The Braves “have some interest” in free agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna, hears Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Atlanta joins the previously-known Cardinals, Reds, White Sox, Rangers, and Marlins in the early sweepstakes for the corner outfielder. Atlanta already re-signed Nick Markakis, but he could be in line for a lesser role after a subpar age-36 season. Alternatively, Atlanta could move Ronald Acuña to center field full-time should they acquire another corner outfielder, be it Ozuna or someone else. Signing the 29-year-old Ozuna, a qualifying offer recipient, would cost the Braves their second-highest draft choice and $500K of international bonus pool space.
- Between Will Smith, Mark Melancon, and Shane Greene, the Braves could be committing roughly $33.5MM in salary to three relievers next season, Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes. Greene’s salary is still up in the air, as the Braves could potentially non-tender the righty rather than pay him $6.5MM in projected arbitration salary. A non-tender or trade could be possible if the Braves are wary of overspending on their bullpen, since $33.5MM is rather a hefty sum for a trio that only featured one member (Smith) who posted really outstanding numbers in 2019. Tucker observes that the Braves already have around $100MM (barring any more non-tenders) on the books for player payroll for next season, which leaves them with quite a bit of spending capacity if the team is willing or able to match its season-ending $144MM payroll figure from last year.
The 4pm CT deadline has passed for free agents to accept or reject qualifying offers, and seven of the 10 players issued offers have officially turned them down. An eighth free agent, Will Smith, rejected the Giants’ qualifying offer and left the free agent market even before the deadline passed, signing a three-year, $40MM deal with the Braves. Jake Odorizzi of the Twins and Jose Abreu of the White Sox each accepted their team’s qualifying offers, and will now earn $17.8MM for the 2020 season.
Here are the seven players who rejected their former team’s one-year, $17.8MM qualifying offer….
- Madison Bumgarner (Giants)
- Gerrit Cole (Astros)
- Josh Donaldson (Braves)
- Marcell Ozuna (Cardinals)
- Anthony Rendon (Nationals)
- Stephen Strasburg (Nationals)
- Zack Wheeler (Mets)
There aren’t any surprises in that list, as there wasn’t doubt that Bumgarner, Cole, Donaldson, Rendon, Strasburg, and Wheeler would forego the one-year offer in search of a much richer, multi-year commitment. There was perhaps a bit more uncertainty surrounding Ozuna and Smith, given that Ozuna was coming off a pair of good but unspectacular years in St. Louis and Smith could perhaps have been wary of how the QO would impact his market, given what happened to another closer in Craig Kimbrel last winter.
If anything, the only real surprise occurred on the acceptance side, as Odorizzi was seen as a candidate to receive a multi-year offer before he opted to remain in Minnesota in 2020. Abreu, on the other hand, was widely expected to remain with the White Sox in some fashion, either via the QO or perhaps a multi-year extension. It should be noted that Odorizzi and Abreu are still free to negotiate longer-term deals with their respective teams even after accepting the qualifying offer.
Teams that sign a QO-rejecting free agent will have to give up at least one draft pick and some amount of international bonus pool money as compensation. (Click here for the list of what each individual team would have to forfeit to sign a QO free agent). The Astros, Nationals, Giants, Mets, Cardinals, and Braves are each in the same tier of compensation pool, so if any of their QO free agents signs elsewhere, the six teams will receive a compensatory draft pick between Competitive Balance Round B and the third round of the 2020 draft, or roughly in the range of the 75th to 85th overall pick. Atlanta, for instance, probably didn’t mind giving up their third-highest selection in the 2020 draft to sign Smith since the Braves have another pick coming back to their if Donaldson leaves for another club.
A total of 90 players have been issued qualifying offers since the QO system was introduced during the 2012-13 offseason, and Odorizzi and Abreu become the seventh and eighth players to accept the one-year pact. Odorizzi and Abreu are now ineligible to receive a qualifying offer in any future trips into free agency, so both players won’t be tied to draft/international pool penalties if they hit the open market following the 2020 season.
The Braves have signed closer Will Smith to a three-year contract, the team announced. The three guaranteed years will pay Smith $39MM, and Atlanta has a $13MM club option for 2023. That option contains a $1MM buyout, as per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (Twitter link), bringing the total value of the deal to $40MM. Smith will earn $13MM in each year of the contract, which doesn’t include any no-trade protection, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports (Twitter links). Smith is represented by CAA Sports.
The Braves’ early splash into the free agent pool gives them the top closer on the market this offseason, and the 13th-ranked player on MLBTR’s list of the winter’s top 50 free agents. Smith’s contract fell just a touch short of our prediction of a three-year, $42MM deal, though he stands to soundly beat that projected number if the Braves exercise their club option in three years’ time. Smith will also now get to suit up for his hometown team, as the Georgia native still lives in Atlanta.
Though there hadn’t yet been any official word about Smith’s rejection of the Giants’ qualifying offer, he turned down the one-year, $17.8MM QO for the longer-term pact with the Braves. Rosenthal reports that Jeff Berry, Smith’s agent, told interested teams that Smith would accept the qualifying offer and remain in San Francisco unless an acceptable multi-year proposal came together.
2019 marked Smith’s first season as a full-time closer, and the left-hander responded with one of his finest seasons. Smith posted a 2.76 ERA, 4.57 K/BB rate, and 13.2 K/9 over 65 1/3 innings for San Francisco, recording 34 saves in the process. That 13.2 K/9 marks a new single-season best for Smith, who has a healthy 10.8 K/9 over 410 2/3 career innings. The 30-year-old had previously established himself as a quality setup man with the Brewers and Giants, and came back strong with a big 2018 season after missing all of 2017 due to Tommy John surgery.
While Smith was one of the sport’s better closers last season, he might not continue in that role, as David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets that the Braves are temporarily still planning to use Mark Melancon as their primary closer. Ironically, Smith’s elevation to closer in 2018 came as a result of Melancon’s injury-related struggles when the two relievers were teammates in San Francisco. Melancon did look good during a healthy 2019, however, both with the Giants and after he was dealt to Atlanta at the trade deadline.
However the Braves choose to deploy their relievers, Smith represents a major addition to an Atlanta bullpen that generally posted middle-of-the-pack numbers amidst an inconsistent season. Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos added Melancon, Chris Martin, and Shane Greene at the trade deadline in an attempt to bolster his pen for both 2019 and the future (Melancon and Greene are still under team control), though more reinforcements were needed with Martin, Anthony Swarzak, and Jerry Blevins headed for free agency.
Smith fills a particular need for left-handed relief for the Braves, who have already checked off several boxes off their winter to-do list though the offseason only officially began less than two weeks ago. Nick Markakis, Tyler Flowers, and Darren O’Day have all been re-signed on one-year deals for a total of $10.25MM, allowing Anthopoulos the payroll space for a bigger strike to sign Smith.
There was widespread speculation that Smith was going to be changing teams last July, though the Giants’ surprising surge into wild card contention inspired president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi to hold onto some of his most prized trade assets. While Melancon and Sam Dyson were dealt, such players as Smith, Madison Bumgarner, and Tony Watson were all retained, leaving Zaidi in line for some criticism when the Giants faded to a 77-85 record.
San Francisco will still receive some compensation for Smith, however, as his rejection of the qualifying offer will net the club a bonus draft pick that will fall between Competitive Balance Round B and the third round of the 2020 draft. The Giants will get a pick in that same area should Bumgarner (who also declined the QO) sign elsewhere. The extra draft capital could make Zaidi more open to surrendering a draft pick to sign a QO free agent himself, though it remains to be seen if the Giants will be big spenders this winter.
As a revenue-sharing recipient, the Braves will only have to give their third-highest pick in the 2020 draft as compensation for signing Smith. This is currently Atlanta’s third-round selection, though it could end up being the team’s own compensatory pick (between Comp Balance Round B and the third round) if the qualifying offer-declining Josh Donaldson signs with a team besides Atlanta.
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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.
The Rangers are making “an aggressive push” to strike an early deal with free-agent third baseman Josh Donaldson, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports (on Twitter). Donaldson still hasn’t even had to give the Braves a formal decision on his $17.8MM qualifying offer — though he’ll surely reject it by tomorrow’s deadline. A deal of this significance in mid-November is of the utmost rarity in today’s free-agent climate. However, it’s worth pointing out that Donaldson signed his one-year deal with the Braves in late November last year, so there’s some precedent for him preferring a rather short stay on the open market.
Third base is a clear area of need for the Rangers, as young Nick Solak is likely the top option at the hot corner as things are currently constructed in Arlington. Texas certainly has the funds to reel in a free agent of Donaldson’s caliber after scaling back on payroll last winter; the Rangers have previously seen their payroll climb as high as $165MM on Opening Day 2017, but they currently project to check in around $115MM. As MLBTR’s Jeff Todd pointed out in previewing the Rangers’ offseason, a match between Donaldson and Texas seems perfectly plausible and would bear some similarity to the Rangers’ run with Adrian Beltre in his mid- to late-30s.
As we detailed at MLBTR this week, signing Donaldson on the heels of a qualifying offer would cost the Rangers their second-highest draft selection next summer as well as $500K of their 2020-21 international signing bonus. Donaldson, who hit .259/.371/.521 with 37 home runs and plus defense at third base with the Braves in 2019, ranked fifth on MLBTR’s list of the offseason’s Top 50 free agents (where we predicted a three-year, $75MM deal with Texas).
The Rangers flirted with Wild Card contention in 2019 before fading late in the season and have given every indication to this point that they plan to act aggressively in advance of their move into a new stadium in 2020. General manager and president of baseball operations Jon Daniels plainly stated this week that he intended to look into top-tier free agents, so an earnest pursuit of Donaldson could be the first of many such free-agent endeavors for Texas over the next several months.
Donaldson has already drawn interest from the Dodgers, Phillies, Nationals (who likely view him as a fallback to Anthony Rendon) and Braves in the early stages of free agency. The Braves, per MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link), have been allowing Donaldson to shop around with other clubs before engaging in their own discussion of a multi-year pact.
Though Madison Bumgarner did not hit the open market with as much fanfare as once seemed likely, he’s still a prominent part of the landscape for starting pitching. And it appears that strong early interest is coming together for the veteran lefty.
The Phillies have “checked in” on Bumgarner, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription link), who notes the potential interplay between the Phils and their division rivals from Atlanta. The Braves are known to be interested in the hurler, who grew up not far from Atlanta in Hickory, NC.
Those aren’t the only eastern seaboard teams considering Bumgarner. The Yankees also intend to reach out to MadBum’s reps, New York GM Brian Cashman tells John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Of course, Cashman has already made clear he’s interested in other, even bigger free agent fish. And he emphasized that point to Shea, stating that the Yanks will look at the full field.
That’s an important point to bear in mind more generally as we gauge early indications of market interest. With a market as full of good options as it is full of needy teams, we’re hearing of a lot of broad explorations on both sides of the balance. Teams are trying to get a sense of price tags. And there’s a balance for players and their agents as well. Most any pitcher would prefer to draw a nice run of early bidding to waiting around and hoping that demand remains strong. It’s better to be Nathan Eovaldi or Tyler Chatwood than Dallas Keuchel, generally speaking, as recent free agent experiences are concerned.
Bumgarner isn’t likely to be a market darling in the nature of Eovaldi or Chatwood. But neither is there reason to think he’ll end up facing the Keuchel conundrum. Bumgarner isn’t the monster he once was on the mound, and he now carries a notable injury history, but he just turned 30 years of age and was still capable of spinning 207 2/3 innings of 3.90 ball in 2019.
Eight teams issued qualifying offers this year to ten players, with the Nationals and Giants handing out two apiece. Teams issuing the $17.8MM offer must be comfortable with the receiving player accepting, as it isn’t possible to trade such a player (absent consent) until the middle of the season. But in most cases, the offer is given with the expectation it will be declined, thus allowing the issuing team to receive a compensatory draft selection if the player signs with a new club.
As with draft forfeitures, draft compensation is largely tied to the financial status of the team losing the player. And in 2019, seven of the eight teams that issued qualifying offers fall into the same bucket: teams that neither exceeded the luxury threshold nor received revenue-sharing benefits. This applies to the Astros, Nationals, Giants, Mets, Cardinals, White Sox and Braves. In such cases, the default compensation for losing a qualified free agent is applied.
In other words, if any of Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Madison Bumgarner, Will Smith, Zack Wheeler, Marcell Ozuna, Jose Abreu or Josh Donaldson signs with a new club, their former team will receive a compensatory pick between Competitive Balance Round B and Round 3 of the 2020 draft. Those selections would likely fall in the upper 70s and low 80s. Slot values in that range of the 2019 draft checked in between $730K and $700K. The Nationals and Giants, then, could add a pair of Top 100 picks and roughly $1.5MM worth of additional pool money each if they lose both of their qualified free agents.
The lone team that stands to gain a potential pick at the end of the first round would be the Twins, who issued a qualifying offer to Jake Odorizzi. Minnesota is a revenue-sharing recipient that did not exceed the luxury threshold, thus entitling the Twins to the highest level of free-agent compensation possible … if Odorizzi signs for a guaranteed $50MM or more. If Odorizzi’s total guarantees are $49.9MM or lower, the Twins would receive the same level of pick as the other seven teams who issued qualifying offers: between Competitive Balance Round B and Round 3.
Of course, if any of the players who received qualifying offers either accept the offer or re-sign with their 2019 clubs on a new multi-year deal, no draft compensation will be awarded to that team at all.
At least six teams are showing early interest in star free agent Josh Donaldson, Mark Feinsand of MLB.com relays. The World Series champion Nationals are among the clubs eyeing the third baseman, as are the previously reported Rangers, Phillies and Braves, according to Feinsand.
As those who follow the game know, the Nationals have an even higher-profile free-agent third baseman in Anthony Rendon – hands down the best position player on the market. MLBTR forecasts Rendon will land a $235MM guarantee, which trounces Donaldson’s $75MM projection. Thanks in part to the age difference between the two, the soon-to-be 34-year-old Donaldson lacks the appeal of Rendon, 29, though the former nonetheless remains one of baseball’s most valuable players.
Donaldson, a onetime AL MVP, is coming off a 4.9-fWAR season in which he batted .259/.379/.521 with 37 home runs across 659 plate appearances. Atlanta signed the ex-Athletic and Blue Jay to a $23MM guarantee last winter after back-to-back injury-limited campaigns, and it proved to be a brilliant short-term gamble by the Braves. Of course, considering the Braves are one of Washington’s division rivals, the Nationals got plenty of up-close looks at Donaldson in 2019. Unsurprisingly, it seems the Nats came away impressed.
While the Nationals may view Donaldson as a legitimate possibility for their hot corner vacancy, odds are they’d prefer to re-sign Rendon. The big-market, high-spending club has two elite free agents in Rendon and right-hander Stephen Strasburg, and after a championship-winning season, it would be a surprise to see both exit. But if Rendon goes, the Nationals may well turn to the highly accomplished Donaldson as a much less expensive fallback option. Meantime, Donaldson has until Thursday to accept or reject the Braves’ $17.8MM qualifying offer. Turning it down looks like a formality.
The Braves have re-signed veteran reliever Darren O’Day, per a club announcement. He’ll receive a guarantee of $2.25MM in the contract, which covers the 2020 campaign and includes a $3.5MM club option for another season.
As other clubs plot roster turnover for the winter, the Braves have acted quickly to retain several pieces at the outset of the market. Backstop Tyler Flowers and Nick Markakis were already signed to new deals to remain in Atlanta for one more season, and they’ll now be joined by O’Day for a total outlay of just over $10MM in 2020 payroll.
O’Day, who recently celebrated his 37th birthday, was acquired at the 2018 trade deadline but didn’t appear with the Braves until September of 2019. He dealt with hamstring and forearm issues after coming over from the Orioles.
Though the Braves received only a brief look at the veteran reliever late in the season, he obviously impressed. O’Day was included on the postseason roster and appeared in four of the team’s NLDS contests. All told, he allowed just one earned run in 7 1/3 innings while compiling eight strikeouts against one free pass and four base hits.
O’Day averaged less than 87 mph with his fastball upon his return, though that’s actually only a tick lower than his career average. The sidearming hurler didn’t have any trouble getting swings and misses in that short sample, with an 18.0% swinging-strike rate in his 5 1/3 regular season frames. His full-season career-high in that metric is 14.8%, back in 2015.
It’s a fairly low-cost bet for the Braves, who’ll add O’Day to a high-leverage mix that already features Mark Melancon — another veteran hurler with exceptional command who has had stretches of dominance followed by some recent rough patches. It’d be too much to hope for these experienced righties to return to the levels of dominance they posted a few years back, but there’s good reason to believe there’s gas left in both tanks.
While fans may pine for a dominant closer, it may be that the Braves now consider their bullpen fully accounted for. The organization can tender Shane Green and hope for a bounceback, while crossing its fingers that Luke Jackson can make the results match his newly eye-popping peripherals. Grant Dayton reemerged late to join Sean Newcomb as options from the left side. And there’s a laundry list of less-established hurlers that have seen recent MLB action and/or impressed of late in the upper minors.
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