- Joining the Braves on a minors pact is outfielder Xavier Avery. The 27-year-old played with the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate in 2016, slashing .248/.332/.363 over 347 plate appearances. He briefly cracked the majors back in 2012 with Baltimore, but hasn’t made his way back since.
- The Marlins and Braves are both talking to Jeff Francoeur about a potential reunion, Heyman tweets. “Frenchy” split the 2016 season between Atlanta and Miami, batting a combined .254/.297/.378 with seven home runs. It’s been five years since Francoeur turned in an OBP north of .300, but he’s consistently valued by big league teams for his leadership and clubhouse presence. If the Marlins believe him to be capable of playing some first base, he could pair with Justin Bour as a platoon partner. While that’s just speculation on my behalf, Francoeur is a career .279/.328/.449 hitter against lefties and batted .271/.313/.414 in 133 PAs against southpaws last season.
12:13pm: Suzuki’s deal will become official when he passes a physical, according to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link).
10:23am: The Braves have agreed to sign free agent catcher Kurt Suzuki, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo reports. The deal is a one-year MLB contract that will pay Suzuki $1.5MM in guaranteed money, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitter link), with $2.5MM available in incentives. Cotillo tweets that Suzuki’s incentives will be based on games started. Suzuki is represented by MVP Sports Group.
Suzuki, 33, hit .258/.301/.403 with eight homers over 373 plate appearances for the Twins last season. That somewhat modest output that still represented a big improvement from a dire 2015 season for the veteran catcher, though it fell short of Suzuki’s strong 2014 campaign (.288/.343/.383 in 503 PA) that earned him an All-Star berth.
[Related: updated Braves roster at Roster Resource]
In Atlanta, Suzuki joins Tyler Flowers as the Braves’ top catching options. A traditional platoon isn’t an option since both are right-handed hitters, though Flowers is likely to get the bulk of starts behind the plate given his superior pitch-framing abilities. Both Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner ranked Flowers as one of the game’s best framers last season, while Suzuki was ranked near the back of the pack. (Suzuki’s defensive issues reportedly played a part in a relative lack of trade interest in his services last summer.)
The Braves have been looking for catching help for much of the offseason, heavily pursuing Jason Castro and also being linked in rumors to the likes of Welington Castillo, Nick Hundley, Brian McCann and Matt Wieters. Suzuki represents something of a fallback option to those higher-profile names, and with Atlanta now ostensibly set behind the plate, it further limits the market for the still-unsigned Wieters and Hundley.
Rosenthal notes that with Suzuki now in the mix for the Braves, backup Anthony Recker could receive some trade interest from other teams. Atlanta has also added Tuffy Gosewisch, Blake Lalli and David Freitas as minor league depth this winter, giving the Braves more possible trade chips if other teams want to bolster their catching options during Spring Training.
TODAY: Boyer will earn $975K if he makes the MLB roster, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag tweets.
YESTERDAY: The Braves have agreed to a minor league contract with right-hander Blaine Boyer, reports Mark Bowman of MLB.com (Twitter link). Bowman notes that the Aegis Sports client will have a good chance to make the Atlanta bullpen.
The 35-year-old Boyer was originally drafted by the Braves back in 2000 and spent the first five seasons of his career in Atlanta. After a two-year absence from the Majors from 2012-13, during which Boyer has previously said he believed his career to be over, the right-hander returned to MLB on a minors pact with the Padres. Since that time, he’s posted a very strong 3.31 ERA in 171 1/3 innings with the Padres, Twins and Brewers.
Most recently, Boyer tossed 66 innings for the 2016 Brewers, posting a 3.95 earned run average with 3.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and a 48.9 percent ground-ball rate. That K/9 rate stands out as the likely reason that Boyer has continually had to settle for minor league deals in recent years. Boyer misses fewer bats than just about any reliever in the game — he’s averaged just 4.6 K/9 since returning the bigs — but demonstrates strong control and induces plenty of weak contact, which helps his cause.
Fangraphs’ Travis Sawchik recently penned a fascinating look at Boyer in an attempt to determine how he’s been able to succeed despite that lack of strikeouts. Sawchik observes that Boyer allowed the fewest number of barreled balls to opponents in 2016. Beyond that, opponents averaged a feeble 86.2 mph exit velocity against Boyer, which was the 11th-lowest mark in baseball. Sawchik likened Boyer’s knack for inducing consistent weak contact to that of Mark Buehrle, another low-strikeout arm that thrived for more than a decade despite his own lack of missed bats. Braves fans are encouraged to check out the piece in its entirety, as it’s a thorough look at one of the game’s more unique skill sets.
- Braves general manager John Coppolella spoke to David Laurila of Fangraphs about his slew of trades this offseason, discussing topics such as longstanding interest in the prospects acquired by Atlanta, moving Alex Jackson back to catcher, and negotiating trades with Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto. Coppolella says that the Braves had a folder on left-hander Thomas Burrows, acquired in last week’s Mallex Smith trade, on their table on draft day before he was selected by the Mariners in the fourth round. “…[W]e literally had our pockets picked by Seattle,” Coppolella said. He also acknowledged interest in lefty Luiz Gohara dating back to his amateur days in 2012 before Gohara agreed to sign in Seattle. Of Dipoto, Coppolella offered high praise. “It’s worth noting that Jerry is extremely professional about returning calls and texts, open to ideas, and not afraid to make moves, particularly in terms of trading prospects,” he said. “It’s amazing how many conversations get shot down almost immediately, but Jerry will listen and engage.” I’d highly recommend a full read-through not just for Braves and Mariners fans but for any fans that want a bit of a behind-the-scenes look on the player movement.
- The Braves have come to terms with Arodys Vizcaino ($1.6MM projection) and Ian Krol ($1MM projection), per David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Terms have not yet been reported. The team has now agreed to deals with all six arbitration-eligible players.
The Braves announced that they’ve acquired second baseman Micah Johnson from the Dodgers in exchange for a player to be named later or cash. Johnson was designated for assignment earlier this week to clear a spot on the roster for Kenley Jansen when his deal was formally announced.
In Johnson, the Braves are adding a left-handed-hitting utility option with plenty of control and perhaps some upside, too. He has been on the prospect radar for some time, though he hasn’t performed well in limited major league action.
The Dodgers acquired Johnson as part of the three-team Todd Frazier deal. At the time, he was coming off of a year in which he started out as Chicago’s second baseman, and put up excellent numbers at the Triple-A level following a demotion. But Johnson struggled at the highest level of the minors in 2016, slashing just .261/.321/.356, and saw only scant action with Los Angeles.
Speed and plate discipline have long been Johnson’s calling cards, but there are some worrying developments in both regards of late. He no longer tries to steal quite as much as he did in his breakout 2013 season, and was cut down on 11 of 37 attempts last year. Also, he surged to a 20.4% strikeout rate at Triple-A in 2016, far more than had been his custom.
[RELATED: Updated Braves Depth Chart]
It doesn’t help that Johnson isn’t regarded as a top-quality fielder and doesn’t have much pop. Still, it’s easy to see why the Braves were willing to take a shot on his talent. That’s not to say that Johnson is likely to make a serious challenge for MLB time right off the bat, as Atlanta already employs a similarly functioning player in Jace Peterson — another 26-year-old, left-handed hitter who spends most of his time at second base.
- The Mariners tried to acquire Mallex Smith from the Braves on multiple occasions this offseason and had talks with Atlanta about him as recently as last Friday. However, Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto swung a deal for Jarrod Dyson, instead. Dipoto and the Mariners still saw value in Smith and knew the Rays had interest in him as a potential component in a Drew Smyly trade, so Dipoto circled back with Atlanta counterpart John Coppolella over the weekend to get talks rolling once again. (As an aside, Rosenthal counts a staggering 35 trades for Dipoto since taking over as Seattle’s GM in Sept. 2015. Thanks for always keeping us busy, Jerry.)
- In a separate column, Rosenthal writes that while he received some negative feedback from scouts on the Mariners’ decision to move left-handed pitching prospect Luiz Gohara in yesterday’s trades with the Braves (and then the Rays), Seattle may have been more willing to part with the 20-year-old due to medical concerns. The would-be Zack Cozart trade from this past trade deadline fell apart due to the Reds’ concerns over Gohara’s shoulder, Rosenthal hears. Certainly, Atlanta is comfortable enough with Gohara’s shoulder, and GM John Coppolella suggested to Rosenthal that he’s not afraid to move on from a trade due to medical reasons. “We have had to walk away from two trades this offseason because of failed medicals,” said Coppolella. “We feel good about the health of [Gohara and left-hander Thomas Burrows].”
2:47pm: Smith “appears bound for Tampa,” Crasnick adds on Twitter.
2:11pm: The Rays are a possible landing spot for Smith, per Crasnick, who tweets that the teams have held trade talks. That connection opens up all kinds of intriguing theoretical possibilities. Tampa Bay already employs top-notch defender Kevin Kiermaier in center — a reported target of other organizations — and just signed another left-handed hitter capable of playing up the middle in Colby Rasmus. The team has also reportedly dangled a variety of its starters in trade talks, some of whom might well interest the Mariners (as well as other teams). It’s certainly impossible to guess what might be in the works, but any move on Smith could conceivably come with a corresponding swap from the Rays’ perspective.
2:00pm: The Mariners just added outfielder Mallex Smith and righty Shae Simmons in a swap with the Braves, but may not be done with their work for the day, according to ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter). Seattle could flip Smith to another organization, Crasnick suggests.
That does make some sense at first glance, as Smith joins a long list of center-field-capable players on the Seattle roster. The club just dealt for Jarrod Dyson, who joins Leonys Martin, Mitch Haniger, Guillermo Heredia, and Ben Gamel in a highly athletic outfield mix.
It’s not immediately clear what organization might constitute a trade partner, or what Seattle might be pursuing in return, if it is indeed Smith who’s back on the block. Teams like the Tigers, White Sox, and perhaps the Indians could all conceivably make some degree of sense as teams that might utilize Smith in their respective center field mixes in the near term.
The Braves and Mariners have announced a trade involving younger assets. Atlanta will receive lefties Luiz Gohara and Thomas Burrows, while Seattle will pick up outfielder Mallex Smith and righty Shae Simmons. Seattle has designated righty Cody Martin to clear roster space.
The 20-year-old Gohara has only reached the Class A level, but is considered a high-quality pitching prospect. He worked to a 1.81 ERA over 69 2/3 total minor league frames in 2016, with 10.5 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9. MLB.com rated him Seattle’s fifth-best prospect, while Baseball America placed him third among the organization’s pre-MLB assets.
A rare Brazilian pitching prospect, Gohara impresses with a mid-nineties heater, promising slider, and still-developing change that give him the promise of a useful three-pitch mix that could work in a starting role at the game’s highest level.
Burrows also checked in on MLB.com’s ranking of the M’s prospects, placing 25th. The collegiate closer is a two-pitch hurler who was taken in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. He showed well at the low-A level in his first taste of professional ball, allowing just seven earned runs with 37 strikeouts against 11 walks over his 24 2/3 innings. The 22-year-old figures to move rather quickly through the system given his collegiate pedigree.
For the Mariners, Smith represents yet another fleet-footed outfielder. He’s still optionable, and may not have much daylight to crack the MLB roster to start the 2016 season, but could figure as a near-term piece who also comes with five full seasons of control. Smith had been viewed as a key prospect for the Braves, but was somewhat expendable with the team locking up Ender Inciarte for the foreseeable future and fellow youngster Dustin Peterson also rising through the system.
Smith, 23, missed time last year with a thumb injury, but got his first taste of the big leagues in a fairly extended stretch. Over 215 plate appearances, he slashed .238/.316/.365 and swiped 16 bases while drawing strong defensive ratings. He has long been a major stolen-base threat in the minors, and could yet turn into a semi-regular major leaguer if he’s able to drive up his batting average. Smith posted a roughly average .302 BABIP last year, but has traditionally carried much higher marks in the minors thanks to his speed.
The 26-year-old Simmons, meanwhile, comes with four years of remaining control. He has thrown 28 1/3 total major league innings, wrapped around a Tommy John procedure, with a 2.54 ERA and 8.3 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9. The high-octane reliever also showed well at Triple-A in 2016 and has a history of lofty strikeout totals in the minors, though he has also struggled at times with command.
Adding two 40-man players led to the move to bump Martin, a 27-year-old who has seen action in each of the past two major league seasons with three organizations (including the Braves, Athletics, and Mariners). He was hit hard in his first go-round, but posted a 3.86 ERA over 25 2/3 innings last year. Still, Martin managed only 15 strikeouts to go with nine walks while surrendering five long balls in that stretch. He was much better at Triple-A, where he worked mostly as a starter. At the highest level of the minors in 2016, Martin posted a 3.62 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 across 114 1/3 frames.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.