- The Braves have come to terms with Arodys Vizcaino ($1.6MM projection) and Ian Krol ($1MM projection), per David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Terms have not yet been reported. The team has now agreed to deals with all six arbitration-eligible players.
The Braves announced that they’ve acquired second baseman Micah Johnson from the Dodgers in exchange for a player to be named later or cash. Johnson was designated for assignment earlier this week to clear a spot on the roster for Kenley Jansen when his deal was formally announced.
In Johnson, the Braves are adding a left-handed-hitting utility option with plenty of control and perhaps some upside, too. He has been on the prospect radar for some time, though he hasn’t performed well in limited major league action.
The Dodgers acquired Johnson as part of the three-team Todd Frazier deal. At the time, he was coming off of a year in which he started out as Chicago’s second baseman, and put up excellent numbers at the Triple-A level following a demotion. But Johnson struggled at the highest level of the minors in 2016, slashing just .261/.321/.356, and saw only scant action with Los Angeles.
Speed and plate discipline have long been Johnson’s calling cards, but there are some worrying developments in both regards of late. He no longer tries to steal quite as much as he did in his breakout 2013 season, and was cut down on 11 of 37 attempts last year. Also, he surged to a 20.4% strikeout rate at Triple-A in 2016, far more than had been his custom.
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It doesn’t help that Johnson isn’t regarded as a top-quality fielder and doesn’t have much pop. Still, it’s easy to see why the Braves were willing to take a shot on his talent. That’s not to say that Johnson is likely to make a serious challenge for MLB time right off the bat, as Atlanta already employs a similarly functioning player in Jace Peterson — another 26-year-old, left-handed hitter who spends most of his time at second base.
- The Mariners tried to acquire Mallex Smith from the Braves on multiple occasions this offseason and had talks with Atlanta about him as recently as last Friday. However, Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto swung a deal for Jarrod Dyson, instead. Dipoto and the Mariners still saw value in Smith and knew the Rays had interest in him as a potential component in a Drew Smyly trade, so Dipoto circled back with Atlanta counterpart John Coppolella over the weekend to get talks rolling once again. (As an aside, Rosenthal counts a staggering 35 trades for Dipoto since taking over as Seattle’s GM in Sept. 2015. Thanks for always keeping us busy, Jerry.)
- In a separate column, Rosenthal writes that while he received some negative feedback from scouts on the Mariners’ decision to move left-handed pitching prospect Luiz Gohara in yesterday’s trades with the Braves (and then the Rays), Seattle may have been more willing to part with the 20-year-old due to medical concerns. The would-be Zack Cozart trade from this past trade deadline fell apart due to the Reds’ concerns over Gohara’s shoulder, Rosenthal hears. Certainly, Atlanta is comfortable enough with Gohara’s shoulder, and GM John Coppolella suggested to Rosenthal that he’s not afraid to move on from a trade due to medical reasons. “We have had to walk away from two trades this offseason because of failed medicals,” said Coppolella. “We feel good about the health of [Gohara and left-hander Thomas Burrows].”
2:47pm: Smith “appears bound for Tampa,” Crasnick adds on Twitter.
2:11pm: The Rays are a possible landing spot for Smith, per Crasnick, who tweets that the teams have held trade talks. That connection opens up all kinds of intriguing theoretical possibilities. Tampa Bay already employs top-notch defender Kevin Kiermaier in center — a reported target of other organizations — and just signed another left-handed hitter capable of playing up the middle in Colby Rasmus. The team has also reportedly dangled a variety of its starters in trade talks, some of whom might well interest the Mariners (as well as other teams). It’s certainly impossible to guess what might be in the works, but any move on Smith could conceivably come with a corresponding swap from the Rays’ perspective.
2:00pm: The Mariners just added outfielder Mallex Smith and righty Shae Simmons in a swap with the Braves, but may not be done with their work for the day, according to ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter). Seattle could flip Smith to another organization, Crasnick suggests.
That does make some sense at first glance, as Smith joins a long list of center-field-capable players on the Seattle roster. The club just dealt for Jarrod Dyson, who joins Leonys Martin, Mitch Haniger, Guillermo Heredia, and Ben Gamel in a highly athletic outfield mix.
It’s not immediately clear what organization might constitute a trade partner, or what Seattle might be pursuing in return, if it is indeed Smith who’s back on the block. Teams like the Tigers, White Sox, and perhaps the Indians could all conceivably make some degree of sense as teams that might utilize Smith in their respective center field mixes in the near term.
The Braves and Mariners have announced a trade involving younger assets. Atlanta will receive lefties Luiz Gohara and Thomas Burrows, while Seattle will pick up outfielder Mallex Smith and righty Shae Simmons. Seattle has designated righty Cody Martin to clear roster space.
The 20-year-old Gohara has only reached the Class A level, but is considered a high-quality pitching prospect. He worked to a 1.81 ERA over 69 2/3 total minor league frames in 2016, with 10.5 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9. MLB.com rated him Seattle’s fifth-best prospect, while Baseball America placed him third among the organization’s pre-MLB assets.
A rare Brazilian pitching prospect, Gohara impresses with a mid-nineties heater, promising slider, and still-developing change that give him the promise of a useful three-pitch mix that could work in a starting role at the game’s highest level.
Burrows also checked in on MLB.com’s ranking of the M’s prospects, placing 25th. The collegiate closer is a two-pitch hurler who was taken in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. He showed well at the low-A level in his first taste of professional ball, allowing just seven earned runs with 37 strikeouts against 11 walks over his 24 2/3 innings. The 22-year-old figures to move rather quickly through the system given his collegiate pedigree.
For the Mariners, Smith represents yet another fleet-footed outfielder. He’s still optionable, and may not have much daylight to crack the MLB roster to start the 2016 season, but could figure as a near-term piece who also comes with five full seasons of control. Smith had been viewed as a key prospect for the Braves, but was somewhat expendable with the team locking up Ender Inciarte for the foreseeable future and fellow youngster Dustin Peterson also rising through the system.
Smith, 23, missed time last year with a thumb injury, but got his first taste of the big leagues in a fairly extended stretch. Over 215 plate appearances, he slashed .238/.316/.365 and swiped 16 bases while drawing strong defensive ratings. He has long been a major stolen-base threat in the minors, and could yet turn into a semi-regular major leaguer if he’s able to drive up his batting average. Smith posted a roughly average .302 BABIP last year, but has traditionally carried much higher marks in the minors thanks to his speed.
The 26-year-old Simmons, meanwhile, comes with four years of remaining control. He has thrown 28 1/3 total major league innings, wrapped around a Tommy John procedure, with a 2.54 ERA and 8.3 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9. The high-octane reliever also showed well at Triple-A in 2016 and has a history of lofty strikeout totals in the minors, though he has also struggled at times with command.
Adding two 40-man players led to the move to bump Martin, a 27-year-old who has seen action in each of the past two major league seasons with three organizations (including the Braves, Athletics, and Mariners). He was hit hard in his first go-round, but posted a 3.86 ERA over 25 2/3 innings last year. Still, Martin managed only 15 strikeouts to go with nine walks while surrendering five long balls in that stretch. He was much better at Triple-A, where he worked mostly as a starter. At the highest level of the minors in 2016, Martin posted a 3.62 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 across 114 1/3 frames.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Though the Braves have added three veteran pieces to their rotation this winter, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman suggests that the club will continue to pursue a controllable, top-flight hurler. He cites Jose Quintana of the White Sox and Chris Archer of the Rays as the likeliest targets; indeed, Atlanta has long been connected to both, among plenty of other organizations. It would surely represent something of a surprise at this point were the Braves to make a major strike for a starter, but the organization has proved willing and able in the past to pull off significant deals at any stage of the year.
- The Braves are still open to adding a bench bat despite having a full 40-man roster at the moment, and both Kelly Johnson and Jeff Francoeur are possibilities, per David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link). This would mark the third straight year in which the Braves signed Johnson as a free agent and his fourth overall stint with the team that originally drafted him, if an agreement is ultimately reached. It’d also represent the third stint with the Braves for Francoeur and the second consecutive offseason in which he inked a deal with Atlanta.
- Speaking of the Braves and Royals, they are interested in free agent third baseman/first baseman Trevor Plouffe, who has been available since the Twins outrighted him in November. Boston and Oakland are also in on the 30-year-old Plouffe, a steady contributor from 2014-15 who batted an underwhelming .260/.303/.420 with 12 homers in 344 PAs last season. Like Hill, Plouffe has had more success versus lefties (.268/.344/.465) than righties (.239/.294/.403) during his career.
- Though this week’s report that Brandon Phillips nixed a trade to the Braves (via FOX’s Ken Rosenthal) lends some credence to recent connections between Atlanta and Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press circled back with a source that characterized a Dozier-to-Atlanta deal as a “long shot” (Twitter link). It continues to appear as if the Dodgers are the only team that currently has a strong enough need to consider meeting Minnesota’s price for its excellent second baseman.
JAN. 6: Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM cites a Reds source in reporting that there’s still a possibility of a trade that would send Phillips to Atlanta, with the Reds picking up the majority of the money that remains on the contract. He adds, though, that Reds executives “acknowledge that they made promises and assurances to Phillips that they are not living up to” and will need to work through those issues with Phillips before a deal. Moving Phillips would allow the Reds to clear an easier path to playing time for Jose Peraza and potentially for Dilson Herrera as well.
JAN. 5: The Reds had worked out a deal that would have sent second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Braves, but he utilized his no-trade protection to scuttle the arrangement, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Phillips’s no-trade clause previously got in the way of potential trades last winter.
While Phillips is a Georgia native who (per Rosenthal) owns a home in Atlanta, he still wasn’t amenable to the move. There was no discussion of an extension this time around, according to the report; the Braves would not have been interested, and Phillips made his view clear before that subject was even broached.
This latest episode raises the question whether the 35-year-old Phillips will ever be a movable asset for Cincinnati, which had been set to retain “a significant portion” of his $14MM salary as part of the proposed trade. He’s in the final year of his contract, and it seems all but inevitable that he’ll land elsewhere after the 2017 season. But Phillips is still holding firm on his desire to remain in Cincinnati as something of a “matter of principle,” per Rosenthal, who says that Phillips would only be willing to sign onto a deal if “certain, unspecified issues” are dealt with by any acquiring team.
While Phillips is more than entitled to utilize the no-trade clause (which he earned through ten-and-five rights) in whatever manner he chooses, it’s certainly something of an odd situation. The Reds have a variety of young infielders they’d surely like to expose more to the majors in the coming year, which could bite into Phillips’s own playing time.
Long a productive regular who combined excellent glovework with solid overall offensive production, Phillips has declined of late. Since the start of the 2014 season, he has slashed .285/.319/.396, which amounts to slightly below-average (94 OPS+) work at the plate. Phillips has returned to running more, though his 14 stolen bases in 2016 came at the cost of being caught on eight other attempts. And he’s still good for about a dozen home runs per year. The most concerning change, perhaps, comes on the defensive side. Phillips has long rated as a well-above-average defender at second, but took a bit of a step back in 2015 and drew negative metrics in his most recent season.
Still, Phillips would represent a steadying presence in the right organization — particularly, one that has taken a positive view through recent scouting assessments. If he can bounce back in the field, there’s reason to hope that he could put up a season worthy of regular play despite the fact that he was worth less than one win above replacement last year. A right-handed hitter, Phillips has never carried drastic platoon splits and actually fared better against same-handed pitching in 2016.
Though it’s still theoretically possible that the sides could revisit a deal, Rosenthal says that’s not seen as a likely scenario. When Rodriguez inked his deal in late November, that added a second-base-capable, right-handed bat and perhaps absorbed some of the salary that might have been allocated to Phillips.
“We explore a myriad of trade opportunities,” Braves GM John Coppolella tells MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, “some which make more progress than others, and some which get more media attention than others. Trades aren’t done until they are done.”
That being said, it’s still imaginable that Atlanta will consider moving to bolster its mix at second and third base. Rodriguez has experience at both spots, creating some flexibility. But it’s far from clear that Adonis Garcia will be a worthwhile semi-regular at the hot corner. The left-handed-hitting Jace Peterson is also on hand, of course, and perhaps top prospect Ozzie Albies will be ready sooner than later, but the Braves have already made several 2017-centric moves, attempting to improve the near-term outlook without sacrificing the future.
If Atlanta does take a look at adding another infielder, there are any number of trade targets that it could pursue. And the open market still features a variety of second and third basemen that might conceivably be of interest. That includes righty hitters such as Aaron Hill and Trevor Plouffe, as well as lefty bats like Luis Valbuena, Chase Utley, Stephen Drew, Chris Coghlan, and — of course — perennial favorite Kelly Johnson.
*An earlier version of this post incorrectly suggested that Phillips’s decision was influenced by the signing of Rodriguez.