This is the second in an 8-part series on the offseason options of the Atlanta Braves. The schedule will be as follows:
Monday, November 4: Free Agents
Tuesday, November 5: AL East trade options
Wednesday, November 6: AL Central trade options
Thursday, November 7: AL West trade options
Monday, November 11: NL East trade options
Tuesday, November 12: NL Central trade options
Wednesday, November 13: NL West trade options
Thursday, November 14: “Best” options for the Braves in the 2013-2014 offseason
Today, we will explore the teams in the AL East and how they fit with the Braves as trade partners this offseason:
The Orioles surprised many by competing for the wild card again in 2013 after surprising the baseball world in 2012. They’ve built their team around some wise trades, acquiring Chris Davis and Adam Jones, among others in shrewd trades over the years. The narrative is that Buck Showalter has turned the team into a winner, and while I love the way Buck manages a team, a narrative is just that – something that cannot truly be shown to be true or false but makes a good story. The Orioles were surprised to see how quickly Manny Machado hit the ground running in 2013, before running into a rookie wall in the heat of the summer and then suffering a difficult injury that ended his season. Luckily, he was not as severely injured as initially feared and should return early in 2014, if not for opening day.
What can they trade with the Braves: The Orioles have significantly added payroll in the last season and have been assumed to add another significant amount again, with rumors into the $120M range in their payroll after having a payroll of $100M last season. That could put them into the market for significant free agents as they only have roughly $90M in commitments and arbitration for 2014 at this time. They are one team looking for a second baseman and could be a dark-horse candidate for a salary-dump deal for Dan Uggla. The Orioles also have a need for pitching. That said, there isn’t a lot that would intrigue the Braves about trading with the Orioles. They have one catching prospect in high-A that intrigues me in a “we’ll pay some of Uggla’s salary to get this guy” sort of way in Michael Ohlman, and they have one possible MI trade chip prospect in Jonathan Schoop, who looks very similar to the current stable of young MI types on the roster.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox rebounded in a worst-to-first story to take the 2013 World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals. After a 2012 of disarray under Bobby Valentine and one of the most historic trades ever, the Red Sox re-made their roster with veterans looking for a second chance or a new beginning and were buoyed by rebounds from injured/underperforming players in 2013 like John Lackey and Jon Lester. Of course, Braves fans will insist that their winning was directly a result of signing Atlanta fan favorite David Ross as their backup and Lester’s personal catching caddie. The Red Sox have a significant budget as a large-market team, and they already have $135M in commitments for 2014. They don’t have a lot of holes to fill for 2014 as their main holes (shortstop/third base, centerfield/leadoff, bullpen depth) will be filled by young players in their organization already and players returning from 2013 injury.
What can they trade with the Braves: There have been some rumblings that the Red Sox may try to cash in on John Lackey‘s rebound 2013 season by trading him this offseason. While Lackey certainly pitched like an ace in 2013 and in the postseason, his $15.25M salary in 2014 makes him an expensive option as a staff leader for the Braves to pursue.
New York Yankees
The Yankees surprised all of baseball with their play in 2013. They had roughly the entire Braves payroll on the DL at any given time during the season, yet they somehow managed to stay in the hunt for the wild card late into the season. The Yankees even dodged the A-Rod saga to play well with and without him in the lineup. The big offseason stories for the Yankees will be two-fold: first, what happens with Alex Rodriguez and his suspension; and second, how many free agents will the Yankees sign for 2014? The Yankees head into the offseason with significant salary room (for them) available, and they plan to make a significant offer to retain the services of the elite free agent of the offseason, Robinson Cano. The Yankees have also been linked to Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, Matt Garza, and virtually every other big name this offseason. It would not surprise this writer if 3 of the 5 names mentioned above were Yankees in 2014. These are the Yankees you remember before their luxury-tax-cutting ways of the last two seasons.
What can they trade with the Braves: Once again, there aren’t a ton of options, but the Yankees could be team to make a move for Dan Uggla if someone out there outbids them for Cano’s services. They are one of the few teams who could absorb Uggla’s entire salary, and the Braves would likely be fine with taking a very minimal exchange for a team taking most or all of Uggla’s remaining contract. The Yankees have also been mentioned as being heavy into the closer market with Mariano Rivera leaving this season. No one is saying the Braves SHOULD trade Craig Kimbrel, but if the team wanted to maximize his value, it’d be this offseason before he gets deep into arbitration, but the prospect load the Yankees could offer is simply less than other closer-needy teams that may bid for Kimbrel if he was even hinted at available.
Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay did last offseason what the Rays do: trade a guy due to hit free agency soon for a big package of young, controllable talent. This has netted them Ben Zobrist, Matt Garza, and now Chris Archer and Wil Myers. There have been many more who have played a significant role that they have acquired through trade, and with their small payroll, they typically move a player before he gets significantly expensive or they sign him to a very team-friendly deal. Per this nature, the Rays have only 5 players under contract for 2014 at this moment. They will likely see ~$65M with arbitration and options, which does not allow them much, if any, room to sign fillers. That said, there’s a major reason that the logo to the right of this section isn’t a team logo and instead is a picture of Rays lefty David Price.
What they can trade with the Braves: That quickly leads into the main trade the Braves can be focused on in this entire division: the acquisition of David Price. I will admit that I’m in the camp of one who’d rather see a one- to two-year signing to lead the staff until one of the current young stud arms steps up into the role as the future ace. That said, depending on the price (no pun intended), Price could be a tremendous acquisition. The Braves currently don’t have a ton of players who are knocking at the door of the majors, and the Rays typically anchor a trade around a young player near the majors at a position of need. Sometimes that works well (Myers), sometimes it doesn’t (Hak-Ju Lee), but they tend to always find great value as even their misses net them very good talent that can either be flipped for need positions or utilized on the major league roster in Tampa. I believe in the end that the required package to acquire to Price will be higher than the Braves can or will (and definitely should) offer, but you can bet that the Braves will be bantered about as a team involved in the process until a trade partner is found.
Toronto Blue Jays
Okay, boys and girls, lesson #1 in team-building: you can’t build a winner by taking on everyone else’s big contracts. The Blue Jays were the talk of baseball last offseason when they acquired the Miami Marlins’ entire roster (okay, not really, but close!) and the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner in R.A. Dickey. They traded away a ton of excellent prospects, but many stated that they were able to make the moves while keeping very good pitching prospects in the system in Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, among others. The result was a last place finish and a team with 16 players under contract for 2014 already, so basically the 2014 Blue Jays will look just like the 2013 Blue Jays. If injuries and performance can improve, maybe the Blue Jays can improve, but every team in their division looks to possibly be better in 2014 than 2013, so it could be a tough go for the Blue Jays.
What they can trade with the Braves: So, they have nearly their entire roster under contract for 2014, and many under contract well beyond that. The Braves would be interested in some of their bench players, but they are signed well beyond what would be a salary that could be useful in Atlanta. There simply isn’t a ton here.
The AL East has one very intriguing storyline in trade market for the Braves with David Price, but otherwise a deal with any of the divisional teams may not be in the cards.