last outing vs. the Marlins on Saturday.

The veteran is also due the balance of a $2 million deal, making him another affordable back end of the rotation option.

6. Blake Snell/Mike Clevinger, Padres

Let’s get crazy for a moment. If the Padres are going to be active, which could be as aggressive as trying to get Juan Soto from the Nationals, they’re going to have to clear space.

With a collective bargaining tax payroll of $228.9 million, San Diego is teetering on the threshold of $230 million, which would push them to second-time offender status. That comes with a 30 percent tax on all overages.

So how do the Padres get under that if they want to improve? Become that rare postseason contender that is both buying and selling.

San Diego has a surplus in starting pitching with Yu Darvish, Sean Manea, Joe Musgrove, MacKenzie Gore, Blake Snell and Mike Clevinger, and they could deal from the logjam with Snell, who is making $12.5 million — with $10 million of that going to the CBT total — or Mike Clevinger, whose 2022 salary is $8 million, with $5.75 million toward the CBT.

Snell and his 11.62 K/9 would be the most lucrative target with the Padres needing to find a way to combat an outfield that’s 25th with 89 wRC+, as the 29-year-old lefty is under contract through next season at $16 million.

Let’s just say the Padres want Soto and the remainder of his $17.1 million deal. It would take some more roster gymnastics from GM A.J. Preller to make it happen, but first and foremost would be moving Snell, and the Braves are among the teams that could benefit from adding him.


7. David Robertson, Cubs

The Mets are reportedly discussing a package that would bring them Robertson along with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras for multiple prospects. Contreras has long been earmarked for the Mets, though Robertson had seemed destined to wind up in New York but playing for the team he spent 2008-14 and 2017 and 2018: the Yankees.

The 37-year-old has pitched to a 1.83 ERA, his best since 2011, through 39 1/3 innings with 11.44 K/9 and .069 K/9. On a $3.5 million deal with $750,000 in incentives, Robertson in a free-agent-to be that could help bolster a Braves bullpen that is already the best in baseball with 5.1 fWAR.

The bidding war, though, could escalate for the best reliever on the market and a number of contenders vying for his services. But the relief market is, as it normally is, full of options.

8. Andrew Chafin, Tigers (LHP)

A.J. Minter has been the team’s most valuable reliever (1.4 fWAR), Tyler Matzek has shown flashes of looking like the Matzek of old since his July 5 return and Dylan Lee has a 1.38 ERA in 28 games.

Meanwhile, fellow lefty Will Smith has a minus-0.5 fWAR and a 12.60 ERA over his last six games with two home runs allowed. That’s not to say the Braves should move on from the former closer, who didn’t allow a run last postseason, but his walk rate is up 2.1 percent the strikeout rate is down 6.7 percent, and he has a near-.800 OPS in high leverage situations.

Chafin could help matters. He has a 2.64 ERA through 30 2/3 innings, striking out 10.9 per nine and has allowed one home run in 36 appearances. That K rate represents a nearly 5 percent increase from 2021 and he’s seen an eight percent increase in whiffs as well, wielding an arsenal that has a slider with a .102 expected batting average.

9. Matt Moore, Rangers LHP

You know the name. Moore was once an All-Star starter for the Rays but has exclusively come out of the bullpen for the Rangers with a 1.74 ERA in 34 games and 10.03 K/9, his best in any full season. The lefty can pitch multiple innings, something he’s done 18 times this season.

Moore has also been dominant vs. righties, holding them to a .170 average and has yet to allow a home run through 44 2/3 innings, making him one of only three relievers with at least 40 innings pitched to have not been tagged for a homer.

It’s not all perfect. Moore’s 12.5 percent walk rate is the highest of his career, and while opponents are hitting .211 vs. his four-seam (a nearly 100-point drop year over year), he hasn’t ended a year with an average vs. the pitch below .300 since 2016. There may be some regression in the cards, but Moore is another low-gamble option that could be of benefit.

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