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The fire sale appears to be on in full measure in the windy city, and the Atlanta Braves could use a couple of pieces from there.
You’ve likely already heard that the Cubs have traded Yu Darvish to San Diego. While the Atlanta Braves could certainly have used that arm in their rotation, there are always the questions about both his durability and cost.
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That said, the Cubs likely still have some players that Atlanta could use… and it appears that the North-siders are still in “sell” mode:
The Chicago #Cubs, after trading Yu Darvish and non-tendering Kyle Schwarber, are now extensively shopping catcher Willson Contreras. Contreras is projected to earn at least $5 million and perhaps as much as $7.4 million in salary arbitration, per @mlbtraderumors
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— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 29, 2020
Now Contreras would be an interesting get for the Braves, but since Travis d’Arnaud is still the primary catcher for this club, William Contreras‘ older brother is probably not the first option that would be in consideration.
Nonetheless, if someone making money at that level is being shopped, that essentially tells us that the whole team can be had… for a price.
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Atlanta’s interests are almost certainly not at the top of the pay scale, but seeing what happened in the Darvish deal, there’s a good chance that they can find a relative bargain.
This offseason has moved painfully slow. Most of the notable names remain on the market, but that will all change in the coming weeks. With pitchers and catchers set to report in a little over a month, it shouldn’t be too long before these free-agents find a new home. The Braves are far from done making moves this offseason, with significant needs still among their outfield, bullpen, and bench.
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One of those spots they have to figure out before Opening Day is the backup catcher’s role. Travis d’Arnaud showed last year there is no need for a platoon anymore. He’s going to play the majority of the games. Still, no catcher should be asked to catch many more than 100 games in the Atlanta heat, and the Braves will likely want to keep him as fresh as possible for later in the year, making it important to have a high-quality second option.
Just like the rest of the market, there are still plenty of solid catchers available, including the Braves second option from last season, Tyler Flowers. I certainly wouldn’t mind bringing him back on another one-year deal, but Alex Anthopoulos could also look to upgrade at the position. However, the deeper the Braves get into the offseason without signing another catcher, the more I begin to believe they might give top catching prospect William Contreras a chance to win the job permanently in spring training.
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The Braves posted this video of him dropping some tanks during the offseason.
Here’s William Contreras hitting 𝙩𝙖𝙣𝙠𝙨
🎥 @Wcontreras42 pic.twitter.com/NAgw8jF07a
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) January 13, 2021
Based on his minor league career, it sounds a bit preposterous. I know he impressed us all when he was called up at the beginning of last season out of necessity, going 4-10 with a double in the four games he played, but he still has yet to play a game at the AAA level. The last time we saw him in 2019, he was struggling in Mississippi, slashing just .246/.306/.340. Expecting him to be a permanent member of the Braves from Opening Day without any experience in Gwinnett is generally far-fetched. Still, perhaps he proved himself that much at the team’s alternate training site last season, something we obviously had no access to.
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Following Contreras’ struggles to end the 2019 season, many people were down on him as a prospect heading into 2020. However, rumors of adjustments at the plate had others confident that Contreras was still the best catcher in Atlanta’s farm system. Those adjustments were heard loud and clear in spring training, and he didn’t seem to have any problem with major-league pitching when called upon during the regular season. Obviously, the sample size was minuscule, but if this success continued throughout all the live scrimmages and games at the alternate training site, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Braves trust him as Travis d’Arnaud’s backup going into spring training.
From there, it will be about Contreras earning the job. It may not be in the Braves’ best interest to spend the $3-5 million it will take to bring back Tyler Flowers on a one-year contract, especially if that money could go to re-signing Marcell Ozuna or bringing in an All-Star like George Springer. However, competition for Contreras will be necessary. The job won’t just be handed to him, but it very well might be his to lose going into spring training, which would be an auspicious sign of what the Braves feel about Contreras’ future.
Let’s peruse the roster just a bit:
JASON HEYWARD. He’s now the most expensive player in blue-and-white, making $21 million in 2021 and $22 million for the next pair of seasons after that.
In 2020, he had a solid year at the plate, getting an .848 OPS while hitting .265. However: (a) short season stats may not be trustworthy; and (b) that’s the best year he’s had since he broke in with the Braves way back in 2010.
He’s had better hitting years (.293 in 2015), but nothing more productive.
BRAVES’ INTEREST: tepid at best; an outfielder is needed — and he’s a great one — but at that price, he’d also need to hit like Marcell Ozuna, and he doesn’t.
KRIS BRYANT. Suddenly, this becomes more interesting. The Cubs are picking up some of Darvish’s contract for San Diego. One has to wonder if they might do likewise (say $4 or $5 million?) for Bryant.
That Darvish deal was essentially just a salary dump on their part, and with one year left with Bryant before he bolts elsewhere, you’d think that Jed Hoyer has figured out that the best path forward would be to get what they can for Bryant and move on.
They would ask for Austin Riley, no doubt. However, that’s a “no way” answer from Atlanta. A swap for Johan Camargo, though… that might be palatable to the Braves. Throw in a middling prospect for that $4-to-5 million and perhaps there’s a deal to be had.
In such a scenario, Riley could either get more work on his hitting at Gwinnett in 2021 or play left field. Either option might work out.
BRAVES’ INTEREST: probably enough to inquire seriously. Not sure that Bryant would be healthy enough to be “the bat” they need (and in truth, Riley is probably a better defender), but it’s worth exploring.
CRAIG KIMBREL. He’s on the hook for a $16 million payday with a $1 million buyout against a 2022 option. He’s also not been very good since leaving Boston.
I’ll cut this one short: at this monetary level, you’d had to be sure that Kimbrel is a lot closer to the 40+ save guy than he’s been lately… and that’s going to be very difficult to insure.
BRAVES’ INTEREST: Maybe if the team could swap Kimbrel with Ender Inciarte. The Cubs do need a centerfielder, and this would save them some money.
PROPOSAL: Make it Kimbrel and Ian Happ to Atlanta for Inciarte and a prospect. That could solve the left-field problem.
ZACH DAVIES. Yes, the guy who’s been a Cub for about 5 minutes after being traded from the Padres. He’s also set to make $9 million in 2021. He’s also a free agent after the year’s up. Oh, and he’s been pretty good, too.
BRAVES’ INTEREST: This is tougher since they just brought in Smyly and Morton… though Davies is going to be cheaper (and possibly better) than both.
Atlanta also has Mike Soroka returning, but it’s not a certainty that he’s an Opening Day starter… whenever the season actually starts.
While a swap for Davies is intriguing, I can’t really see that happening due to what’s already in place… unless Atlanta were to ship out Bryse Wilson or Kyle Wright… which isn’t terribly likely.
That covers everyone making over $1 million except Kyle Hendricks, Javy Baez, and Anthony Rizzo — all of whom would be in the category of “not needed” for Atlanta (eh… maybe Hendricks).
So of all these options, the ones most likely (of all these unlikely scenarios) involve Bryant, Happ, and Kimbrel.
NEXT: The Combo No-no
This is all also contingent on the Atlanta Braves also having some money to spend. That might be the case… but we’ll have to review that once Alex Anthopoulos weighs his options for the rest of the Winter.