A potential trade of White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease has been among the most prominent storylines of the offseason to this point, as White Sox GM Chris Getz has made clear that his club is operating with no untouchables as they look to retool after a 101-loss season. One of the teams most frequently connected to Cease is the Braves, who have a clear need in their rotation after losing Kyle Wright to shoulder surgery and subsequently dealing him to the Royals earlier this offseason.
MLB.com’s Mark Bowman pushed back against reports of Atlanta’s involvement in the Cease sweepstakes today, however, even as speculation regarding the right-hander has begun to intensify alongside the start of the Winter Meetings. Bowman acknowledges that the 27-year-old hurler was on the club’s radar earlier in the offseason but indicates that there isn’t “currently a fit” between the sides while suggesting that Atlanta’s level of interest and involvement in trade talks with Chicago has been “overblown.”
Bowman’s report also indicates that the Braves haven’t shown “serious interest” in two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani this offseason. While the Braves are not among the teams that have been most frequently connected to Ohtani’s market this offseason, Bowman’s characterization is a significant departure from a report earlier today from Jon Morosi of MLB Network, who suggested that the Braves not only have shown interest in Ohtani but are one of the teams still “actively involved” in the negotiation process.
While Bowman downplays the club’s interest in making a headline-grabbing move for Cease or Ohtani, he nonetheless suggests that the Braves are “not done” following last night’s move to acquire Jarred Kelenic, Marco Gonzales and Evan White from the Mariners, leaving the door open to the possibility the Braves make “at least one more big move.” Such a deal could even come in the form of a trade for a front-line starter, with Bowman suggesting Corbin Burnes and Tyler Glasnow as possible alternatives to Cease on the trade market.
Of course, it’s worth noting that the club is in uncharted territory in terms of payroll. After posting a franchise record payroll of $205MM in 2023 (per RosterResource), the Braves are currently projected for an Opening Day payroll of $220MM in 2024, with a luxury tax figure of just over $256MM. That puts them right up against the second tax threshold of $257MM, meaning that the club would surely need to shed payroll before making further moves if they hope to avoid that second threshold. Bowman echoes reporting from earlier today that suggested the Braves will attempt to flip Gonzales, who is owed $12.25MM in 2024, before the offseason comes to a close. In addition to the possibility of flipping Gonzales, Bowman suggests the club could look to “sell high” on either DH Marcell Ozuna or closer Raisel Iglesias in deals that would simultaneously shed salary while potentially bringing in additional talent.
Ozuna is owed $18MM in 2024, the final guaranteed year of his contract that also includes a $16MM club option with a $1MM buyout for 2025. The 33-year-old slugger is coming off a strong season at the plate during which he slashed .274/.346/.558 while crushing 40 home runs, 29 doubles, and a triple. While he’s largely limited to DH at this point in his career, he’d surely draw interest on the trade market from clubs looking to upgrade their lineup; just six hitters reached the 40-homer plateau in 2023, and just four posted a higher ISO than Ozuna’s .285 figure.
Iglesias, meanwhile, posted a 2.75 ERA and 3.26 FIP while collecting 33 saves for the Braves across 55 2/3 innings of work. It’s the fourth-consecutive season in which Iglesias has posted an ERA below 3.o0 as the 33-year-old has emerged as one of the most reliable closers in the league in recent years. Excellent as Iglesias has been, he’s guaranteed a $16MM salary in each of the next two seasons. That’s a hefty sum to pay for a reliever even with Iglesias’s pedigree. Bowman also points out the club has plenty of established back-end relief options who could anchor the bullpen if Iglesias were to be moved including left-hander A.J. Minter and offseason addition Reynaldo Lopez, though it’s worth noting the club currently plans to stretch the righty out as a potential starting option for 2024.