Since the signings of Brian McCann and Josh Donaldson, Braves’ fans have been starving for another major acquisition to improve the team. Combining Alex Anthopoulos flair for blockbuster trades and the Braves deep farm system, this offseason has been widely speculated to be a busy one for Atlanta. However, despite plenty of rumors and from outside sources, the past six weeks has been rather quiet for the Braves.
One reason for the lack of information is Anthopoulos well known desire to keep information close to the vest. The idea behind this tactic is the less other teams know of your intentions, the more leverage you potentially have in trade talks. However, as time goes on and more conversations occur, it becomes easier to identify motives.
A clear example of this is the widely known interest the Braves have in JT Realmuto. While Atlanta beat writers have downplayed the interest, other sources have indicated the Braves continue to stay involved in those talks. Beyond Realmuto, another potential target for Atlanta has been Sonny Gray. This speculation seems to have been legitimate with Jeff Passan’s report the Braves had tried to acquire Gray earlier this offseason.
While the big takeaway from Passan’s report was Atlanta’s interest in Gray, the details of the potential deal confirmed another trend in Braves’ trade talks. The reported deal was Gray to Atlanta, Jurickson Profar to the Yankees, and a Braves prospect to Texas. While the deal ultimately did not happen, the Rangers’ involvement is significant. Over the past several months, Atlanta and Texas have been linked together multiple times as potential trade partners.
Back in the July, as the Trade Deadline approached, it was rumored the Rangers had interest in Luiz Gohara, while the Braves liked reliever Keone Kela. Anthopoulos eventually shot this down, stating he would not trade a young starter for a reliever. At the Winter Meetings, reports again surfaced of the Braves speaking to the Rangers about potential trades. However, it seemed that the talks were more due diligence than anything, and that nothing was imminent.
One potential reason for the frequent reports linking the two franchises is that they seem to match up well for potential trades. Both T.R. Sullivan of the Rangers and Mark Bowman of the Braves mentioned this at the Winter meetings. This logic stems from the simple concept of dealing from strengths to improve weaknesses. A strength of the Rangers’ roster is their depth of outfielders, while a weakness is their lack of starters. A strength of the Braves’ roster is their plethora of young starters, with an obvious need for another outfielder.
This logic seems to be supported from a statistical perspective. In 2018, The Rangers were 29th in starters’ ERA, 28th in starters’ FIP, and 27th in starters’ WAR. The Braves could be a source of improvement as they currently have 7 starting pitchers in MLB’s top 100 prospects. Atlanta was 16th in the majors with a .726 OPS against right handed pitching in 2018. A significant source of that production, Nick Markakis, who produced a .820 OPS against RHP, is now a free agent.
Last year, Shin Shoo Choo, Nomar Mazara, and Joey Gallo, three Rangers with outfield experience, all had at least 349 at bats against right handed pitching. Each of them produced an OPS of .783 or better overall in those at bats. As a result, it seems both teams could fill a roster need and improve a statistical weakness for the other.
Beyond roster and production needs, both teams also could benefit from acquiring assets they can control for years . Texas is looking to rebuild, and sensibly wants to acquire talent it can control for the foreseeable future. The Braves have reportedly asked about cost-controlled outfielders with other teams. With a desire to not hand out long term contracts with high average annual values, the Braves seem focused on getting an outfielder that can be a low cost source of production for the next few years.
Fortunately, the assets both teams can offer each other share this characteristic. Each of the Braves young starters offer many years of control that could benefit the Rangers. Choo, Mazara, and Gallo all come with at least two years’ worth of control. The added benefit of being able to control these players beyond 2019 potentially adds incentive for a deal to be made between both teams.
As can be seen, there are some valid reasons why a potential trade between Atlanta and Texas makes good sense. However, Atlanta has other options they could pursue. The Braves could continue focusing on a more talented outfield target, such as Mitch Haniger or David Peralta. Or they could just simply resign Nick Markakis or another outfielder through free agency.
If Haniger and Peralta remain unavailable, it comes down to whether the Braves feel the prospect cost to acquire an outfielder would be a better value than simply resigning Markakis. As mentioned above, Choo, Mazara, and Gallo all offer multiple years of control. When compared to Markakis or other free agents, Mazara’s and Gallo’s youth and talent potentially provides more upside, while Choo had an .892 OPS against RHP in 2018.
Combining any of three these players with Adam Duvall in a platoon could be a cost effective way to replicate or even surpass Markakis’s 2018 production. While none of three Rangers are known for their defense, Duvall’s above average fielding could take over late in games. As long as the prospect cost is reasonable, a trade with Texas could offer the best value for Atlanta.
Value seems to be the key word for the Braves in any potential move, as Anthopoulos alluded to when he stated his preference for value over need at the Winter Meetings. Atlanta could find value in a trade with Texas beyond just outfielders. Atlanta could expand any deal to involve Jose Leclerc, one of 2018’s breakout relief pitchers who may be available at the right price, to improve the bullpen. And as the failed Sonny Gray deal showed, the Braves could also send prospects to Texas in exchange for Rangers players or prospects that then could be swapped for a target on another team.
One other source of value that would come from trading with Texas is that Atlanta could maintain balance in its farm system. Few teams, if any, have a bigger need for young pitching than the Rangers. If Atlanta can fill one or multiple needs by dealing from its surplus of pitching, they can retain their position prospects. This would allow Atlanta to keep good prospects at positions of greater need in the minors. On the other hand, it also makes it easier to include prospects in a deal for another impact player, such as Realmuto.
For a creative GM such as Anthopoulos, having multiple options to improve is never a bad thing. It also increases the chance you will find the value that you seek. It seems reasonable that an opportunity with the Rangers could provide good value to the Braves for 2019 and beyond.