- Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who has been battling through a bone spur in his elbow, was again bothered by the elbow today, according to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. With his Braves having already clinched the NL East, he’ll play it safe and take the next few days off before rejoining the club on Friday for the series against the Mets. The hope is that four days of rest and treatment will have Freeman ready to go for the rest of year—it’s worth noting that, after the game, manager Brian Snitker said that Freeman would be in the lineup if the playoffs were starting tomorrow.
After back-to-back injury-limited seasons divided between Toronto and Cleveland, former AL MVP Josh Donaldson settled for a short-term contract in free agency last winter. Donaldson accepted the Braves’ one-year, $23MM offer in hopes of a bounce-back campaign that would propel him to a larger deal this offseason. That’ll likely come to fruition in a couple months for Donaldson, who has enjoyed a healthy and excellent year for an Atlanta team that’s close to locking up the National League East.
The playoff-bound Braves will vie for a championship in October, but no matter how their season ends, it stands to reason they’ll attempt to re-sign Donaldson. General manager Alex Anthopoulos suggested last month the Braves would gladly welcome him back, while Gabriel Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote Wednesday they “would love” to keep Donaldson in the fold. Donaldson, meanwhile, seems to have a similar affinity for the Braves.
“I’ve enjoyed playing here every day,” Donaldson told Burns of his time in Atlanta. “And I look forward to playing in this uniform as long as I can.”
Based on the comments Anthopoulos and Donaldson have made, it’s fair to say the two sides have mutual interest in continuing their partnership. However, it’ll likely take a much greater financial commitment from the team in order to bring Donaldson back. Even though Donaldson doesn’t have youth on his side (he’ll turn 34 in December), he should still be able to land at least a two- to three-year contract worth upward of $20MM per annum in the offseason. After all, Donaldson has reestablished himself as a force this season with a .258/.378/.526 line, 37 home runs and 5.7 bWAR/4.7 fWAR in 632 plate appearances.
Thanks to his 2019 production, Donaldson may well end up as the game’s second-best position player on the open market, trailing only Nationals MVP candidate Anthony Rendon. Teams that need help at third base but can’t or don’t want to pay Rendon nine figures (perhaps around $150MM or more) could look to Donaldson as an appealing and much less costly alternative. If Donaldson cashes in elsewhere, the Braves will have a ready-made replacement in third baseman/outfielder Austin Riley. They still figure to be among the most ardent bidders for Donaldson, though, and it should help their cause that he seems more than willing to stay put.
The Braves are hopeful that outfielder Ender Inciarte will be ready for activation early next week, manager Brian Snitker tells reporters including MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. Inciarte is working to recover from a hamstring strain.
When the injury initially occurred one month ago, it was estimated at a four to six week recovery timeframe. Inciarte is already hitting and running, so it seems he’s at the early end of the spectrum.
That’s great news for the Atlanta organization, particularly since the organization just lost two top reserve players to injury. Optimally, Inciarte would get at least a decent run of live action at the tail end of the regular season to ramp up for the playoffs.
Trouble is, there’s only a brief window left. And the Braves must balance the desire to get the outfielder reps — and assess his readiness to contribute — with the need to avoid further injury. As Snitker puts it, “reports are good” on Inciarte’s progress as he ramps up, “but what he does in drills is a lot different than taxing it and playing in games.”
No matter what happens with Inciarte, the Braves are well covered in the outfield. In addition to star Ronald Acuna, the club has welcomed back Nick Markakis from his own lengthy rehab stint and added speed-and-glove switch-hitter Billy Hamilton. With lefty bench bat Matt Joyce also in the mix for a postseason roster spot, along with right-handed hitters Adam Duvall and Austin Riley, it’ll be interesting to see how the outfield logjam is resolved if Inciarte is able to get back and show he’s healthy.
The Braves announced today that they have selected the contract of catcher John Ryan Murphy. A 40-man roster spot was cleared by placing injured utilityman Charlie Culberson on the 60-day injured list.
Murphy, 28, was added over the summer in a minor swap with the Diamondbacks. He had struggled to a .177/.250/.419 batting line in 69 MLB plate appearances with the Arizona organization.
The Braves likely intend to utilize Murphy to reduce the wear and tear on the club’s primary backstops. With the division all but sewn up, the focus now is on preparing the roster for the postseason. While he’s technically eligible for the playoffs if needed, Murphy is fourth on the depth chart.
Sunday: Culberson fractured a bone in his cheek on the play, tweets David O’Brien of the Athletic. While he won’t require surgery, he will miss the remainder of the season.
Saturday: A very heated scene ensued in D.C. this afternoon after a fastball from Washington’s Fernando Rodney struck Atlanta’s Charlie Culberson squarely in the face. Though Culberson, 30, was turned to bunt when at-bat in the top of the seventh, Rodney’s fastball apparently got away from him and connected near Culberson’s eye. Culberson was placed onto a medical cart by the Atlanta training staff and eventually motioned a “thumbs-up” to the crowd, but manager Brian Snitker would soon follow him off of the playing field after an ejection. Apparently incensed that home plate umpire Tim Timmons called the pitch a strike, Snitker vociferously mirrored much of the Twitter community’s feeling that, despite the fact that Culberson was indeed squared to bunt when the pitch hit him, the umpire should have spared the strike call in consideration of the bloody scene. Atlanta’s Fox Sports affiliate has video of the incident which shows both the aftermath of the HBP and Snitker’s ejection (Twitter links).
As for the potential, on-field ramifications of this incident, Atlanta can ill-afford to lose more position player depth. Johan Camargo was just this week felled by a fractured shin, and a lengthy absence for Culberson would further test Atlanta’s bench corps as the group gears up for postseason play.
Since the beginning of 2018, Culberson has provided the Braves with 466 plate appearances in which he has recorded a .267/.316/.457 slash line with 17 home runs and 65 RBI. Even more usefully, Snitker has employed the veteran at every position save for center field and catcher over the last two years, including some garbage-time relief pitching work. Further updates on Culberson’s injury will be provided as they become available.
Nick Markakis returned to the Braves lineup Friday night after a seven-week layoff. The Braves were able to “ease” Markakis back into action with a cupcake matchup against Max Scherzer, against whom he’s rolled to a .323/.375/.423 line in 65 career at-bats. Not bad production against one of the best pitchers of his generation. Three innings into his return, the Braves faced a fresh injury scare. Freddie Freeman left yesterday’s game with elbow soreness, per The Athletic’s David O’Brien. Freddie Franchise aggravated a bone spur while making a defensive play, but his removal was precautionary, and the Braves don’t expect him to miss any time. Freeman himself classified the injury as day-to-day, per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. He’ll be back in the lineup by Sunday at the latest. Let’s see what else is happening in the NL East…
9:50pm: Camargo isn’t necessarily done for the season, according to manager Brian Snitker (Twitter link via Gabriel Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). The hope is that he’ll be ready to return in about three weeks, when the playoffs will already be underway. As noted below, though, even a healthy version might not have been a lock to land on the Braves’ postseason roster.
12:16pm: The Braves announced today that they have activated outfielder Nick Markakis from the injured list, as expected. Utilityman Johan Camargo has been placed on the 10-day IL after being diagnosed with a fractured shin.
Markakis has bounced back from a fractured wrist. He’ll be tasked with getting back up to game speed without the benefit of a rehab assignment. With the Braves secure in their postseason position, they can allow him to get his cuts in without much concern for the outcome.
Meanwhile, the news on Camargo seemingly brings to an end a forgettable season. There’s no official word yet on an anticipated timeline, but it’s tough to imagine he’ll be able to heal up in time to be a factor. Odds are he’d have been left off the postseason roster regardless given his prolonged struggles.
The shin fracture — suffered on a foul ball — shouldn’t dent Camargo’s long-term outlook. But it could slow his offseason work. He’ll be trying to sort things out over the winter after turning in 248 plate appearances of .233/.279/.384 hitting while also posting a downturn in the field. The 25-year-old switch-hitter had been a 3+ WAR performer in 2018.
The Braves have exchanged one left-handed reliever for another off the 60-day injured list. The club announced that Grant Dayton has been activated, while A.J. Minter’s season was placed on the IL due to inflammation in his throwing shoulder, which will end his season.
After missing all of 2018 due to Tommy John surgery, Dayton returned to a big league mound for 8 1/3 innings over 10 games for Atlanta this season, posting a 2.16 ERA and 11.9 K/9 over his brief stint. A fractured big toe sent him to the injured list on July 12, however, so Dayton will return after exactly a two-month absence. Over 58 1/3 career innings with the Braves and Dodgers, Dayton has dominated left-handed batters (holding them to a .574 OPS) and also performed quite well against righty batters (.711 OPS) en route to a 3.24 ERA, 3.33 K/BB rate, and 10.8 K/9.
As a whole, Atlanta’s bullpen has middle-of-the-pack type of numbers against left-handed hitters this season, so Dayton could provide more of an overall boost than Minter, who has struggled through a very rough campaign. After breaking out and even stepping into a part-time closer role for the Braves in 2018, Minter has a 7.06 ERA over 29 1/3 innings this year, due in large part to major control issues. He has issued 23 walks (18 international) over those 29 1/3 IP, making for a 7.1 BB/9 that more than doubles his previous highs in that category at either the MLB or minor league levels.
- Braves outfielder Ender Inciarte likely won’t return until the last week of September, David O’Brien of The Athletic suggests. Inciarte has been on the shelf since mid-August with a hamstring strain. It’s the second long-term injury of the year for Inciarte, who previously missed two months with a back issue. Inciarte had been amid a hot streak when he suffered his current ailment, as his OPS skyrocketed from .605 to .740 in the month between his IL stints. He and the soon-to-return Nick Markakis could act as a pair of important outfield reinforcements for the Braves as they gear up for the postseason.
It has only been a little over five weeks, so it’s too soon to judge with finality how this year’s trade deadline maneuvers will play out. That said, we’re already half of the way through the period — the regular season portion, at least — for which rental players were acquired. Even players with future control are usually added first and foremost for their immediate contributions (though there are some exceptions). It’d be awfully premature to say anything conclusive about the prospect side of any deals, but we do now have some additional information with which to work.
So, that’s why we’re going to take a glance back over our shoulders at the moves (and major non-moves) that organizations made in the run-up to this year’s trade deadline. We already covered the AL Central, NL Central, and AL East; now we’ll go to the National League East …
There was an argument for the Braves to consider rotation and even outfield improvements at the trade deadline, but the club ultimately focused on the bullpen after the mid-June signing of Dallas Keuchel. Otherwise, the club swung just one other deal, a minor swap of cash for catching depth in the form of John Ryan Murphy.
So, what about those relievers? The club picked up Chris Martin (link), Shane Greene (link), and Mark Melancon (link). That seemed like a sturdy trio, but each got off to an exceptionally rocky start. Thankfully, things have stabilized. Martin sports a 15:1 K/BB rate in Atlanta; Melancon sits at 20:2 and hasn’t yet blown a save in nine chances (though it may not seem that way). Greene gave up a pair of runs in his last outing, but that broke a 13-appearance scoreless streak.
On the other side of the coin, the price paid never figured to hurt the Braves too badly, as they largely parted with upper-level pieces that were stacked behind other prospects. If there’s one that could hurt, it may be Joey Wentz, who posted a 37:4 K/BB ratio while allowing just six earned runs in 25 2/3 innings with the Tigers’ Double-A affiliate after coming over in the Greene trade. Utilityman Travis Demeritte, who went with him, has struggled in brief MLB action. The Martin swap cost another young left, Kolby Allard, who has put a shine on a solid overall campaign by running a 3.78 ERA over six big league starts. He’s succeeding largely by limiting the long ball, which may not be fully sustainable, but his stuff has trended up noticeably since his brief debut last year with Atlanta. Tristan Beck, the key piece in the Melancon swap, has generated good results at the High-A level since the deal.
So, what about the possible needs in other areas? The starting staff has continued to be an internal operation (including Keuchel). While it’s not exactly an ace-laden outfit, the Braves do have plenty of depth and will likely plan to stack pitching in the postseason rather than hoping for lengthy starts. Position-player depth has been an issue, but the club has managed to find solutions by being one of the most aggressive accumulators of players in September. Minor-league signings and claims brought the team Adeiny Hechavarria, Billy Hamilton, and Francisco Cervelli. While it’s certainly arguable the Braves could or should have made at least one more significant addition, the overall approach of supplementing the existing roster has certainly not prevented the team from performing at an impressive level of late.
The D.C. organization pursued something like a Braves-lite strategy, landing its own trio of relief arms but doing so at another tier lower than did the division leaders. Southpaw Roenis Elias (link) and righties Daniel Hudson (link) and Hunter Strickland (link) all arrived on deadline day to buttress a bullpen that has been a source of turnover and turmoil all season long.
Elias was arguably the biggest piece of the three, but has contributed the least due to injury. It’s an unlucky break, though the Nats still can salvage value from the deal by tendering him a contract for the next two seasons to come. The two right-handers have become important pieces in the late-inning mix of the rightly maligned Washington relief corps. Hudson owns a 2.40 ERA in 15 frames, with 9.0 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9; Strickland is sitting at a 4.40 ERA over 14 1/3 innings, with 6.3 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. They’ve each allowed three home runs.
Securing the services of Elias meant sending Elvis Alvarado and Taylor Guilbeau to Seattle. The control problems of the former disappeared in a dozen-inning rookie ball stint after the trade, so perhaps the Seattle staff helped him figure something out. Gilbeau, 26, has earned his first time in the majors. In eight innings, the southpaw has been tough on lefties (.176/.263/.294) while being knocked around a bit by righties (.267/.353/.467). Another young lefty went to Seattle in the Strickland deal. Aaron Fletcher has thrown 13 innings of 3.46 ERA ball with 15 strikeouts and three walks in 13 Double-A innings. Adding Hudson cost 23-year-old Kyle Johnston, whose solid High-A numbers have tanked since the swap. He carries a brutal 13:20 K/BB ratio in 19 2/3 innings with the new organization.
Add it all up, and the Nats can’t be terribly displeased … but also haven’t been overwhelmingly boosted by their mid-season additions. Indications are that the club was working under tight payroll constraints this summer, so that’s to be expected. Fortunately, infielder Asdrubal Cabrera came cheap. He has been aflame since being signed as a September free agent. The club is still in very good position for the Wild Card, but has to wonder how far it will be able to advance with such an unreliable relief unit.
After adding Jay Bruce earlier in the summer, the Phillies probably wanted to improve their pitching. But they didn’t end up matching their rivals in that regard — not even close, in fact.
Outfielder Corey Dickerson was the team’s biggest addition in the run-up to the deadline, in fact. The primary cost was his remaining salary, with the club also agreeing to send the cross-state Pirates some international bonus capacity and a PTBNL. Dickerson may not even have been added had it not been for Bruce’s health issues. It has turned out to be wise move, as Dickerson carries a .300/.313/.592 batting line through 134 plate appearances.
Taking on money was also a driver in the Jason Vargas deal. The veteran southpaw has taken the ball eight times for the Phillies, managing a 5.01 ERA over 41 1/3 innings with a 1.63 K/BB ratio. That’s a downgrade from the results he posted with the Mets before the trade — 4.01 ERA with 2.08 K/BB ratio — though he’s much the same pitcher by most measures.
Those moves have certainly helped the Phils hang in the Wild Card race, though the club could obviously have stood to make greater improvements. Minor deals for Mike Morin, Jose Pirela, and Dan Straily haven’t delivered a ton of benefit. Morin has seen 21 innings of action but owns a 5.14 ERA. Pirela has seen limited action in the majors, while Straily hasn’t been asked onto the 40-man roster.
Much like their competitors in the division, the Phils have made several additions by signing released players or placing post-deadline claims. Those methods have brought in Drew Smyly, Blake Parker, Nick Vincent, Logan Morrison, and Jared Hughes to help keep things afloat. While more significant reinforcements surely would’ve been preferred, the organization just wasn’t willing to pay what it would have cost.
The most surprising deadline approach came from New York, with the Mets deciding to chase dwindling postseason aspirations. While the organization was rewarded with an inspired run of play, it still seems likely the club will fall short of its goal.
It seemed as the deadline drew nigh that the Mets would function as sellers. Zack Wheeler was an obvious trade piece, with a variety of other veterans also possibilities to move. Instead, the club pursued a stunning swap for local product Marcus Stroman while sending Vargas to the Phils to help offset the cash.
Parting with Vargas hasn’t hurt, though it was curious to see him go to a division rival. Trouble is, Stroman hasn’t been any better. He’s carrying a 5.05 ERA in 35 2/3 frames. While he’s surely a better bet going forward than the aging lefty, Stroman will need to rein in the number of balls leaving the yard (1.8 per nine since the deal). Adding Stroman meant that the Mets ponied up another chunk of young talent from a farm that had already parted with key pieces. Most analysts felt the cost — Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson — was rather reasonable, though both hurlers have trended up since joining their new organization.
The real head-scratcher in all of this was that the Mets stopped with only the addition of Stroman. He was and is a piece with 2020 value as well, of course, but the club left its bullpen entirely unimproved. The club did go on to add Brad Brach as well as second bagger Joe Panik when they came available in September. Brodie Van Wagenen’s first trade deadline will be an interesting one to revisit down the line.
It was a low-key fascinating trade period for the Fish. Not because they made sell-side moves — that was obvious — but because they ended up shipping out young talent.
It all got started innocently enough, as rental reliever Sergio Romo was sent to the Twins in a deal that netted first baseman Lewin Diaz. The youngster’s batting average and OBP dove with his new club, but he is still showing good power at Double-A. Unfortunately, the deal also cost the Fish 22-year-old righty Chris Vallimont. He had put up solid numbers all season long and finished with a bang, posting a 28:4 K/BB ratio and 3.63 ERA over 22 1/3 High-A innings.
It might have been supposed that the Marlins would try to spin off a few other veterans, with Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson among the short-term players that could hypothetically have been moved. Instead, the Miami club turned to cashing in controllable MLB pitching for buy-low position-player prospects.
First came an intriguing intra-state deal. The Marlins parted with righties Nick Anderson and Trevor Richards in order to pick up young outfielder Jesus Sanchez and reliever Ryne Stanek. With Anderson dominating and Richards performing quite well, there could be some second-guessing here. Then again, Sanchez is a well-regarded young player. He slashed .246/.338/.446 in 78 plate appearances at Triple-A after the swap. That’s hardly a big showing in this year’s hot offensive environment, but it was an improvement over his work in the Rays organization and he’s still just 21 years of age.
At least as surprising was the deal that saw rookie righty Zac Gallen head to the D-Backs in exchange for Jazz Chisholm. Entering the season, this swap would’ve seemed ridiculous. But the two players involved headed in quite different directions. By the time the deal was struck, the former was in the midst of a breakout season, with the age and cheap control needed to serve as a part of a new core. But the Marlins elected to cash in his breakout to take a shot at the long-lauded Chisholm, who had shown big strikeout numbers at Double-A (33.8%). Gallen has continued to excel in Arizona, raising the stakes for Chisholm. But the 21-year-old shortstop did trend up after the move, paring back the Ks and slashing .284/.383/.494 (156 wRC+) in 94 plate appearances with the Marlins’ Double-A affiliate.
It’s impossible to say how this slate of transactions will look in the long run, but it’ll be fun to track these intriguing deals from the rebuilding Marlins.