The Braves are in danger of losing one of baseball’s premier third basemen, free agent Josh Donaldson. With no obvious replacement on hand (general manager Alex Anthopoulos seems reluctant to hand the job to Austin Riley), the club figures to explore the free-agent and trade markets for hot corner help if it does see Donaldson depart. Mike Moustakas is the third-best free-agent 3B on the market, trailing Anthony Rendon and Donaldson, Atlanta is “looking at” him, Jon Heyman of MLB Network tweets.
Unlike Rendon and Donaldson, Moustakas isn’t going to cost a bank-breaking amount to sign. That alone makes him a decent fit for the Braves, who are more a mid-tier spender than a high-payroll club. The 31-year-old Moustakas is a free agent for the third straight offseason, and though he garnered fairly modest guarantees over the previous two winters, the former Royal and Brewer has nonetheless been quite valuable.
This past season, Moustakas slashed .254/.329/.516 with 35 home runs and 2.8 fWAR across 584 plate appearances. For the most part, those aren’t Rendon- or Donaldson-caliber numbers, but they’re plenty respectable relative to the amount Moustakas could receive this offseason. MLBTR projects Moustakas will sign for a reasonable $20MM over two years (with the Braves, in fact) – a far cry from what Rendon and Donaldson are likely to receive. And Moustakas doesn’t come with a qualifying offer attached, so signing him would not cost draft compensation.
While Moustakas does hold appeal, it seems the Braves’ goal is to re-sign Donaldson for what’s likely to be a far higher amount. According to Gabe Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Anthopoulos & Co. would “undoubtedly” like to bring back Donaldson, who was brilliant in 2019 after signing a one-year, $23MM pact with the club last winter. Anthopoulos wasn’t willing to discuss Donaldson on Tuesday, saying, “Normally I would speak on it, but I’m not going to get into free agents,” but he has made it known in recent weeks that he wants the soon-to-be 34-year-old back.
Aside from third, what other areas are the Braves aiming to bolster? Anthopoulos’ thoughts: “We have rotation needs, we can get better in the bullpen. Offensively, we’re always looking to get better. We need someone to pair with (catcher Tyler) Flowers, with Brian McCann retired. We don’t have an order, but we have so many areas that if we think there are good deals there, we’ll try to get them done.”
The rotation may well be the primary focus for Atlanta, which is lacking immediate answers besides Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Mike Foltynewicz. Dallas Keuchel gave the club 112 2/3 effective innings in 2019, but it’s “unlikely” Atlanta will re-sign the now-free agent, according to Burns. So, it seems probable the Braves will add at least one proven starter, whether it’s Madison Bumgarner (whom they’ve been connected to) or another name. Regardless, the Braves are planning to give left-hander Sean Newcomb another chance to emerge as a viable starter, per Anthopoulos (via David O’Brien of The Athletic).
In Anthopoulos’ estimation, “it makes sense for us to at least have him stretched out in spring and then go from there.” Newcomb was a highly touted starter prospect a couple years back, and he showed plenty of promise in the Braves’ rotation from 2017-18. However, the 26-year-old spent almost all of 2019 as a reliever after his control failed him over four starts.
As Anthopoulos noted, the Braves still have to figure out whom their pitchers will throw to in 2020. Flowers is coming back on a restructured deal, but McCann’s gone and Francisco Cervelli is a free agent. There are a few starting-caliber backstops in free agency in Yasmani Grandal, Jason Castro, Travis d’Arnaud and Robinson Chirinos, while there has been trade speculation centering on the Cubs’ Willson Contreras. But it remains to be seen whether the Braves would aim that high (Grandal could cost $60MM-plus) or settle for a backup type to pair with Flowers.
Just a few weeks removed from their second straight NL East-winning season, the Braves are clearly a team with enviable talent. But their holes are obvious at the same time, and it’ll be interesting to see how Anthopoulos addresses them this winter in an effort to get the team closer to its first World Series title since 1995.