The Braves announced Wednesday that infielder David Fletcher, who they acquired from the Angels last week, has cleared waivers and been assigned outright to Triple-A Gwinnett. The move amounts to a formality, as Atlanta was surely aware that another team wouldn’t claim Fletcher and the $14MM still guaranteed to him on his current contract. The Angels outrighted Fletcher twice during the 2023 season. At 4.168 years of MLB service time, he’s four days shy of being able to reject an outright assignment while still remaining the entirety of that sum.
David O’Brien of The Athletic tweets that Braves brass still “fully expects” Fletcher to be their primary utility infielder next season. For the time being, however, passing him through waivers creates some extra flexibility by opening a spot on the 40-man roster. The Braves can always select Fletcher back to the 40-man roster prior to Opening Day. Once he’s accrued even four more days of service time, they’ll lose the ability to shuffle him around in this nature, as Fletcher could elect free agency and retain his salary, leaving Atlanta on the hook for that money.
It’s still a modest surprise to see Fletcher outrighted at the moment, given that the Braves already had five open spots on the 40-man roster. Timing aside, the outcome was always going to be the same when he was placed on waivers though, so making the move now versus making the move in February changes nothing. It sounds quite likely that Fletcher will be added back to the 40-man before long — if not prior to Opening Day then early in the 2024 campaign.
Fletcher, 29, came to the Braves as part of a convoluted series of trades that have added a considerable amount of money to Atlanta’s luxury tax ledger but haven’t left the roster with much in the way of clear upgrades. The Braves acquired Jarred Kelenic, Evan White and Marco Gonzales for Jackson Kowar, prospect Cole Phillips and cash — then immediately flipped Gonzales and cash to the Pirates for a player to be named later. White was traded to the Angels alongside minor league reliever Tyler Thomas to acquire catcher Max Stassi and Fletcher. Atlanta quickly sent Stassi and cash to the White Sox for another PTBNL.
Ultimately, they were left on the hook for the remaining $14MM on Fletcher’s deal, nearly three quarters of Gonzales’ $12.25MM salary, and the associated luxury taxes they’ll pay on each player. It’s a steep price to pay to effectively buy low on Kelenic and install Fletcher as a utility infielder — particularly when the Braves already had a very similar utility option in Nicky Lopez, who was traded to the ChiSox as part of the Aaron Bummer trade. Perhaps the PTBNLs acquired for Gonzales and Stassi will be of some significance, but it’s hard to imagine a team in the Pirates’ or White Sox’ positions giving up substantial prospect talent for short-term stopgaps — even at positions of need and with paid-down salaries.
Fletcher signed a five-year, $26MM extension with the Angels on the heels of a .298/.356/.395 showing from 2019-20 — a productive stretch at the plate during which he fanned at a tiny 10.1% clip and played superb defense between three infield spots (second base, third base, shortstop). He’s since floundered at the dish, however, batting just .259/.296/.327 in 990 plate appearances. Fletcher’s bat-to-ball skills have actually improved (8.6% strikeout rate), but his quality of contact has plummeted and rendered him an unimpactful player in the batter’s box. He’s still a versatile and talented defender, and the Braves will likely lean on him as a glove-first utility option this coming season.