Reports from earlier this month suggested that the Braves hadn’t had any talks with the Blue Jays about Marcus Stroman, and ten days later, this is still the case, according to David O’Brien of The Athletic (Twitter link). It could be that the Braves are more focused on another Toronto pitcher in closer Ken Giles, as O’Brien writes that “I get [the] impression Giles could be a target” for Atlanta.
The Braves were one of eight teams who had scouts on hand Friday to watch Stroman’s most recent start, though as with many “scouts were in attendance…” types of reports at this time of year, this could be due diligence as much as a case of genuine interest on Atlanta’s part. Given that the Jays were facing another out-of-contention team in the Tigers, the Braves could have been more focused on some of Detroit’s trade candidates, in addition to Stroman, Giles, or other trade chips on the Blue Jays roster. (Giles, for the record, didn’t pitch on Friday through he did toss a scoreless inning for the save in Saturday’s game.)
Beyond just scouting, the Braves obviously have a very well-informed source on all things Stroman in general manager Alex Anthopoulos, whose front office made Stroman the 22nd overall pick in 2012 when Anthopoulos was Toronto’s GM. There has been some speculation as to whether any hard feelings between Anthopoulos and current Jays management could hamper any trade talks between the two clubs, though The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (Twitter links) notes that the Blue Jays’ “stance has softened” about making deals with Atlanta, if a particularly hard line was taken at all.
Toronto is known to be seeking a big return for Stroman, and the “ask is high” on Giles as well, in O’Brien’s words. Giles is not only under team control through 2020, but he is also one of the very best relievers on the trade market this month. The 28-year-old righty has a 1.64 ERA, 5.7 K/BB rate, and an enormous 15.55 K/9 over 33 innings this season.
Armed with a fastball that has above-average spin (as per Statcast) and an average velocity of 97.3 mph, Giles has quietly been one of baseball’s more dominant closers, and is seemingly all the way back to top form after running into some difficulties on the field and off with the Astros in 2017-18. While postseason struggles were a big part of Giles’ issues in Houston, he still represents a more proven ninth-inning answer than the Braves’ current closer, Luke Jackson.
Like many other teams, the Braves aren’t keen on giving up their top prospects for rental players, making Stroman (who also has an arbitration year remaining) and Giles more palatable trade targets since they can also help the club in 2020. Just one year of control, however, might not be enough to pry away some of the Braves’ top prospects from their highly-rated farm system. Gabriel Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution lists right-handers Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright and outfielders Cristian Pache and Drew Waters (the Braves’ top four minor leaguers, according to MLB.com’s rankings) as the youngsters that could be closest to untouchable in trade discussions. None would be dealt “unless it’s for a controllable difference maker,” Burns writes, and it remains to be seen if the Braves would consider Stroman or Giles at that level. This is purely my opinion, but I doubt Atlanta would deal any of those prospects for a reliever, even one as talented as Giles.
It’s easy for fans or armchair GMs to argue that the Braves should be more forthcoming to deal from their large wealth of prospects, though ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (subscription required) noted that these minor leaguers are particularly important to a Braves organization that is more than a little hamstrung in the international market due to the signing violations that cost former GM John Coppolella his job in 2017. Since the Braves front office also seems to be operating with a mid-level payroll at best, it makes the pipeline of talent like Pache, Anderson, Wright, and Waters all the more important to the team going forward.