Atlanta Braves Rumors

Atlanta Braves trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

NL East Notes: Freeman, Olivera, Shields

With the Braves in the throes of a rapid rebuilding effort, first baseman Freddie Freeman is now the longest tenured player on the roster, writes Mark Bowman of MLB.com. While Freeman is optimistic about the 2015 season, it’s worth noting that Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, and Evan Gattis represented 51 percent of the club’s home runs in 2014. Losing the three biggest bashers from an otherwise moribund offense could be seen as a major issue. Freeman hopes a greater emphasis on contact will help to counteract the loss of power.

  • The Braves held a private workout for Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera, reports Ben Badler of Baseball America. In attendance to watch the 29-year-old were manager Fredi Gonzalez and assistant GM John Coppolella. Olivera is likely to sign as a second or third baseman – both positions the Braves could improve upon. Current candidates for both positions include Chris Johnson, Alberto Callaspo, Kelly Johnson, Jace Peterson, and Phil Gosselin. The Padres and Giants have also been tied to Olivera per Baseball America.
  • The Marlins should consider a “Hail Mary” offer for free agent pitcher James Shields, suggests Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. A two-year, $35MM proposal might represent the limit for what the club can afford. Since Shields rejected a qualifying offer, he’ll cost a draft pick to sign in addition to the financial considerations. Such an offer represents a long shot for both sides. The Marlins are thought to be up against their payroll limit, so an addition would require the approval of owner Jeffrey Loria. From Shields perspective, he’s thought to be seeking at least four years and $70MM.

 


Minor Moves: Wall, Castillo, Volstad, Burgos, Flores

Let’s run down the day’s minor moves:

  • The Pirates announced the signing of righty Josh Wall and catcher Wilkin Castillo to minor league deals with spring invites. And the club also added righty Chris Volstad, per Matt Eddy of Baseball America (via Twitter). Wall, 28, logged just one unsightly inning last year with the Angels but threw 44 1/3 productive innings at Triple-A. Oddly enough, Castillo has spent most of his time in the minors as a backstop but played only left field and second base in brief big league time back in 2008-09. The true utility man has been playing in Mexico since 2012. Volstad, of course, was a fixture in the Marlins rotation from 2008-11, but has seen minimal action since an unsuccessful 2012 run with the Cubs.
  • Right-hander Hiram Burgos is heading back to the Brewers, Eddy tweets. Burgos was a 40-man casualty in September, but will remain in the only professional organization he has known. The 27-year-old made one brief, unsuccessful stint in the bigs. He missed significant time last year due to shoulder surgery.
  • One additional catcher is joining the Braves organization, Eddy tweets, with Jesus Flores signing a minor league deal. A five-year veteran of the division-rival Nationals, the 31-year-old has bounced around in the upper minors the last two years and will look to extend his career in Atlanta.

Rockies Acquire David Hale, Gus Schlosser From Braves

The Rockies have acquired right-handers David Hale and Gus Schlosser from the Braves in exchange for minor league catchers Jose Briceno and Chris O’Dowd, the teams announced today.

Of the players involved in this trade, Hale easily has the most big league experience. The 27-year-old Hale has turned in 98 1/3 innings of 3.02 ERA ball over the past two seasons in a swingman role for the Braves, making eight starts and 39 relief appearances. He’s averaged just 5.3 K/9 and walked a slightly troubling 3.7 hitters per nine, but he’s also posted a stellar 56.7 percent ground-ball rate, which undoubtedly has appeal to the Rockies. It’s unclear at this time what role Hale will fill for the Rockies; Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Matzek and Jordan Lyles appear likely to hold down the first four rotation spots, and Hale could join Eddie Butler, Christian Bergman and Chris Rusin in competing for the fifth slot. He could also again serve as a swingman, providing long relief when needed and slotting into the rotation on occasion throughout the year.

As for Schlosser, the 26-year-old debuted in 2014 but struggled to a 7.64 ERA in 17 2/3 innings of work. Schlosser struck out just eight hitters against six walks in that stretch, though he fared better in the minors to some extent, notching a 4.18 ERA with 6.4 K/9 against 4.4 BB/9. As MLB.com’s Mark Bowman points out (on Twitter), Schlosser has been through a curious cycle with the Braves over the past two months. He was non-tendered on Dec. 2 to clear a space on the 40-man roster then re-signed to a minor league deal four days later, and he’s now been shipped to Colorado.

Briceno, the more highly regarded of the two prospects headed to the Braves, didn’t rank among the Rockies’ Top 10 prospects per ESPN’s Keith Law or Baseball America, but he did place 11th among Rockies farmhands on the list of Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel. Briceno, who turned 22 in September, spent this past season at Class-A where he batted .283/.336/.476 with 12 homers in 350 plate appearances. As McDaniel notes, Briceno is a work in progress defensively but has a plus arm and plenty of athleticism to go along with raw power and a feel for hitting. It’s a long shot, but he’s a potential everyday option behind the plate in McDaniel’s eyes, which is enough for him to praise Atlanta for making this move (Twitter link).

O’Dowd, the son of former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd, was San Diego’s 23rd-round pick in the 2012 draft. He split the 2014 season, his age-23 campaign, between Class-A Advanced and Double-A, posting a combined batting line of .271/.335/.385 in 471 plate appearances.

From Atlanta’s perspective, this move will open a slot on their 40-man roster, allowing the team to make Jonny Gomes‘ one-year contract official.



Fredi Gonzalez Entering Final Year Of Contract

Eleven and a half months ago, the Braves announced that they had extended the contract of manager Fredi Gonzalez, but terms of the deal were not disclosed. Now, however, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that Gonzalez signed a one-year extension, meaning he’s entering the final season of his contract (all Twitter links).

Rosenthal adds that while the Braves’ chances of posting a strong record are slim given their offseason rebuild, Gonzalez may still be an extension candidate, as he has strong support from both Bobby Cox and president John Schuerholz. However, an extension isn’t likely until the club determines whether or not he fits in with the new leadership dynamic that is in place under president of baseball operations John Hart.

Gonzalez, 51, has managed the Braves to a 358-290 record in his four seasons as manager and owns a lifetime 634-569 record between Atlanta and Miami. He’ll be tasked with leading a new-look coaching staff that has added the likes of Bo Porter (third base coach) and Kevin Seitzer (hitting coach). Word of a possible extension for Gonzalez will draw ire from some Braves fans, as Gonzalez has become somewhat of a polarizing figure among the Atlanta fan base; many felt that he should have been dismissed alongside now-former GM Frank Wren, who was fired in late September. The Braves started out strongly in 2014, posting a 52-43 record in the first half before limping to a 27-40 finish following the All-Star break.


Braves To Sign Eric Stults

The Braves have agreed to sign left-hander Eric Stults to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training, reports MLB.com’s Mark Bowman (on Twitter). Stults is a client of Pro Star Management, Inc.

The 35-year-old Stults has spent the better part of the past three seasons in the Padres’ rotation, working to a 3.87 ERA with 5.6 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and a ground-ball rate just north of 40 percent. The past two seasons were his first full years in a big league rotation, and he averaged 190 innings between the two campaigns.

While all of that appears solid on paper, Stults saw his numbers take a step back in 2014, and he’s never fared particularly well away from the pitcher-friendly Petco Park (4.77 road ERA in 2013, 4.50 in 2014). Last season, Stults worked to a 4.30 ERA that metrics such as xFIP and SIERA feel is commensurate with his talent level, and the pristine command he showed in 2013 (1.8 BB/9) regressed toward his career mark, as he allowed 2.3 walks per nine.

Stults figures to compete with Michael Foltynewicz to see which of the two will round out a starting rotation that currently includes Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Mike Minor and Shelby Miller.


Braves Designate Jose Constanza For Assignment

The Braves have designated outfielder Jose Constanza for assignment, the club announced. His roster spot will go to Cuban outfielder Dian Toscano, whose signing was also announced today after being reported last month.

Constanza, 31, has seen only 240 plate appearances at the big league level over the last four seasons, compiling a .273/.316/.323 slash. He has spent quite some time at the Triple-A level, logging 2,073 trips to the plate and a .303/.358/.352 batting line and 122 stolen bases over the last five years.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Constanza exceeded expectations with a nice .724 OPS run in 119 turns at bat back in 2011. But he was and remains more of a reserve or organizational depth piece, with his speed and ability to play center his two main calling cards.


Cuba Links: Unblocking, Moncada, Olivera

We looked yesterday at the latest on the slowly-moving Yoan Moncada signing eligibility process. Today, there’s an update to that story as well as some more interesting info on the always-intriguing Cuban market:

  • It is Major League Baseball, not the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), that is currently holding up Moncada’s freedom to sign, reports Baseball America’s Ben Badler. Though MLB has already declared him a free agent, and Moncada has met the standards for a “general license” that would leave him free to sign (“unblocked”) in OFAC’s eyes, the league is not permitting Moncada (and others) to reach eligibility based on that general license. Instead, per Badler, MLB has required players since Yasiel Puig to apply for and receive a “specific license,” creating up to a six-month delay. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez adds (via Twitter) that OFAC changed its rules four years ago, with the additional step (presumably, the specific license) being added at some intervening point.
  • As Badler explains, if the process drags on long enough, it could create some intrigue, as teams like the Yankees and Red Sox will face a two-year international signing ban (for all but sub-$300K bonus amounts) beginning on June 15 of this year.
  • Fellow second basemen Hector Olivera and Andy Ibanez, among other players, are awaiting their specific licenses, like Moncada, Badler notes.
  • Olivera, of course, is more of a plug-and-play option than the other, young Cuban middle infielders. Baseball America passes on some video of Olivera, who cuts rather an imposing figure for a second baseman. Badler wrote up Olivera’s efforts yesterday, noting that the PadresGiantsAthletics, and Braves had significant presences in the stands.

Braves Sign John Buck To Minor League Deal

The Braves have inked veteran backstop John Buck to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp this spring, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports on Twitter. Buck is expected to open the year at Triple-A, Bowman adds.

Atlanta now appears to be set with veteran options behind the dish to supplement youngster Christian Bethancourt. The club already brought in A.J. Pierzynski, and will now slot Buck in behind that major league duo.

Buck 34, has seen action in parts of eleven big league seasons. Over 4,009 total plate appearances, he owns a .234/.301/.398 slash with 134 home runs. He spent last year with the Mariners and Angels, receiving just 97 big league turns at bat and putting up a meager .570 OPS, though he did hit well in his time at Triple-A. Despite poor framing ratings, Buck has been valued as a good defensive catcher in the recent past. But Seattle reportedly let him go last year in part due to concerns with his abilities behind the dish.

Given Buck’s high standing as a good clubhouse presence, the Braves will surely hope for the best on the field and look to benefit from his presence with their top minor league affiliate.


East Notes: Hoffman, Upton, Papelbon, De Aza, Yanks

The Orioles‘ reported asking price of right-hander Jeff Hoffman (and others) from the Blue Jays in exchange for executive vice president/GM Dan Duquette seemingly ended those negotiations, but Jeff Blair of Sportsnet reports that the Orioles weren’t the only club to try to acquire Hoffman from Toronto this winter. According to Blair, the Braves also asked the Blue Jays for Hoffman when the two sides discussed a trade involving Justin Upton. Toronto’s answer, Blair says, was an emphatic “no.” Coincidentally, the Braves wound up acquiring another high-upside, former first-round pitcher that’s recovering from Tommy John — Max Fried — as the centerpiece in their trade of Upton to San Diego. Meanwhile, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos tells Blair that Hoffman, who was selected ninth overall in 2014 despite his surgery, is expected to get stretched back out in April, with an eye on activating him with a minor league club in May.

A few more notes pertaining to the game’s Eastern divisions before the northeast portion of the country is buried in snow…

  • The Phillies never presented the Brewers with a firm financial offer in their trade talks regarding Jonathan Papelbon, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Those talks appear to be largely dead at this point, and the Phillies may end up hanging on to Papelbon to begin the season, based on Rosenthal’s writings. He adds that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. isn’t under pressure from ownership to move Papelbon and will only trade him if the move is to the team’s benefit.
  • The acquisition of Alejandro De Aza last summer could end up being a key factor in the Orioles‘ 2015 season, as the former White Sox outfielder now looks to be a big piece of the roster, writes Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. With Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis gone and no external replacements brought in, De Aza figures to be the team’s primary left fielder and leadoff hitter. Though that may seem an underwhelming option to some, Kubatko points out that De Aza’s career OBP mark (.330) would be a nice boost over last season’s team OBP of .311.
  • Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel takes a look at the Yankees‘ new glut of international prospects in his ranking of the team’s minor leaguers, with colleague Dave Cameron noting in an introduction that the team’s philosophical shift could pay off in spades a few years down the line. While the Yankees have always been known for spending significantly on free agency, they instead opted to go on a spending spree and blow past their allotted international bonus pool this year while exercising what some consider to be surprising restraint in terms of big league free agents.

International Notes: Olivera, Fernandez

Last week, Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera had a showcase at the Giants’ facility in the Dominican Republic that reportedly had over 200 scouts in attendance. Ben Badler of Baseball America has some takeaways from that showcase in latest piece; some highlights from Badler’s post and a bit more news on the international front…

  • Olivera was clocked at 6.7 to 6.8 seconds in his 60-yard dash and looked to be a steady defender when fielding grounders at second base. He also took grounders at third, but didn’t show off as much arm strength as he had in previous years. Olivera collected three hits in “seven or eight at-bats” against live pitching. While the overall report has a positive undertone, Badler does note that there is still some uncertainty among scouts due to the fact that Olivera missed all of the 2012-13 season with a blood disorder and then spent most of his time at DH upon returning in the 2013-14 season.
  • Four teams — the Padres, Giants, A’s and Braves — had the largest contingents at Olivera’s showcase, and all are expected to be in the mix to sign the 29-year-old. Padres GM A.J. Preller was on hand, in fact, and his team has been the most aggressive on Olivera, Badler writes, adding that San Diego may ultimately be his most likely landing place. It’s not known at this time when Olivera will be cleared by Major League Baseball and the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, but Badler speculates that Olivera will be able to sign prior to Opening Day based on the fact that he left Cuba all the way back in September.
  • Kiley McDaniel joined Carson Cistulli on the Fangraphs’ podcast over the weekend, and the two spent the early portion of the episode discussing Cuban players. The biggest takeaway from the discussion was an update on highly touted Cuban second baseman Jose Fernandez, whom McDaniel hears is now being heavily guarded by police in Cuba. Fernandez was thought to have left the island late in 2014 but was apparently detained in his attempt to do so.