The last elite free agent of the winter came off the board Tuesday when third baseman Josh Donaldson agreed to a four-year, $92MM guarantee with Minnesota. Not only does the addition strengthen an already power-happy Twins offense, but it’s also a significant blow for an Atlanta team that received outstanding production from Donaldson in 2019. The club’s situation at third, where Johan Camargo and Austin Riley are in-house front-runners to take over for Donaldson, now looks far less imposing sans Donaldson.
Camargo was effective as recently as two years ago, but his production nosedived during a season to forget in 2019. Riley’s not far removed from a run as a standout prospect, and he began his major league career well last season. However, thanks largely to a bloated strikeout rate (36.4 percent), he endured enormous struggles as 2019 progressed.
There aren’t any obvious answers left at third in free agency, so the Braves could begin the season with what they have at the position and opt for a power bat at another spot (Marcell Ozuna? Nicholas Castellanos?). On the other hand, there are two all-world trade chips in the Cubs’ Kris Bryant and the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado looming on that market.
While Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that the Braves are “expected” to revisit previous talks with the Cubs regarding Bryant, David O’Brien of The Athletic throws a bit of cold water on that. The Braves “haven’t been gung-ho on either,” per O’Brien. As was reported previously, the Braves have concerns over Bryant’s defense. And the former MVP’s contract status figures to help stand in the way of a trade with the Braves or anyone else for at least a little while longer. The Cubs and the rest of the league continue to await word on whether Bryant has one or two years of control left after he filed a service-time grievance in October.
Similarly, there are questions over how much longer it’ll be before Arenado becomes a free agent. Unlike Bryant, Arenado is on a long-term contract – a guaranteed $234MM over seven years – but he will be able to opt out of it after his age-30 season in 2021. The massive amount left on Arenado’s deal, his opt-out rights and a hesitance to surrender multiple prospects for him have led to wariness from the Braves, according to O’Brien.
As of last month, general manager Alex Anthopolous and the Braves were on the hunt for a middle-of-the-order hitter. The hope then was that Donaldson would take on that role again in 2020, but the two-time reigning NL East champions’ lineup suddenly looks much weaker now that he’s gone. With strong free-agent options dwindling, the Braves hardly shoo-ins to land either Bryant or Arenado, and their projected Opening-Day payroll ($140MM) already $5MM higher than last year’s season-ending outlay, it’s unclear where the Braves will go from here.