The winter meetings ended Thursday with a little news for the Braves as they picked up one righty in the Rule 5 draft while losing another. Outside of that and the signing of Cuban outfielder Dian Toscano and all-around “meh” Alberto Callaspo, the Braves had a fairly quiet four days. At least, it was quiet on actual press releases – the kind that often are done to announce a signing or trade. While many teams, including the Marlins, were busy, the Braves appeared to be passed by as they dangled offensive talents like Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, and Chris Johnson (one of these is not like the other).
Of course, that is what we know and we only know what we know because of what has been completed. What we don’t know yet is what happens next that was built on the conversations that began this week or talks that were revisited personally during the meetings. The latter was the case with the Upton/Johnson deal a month after the 2012 winter meetings. The talks began months before the trade, but certainly were revisited in the winter meetings.
As we sit now, both former Diamondbacks and Gattis are still Braves, though. What should we take from that?
It would appear that John Hart and the front office are stubbornly sticking to their guns in trade demands. Whether it’s a deal that blow the doors off or the culmination of a bidding war, the Braves appeal comfortable to wait this out and get the ultimate prize. This is a dangerous decision on some fronts. While you don’t want to sacrifice trade value to get a deal done, waiting too long might take away several prospective bidders. For instance, it would seem that the Padres are no longer interested in Upton as they were once rumored to be. Even if the bidder is still interested, they may no longer be as desperate. Once the Mariners signed Nelson Cruz, they reportedly became much more reluctant to include their top pitching prospects.
Of course, what Hart would remind us is that the Braves are retooling, not rebuilding. They could make no deals at all. While Hart seems to acknowledge the lack of minor league depth, the goal appears to only take deals with major-league ready (or soon-to-be) talent coming back in any trade. That certainly limits the available offers that might come Atlanta’s ways. The way I look at it, the most valuable prospect is the one with a high ceiling, but is already ready for a look in the bigs. Most teams aren’t keen on surrendering talent that can help them compete right now for a player that can help them compete, well, right now unless that player fills a significant need.
The Braves could conceivably wait until the season opens, though Upton’s value might decrease because you will no longer get a full season before he hits free agency (plus you can’t put a qualifying offer on him).
And what does this team look like if the Braves wait until the season opens to make a trade? Well, Gattis should stay behind the plate, though he should do that regardless if the Braves are using their brains to decide things. Upton would be back in left with new outfielder Nick Markakis in right. Remember, this offense was bad last season and switching out Jason Heyward for Markakis is unlikely to help that much as I pointed out before the signing was official. Jose Peraza could help at second, though he seems likely to at least open the season in the minors. Essentially, we will be back to begging the baseball Gods to let B.J. Upton hit again. That didn’t work last offseason, but maybe we should have sacrificed a live chicken instead of getting a bucket from KFC.
Either way, it’s still a long time until spring training and a lot can happen. My gut says the Braves will make at least one trade and could get more active than that. The outfielder market will likely dry up after Melky Cabrera chooses the next fan base to annoy. You have to think there is some team that can use Gattis as a part-time catcher, part-time outfielder explorer, most-of-the-time DH. When no one’s looking, you might be able to attach Johnson to trade. Just do what I do with my daughter. Point and say, “hey look! Doc McStuffins!” Works every time.