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Braves sort out their left field situation with Kelenic trade but they aren’t done yet

Jared Kelenic should be getting the majority of starts in left field for the Braves in 2024. That’s one position they won’t have to worry about but there’s still work for Alex Anthopoulos to do elsewhere.

Seattle Mariners v Atlanta Braves Photo by Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

MLB’s Winter Meetings have kicked off with a bang and the good news is that the big acquisition to start things off involved our Atlanta Braves. Late last night, the Braves swung a deal with the Seattle Mariners where they are sending pitchers Cole Phillips and Jackson Kowar to Seattle in exchange for 1B Evan White, lefty pitcher Marco Gonzales and Jarred Kelenic.

At a first glance, this is a very solid move for Atlanta. If you believe that Vaughn Grissom is going to be staying here and playing left field, then the Braves have basically sorted out their left field situation for the upcoming season by bringing in Kelenic. My guess is that the Braves believe that they can harness the potential that Kelenic showed back in the opening month of 2023, which is when he started off the season with a run where he went .308/.366/.615 over 101 plate appearances with 28 hits — seven of which were doubles and another seven were homers. He also tossed in five stolen bases during that month as well and finished with a 169 wRC+ for that period of time. He only hit .252/.328/.419 for the rest of the way and eventually finished with just 18 home runs, a wRC+ of 108 for the season and a final fWAR of 1.3 after missing a couple of months with a broken foot.

When you put it like that, it seems a little underwhelming that bringing in Jared Kelenic would be considered the move that “sorted out their left field situation” for the Braves, right? Well, there’s also the consideration that this could only be just the beginning for Kelenic going forward. He’s still only 24-years-old and this past year was the first time where he began to get a real foothold in the bigs as a solid player. Again, if Vaughn Grissom sticks around going forward then it’s safe to assume that Kelenic will be getting the majority of starts in another left field platoon. If all goes well, Kelenic would build on what he started in 2023 and Vaughn Grissom’s bat would make it clear why moving him to left field was the right choice and their platoon would end up being an upgrade over the Eddie Rosario/Kevin Pillar left field platoon. There’s a lot of potential here and the Braves have clearly decided to use this as an option for the upcoming season.

Then there’s the addition of Marco Gonzales. When you take an initial look at Gonzales, it’s pretty clear that his best days as a starting pitcher are very likely behind him. He had a three-season run between 2018 and 2020 where he was a very reliable starter for the Mariners but things have slowed down considerably in the three years since then — and that’s not meant to be a pun since he’s got a fastball that tops out at 90 on a good day and doesn’t have a whole lot of movement on it. Assuming that he stays around for spring training, he’d be battling for a spot in the back of the rotation.

With that being said, it’s now safe to assume that he won’t be staying around here for spring training. While I was writing this article, Ken Rosenthal posted this which confirmed my theory for why the Braves decided to bring him in:

One of my first reactions to Marco Gonzales being included in the deal was “Are we sure he’s gonna be staying here?” Especially with all the rumors that the Braves are still trying to get active in the trade market for a frontline starter, it was pretty clear that they probably weren’t going to try to hang on to a backend starter who is set to make $12.25 million this season and coming off of forearm issues last season. It would have been very unusual for a team in the position that the Braves are in to take on a salary dump and now we know that they’re likely going to be doing some salary dumping of their own going forward.

Now that we’ve got word from Ken Rosenthal that they are going to be trying to flip him, the main question now is “For who?” The obvious name that comes to mind at the moment is Dylan Cease from the Chicago White Sox. It really seems as if Alex Anthopoulos and the Braves have basically been building up towards making a big move throughout this entire offseason and they just picked up a pretty decent trade chip for any rebuilding team looking to take on some salary. There are definitely questions to be asked about whether or not Chicago would be interested in taking on that money when it comes to Gonzales’ contract but the Braves do have more trade pieces to get a deal done if they need to. Either way, it’s obvious that the Braves are trying to load up to swing a deal for a starter and at this stage in AA’s tenure as the person calling the shots around here, I wouldn’t bet against a deal being done — whether it’s for Cease or anybody else.

The Atlanta Braves have opened up this year’s Winter Meetings by making some noise in the trade market and I don’t think that they’re going to stop there. Between this trade, further trade rumors involving the Braves and the fact that they’re apparently still in the running for the biggest fish in the free agent pond, this figures to be a very intriguing point in the offseason for the Braves. Hopefully it ends up being one to remember, rather than a forgettable dud.

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