The Atlanta Braves were one of the busiest teams in the first few months of the MLB offseason.
Atlanta immediately solidified their bullpen by signing former San Francisco Giants closer Will Smith and re-signing middle reliever Chris Martin. They also replaced the retired Brian McCann by signing former New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays catcher Travis D’Arnaud.
Since then, however, things have been pretty quiet.
The Braves seemed to place all their focus on re-signing Josh Donaldson. After all, the 2015 American League MVP hit 37 homers and ranked 20th in baseball with a 4.9 fWAR, according to FanGraphs. If the normally stingy Braves were already spending, why not bring Donaldson back into the fold?
This seemed like a shoo-in for the Braves. Donaldson had plenty of interest early on, but that interest began to wane as the months rolled on. It looked like a two-team contest between Atlanta and the Washington Nationals. But the Minnesota Twins had other ideas.
The Twins inked Donaldson to a four-year deal on Tuesday, a move that forces the Braves to switch focus with less than a month until pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training.
Atlanta need a productive bat in the lineup to compensate for Donaldson’s departure. As of Wednesday, it seems they might be more interested in signing one of Marcell Ozuna or Nicholas Castellanos to bolster the outfield. However, the Braves should flex some muscle in the trade market.
The Braves have plenty of prospect capital to swing any number of deals. But there is one player in particular Atlanta should look to acquire: Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant.
Here are three reasons why Bryant makes sense for the Braves.
3. Solidifying the hot corner
Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos previously suggested he would prefer not to enter Spring Training with John Camargo and Austin Riley as the competing starters at third base.
Yet, it seems like the Braves have changed tune as of late. Why?
Camargo was fantastic in 2018, slashing .272/.349/.457 with a 116 wRC+ value. But he took a massive step back in 2019, slashing .233/.279/.384 with a woeful 67 wRC+ value, according to FanGraphs.
Riley’s MLB career got off to a fantastic start. The 22-year-old slashed .356/.397/.746 with seven homers in his first 15 games in the bigs. Things only went downhill from there. Riley hit 18 homers in under 300 plate appearances, but he slashed .226/.279/.471 and posted a 36.4 percent strikeout rate.
Meanwhile, Bryant bounced back from an injury-riddled 2018 campaign to slash .282/.382/.521 with 31 homers. That production might have been even better had he not suffered a knee setback in August and an ankle sprain in September after slipping on first base.
Bryant is a former National League MVP. He has had success at every level and is among the best players in the game when healthy. Think of what hitting in the middle of the Braves lineup did for Donaldson…now imagine what it could do for Bryant.
2. Cheaper than Arenado
Some Braves fans might simply say “if we are trading for a third baseman, why not acquire Nolan Arenado?” It is certainly a fair question to ask.
Arenado has hit at least 37 homers in each season since 2015. He has won a Gold Glove Award in each of his first seven seasons in the bigs. There is no denying Arenado is one of the best–if not the very best–all-around third basemen in the MLB.
However, acquiring Arenado comes with additional cost…and question marks.
The 28-year-old will make $35 million this season and $70 million combined in each of the next two seasons. Perhaps more importantly, he has an opt-out at the end of the 2021 season. If Arenado continues to produce at his current levels, he could almost certainly opt out and seek an even higher valuation on the open market.
Bryant, meanwhile, will make “just” $18.6 million this season after settling with the Cubs in arbitration. Sure, there is his pending service-time grievance, but he is “widely expected” to lose that case. Thus, Bryant is likely to be under club control through 2021.
Acquiring Arenado comes with that high cost and the risk of him leaving after 2021. Bryant would be a free agent after the 2021 season as well, but he is probably going to be far cheaper while still producing at a level very close to Arenado’s.
1. Makes more sense than adding an outfielder
Why would the Braves pivot to Ozuna or Castellanos?
Ronald Acuna already locks down center field, and the Braves re-signed Nick Markakis (who has quietly been extremely productive for them) at the beginning of the offseason. Ender Inciarte is also back, and Riley’s ability to play the outfield gives Atlanta even more options.
Not to mention, the Braves have a pair of outfield prospects on the rise in Christian Pache and Drew Waters. Even if they have to deal one of those two in a hypothetical Bryant-Arenado deal, they still have talent waiting in the wings.
He is worth far more at his position than the likes of Ozuna or Castellanos would be in left field. Not to mention, he would be vastly cheaper than both free agents.
Yes, the Braves would have to give up prospect value and maybe a starter in order to acquire, but they need to make an impact move if they hope to get over the hump in the National League.
Now is the time to get aggressive and dip into the farm in order to acquire a legitimate star.