- First baseman Ji-Man Choi’s agency in Korea recently spoke to the media about their client’s current foray into free agency and revealed that he’s received offers (presumably of the minor league variety) from the Yankees, Angels, Rays, A’s, Brewers, Marlins, Cubs, Reds, Orioles, Twins, Braves, Blue Jays and White Sox (English link via Jee-ho Yoo of South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency). The 26-year-old Choi slugged a pair of homers in 18 plate appearances with the Yankees last year and posted a strong year with their Triple-A affiliate, slashing .288/.373/.538 in 87 games. In parts of five Triple-A campaigns, Choi has posted a robust .298/.390/.479 batting line.
- Numerous teams are obviously preparing to pursue Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich, who the Fish are reportedly increasingly willing to deal. Just how likely is a deal? Heyman cites a few sources who describe the situation as one in which the club is making Yelich and teammate J.T. Realmuto available in talks. Among the organizations with some level of interest in Yelich, per Heyman, are the Diamondbacks, Braves, and Giants. No doubt there are plenty of others, too, that will line up for both players.
- Though Venezuelan reporter Marcos Grunfeld tweeted yesterday that Braves third baseman Adonis Garcia has signed a contract with the LG Twins to play in Korea, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says “there have been discussions but [there is] no deal yet.” Garcia, 33 in April, was below replacement level in 52 games for the Braves this year.
- Mark Bowman of MLB.com opens his Braves inbox, writing that “there is reason to believe Atlanta will use an abundance of funds to acquire another proven top-of-the-rotation starter via trade or free agency before the start of the 2019 season.” Looking at which starting pitchers will be available in free agency outside of possibly Clayton Kershaw, I agree with Bowman that a trade is the more likely route.
- Backstop Rob Brantly is in agreement on a minors deal with the Braves, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter). The 28-year-old won’t have a shot at a MLB roster spot out of camp, barring an injury to Tyler Flowers or Kurt Suzuki, but he could be the first line of depth behind that duo. Brantly has received only brief MLB action over the past several seasons. He spent most of the 2017 campaign at Triple-A with the Reds and White Sox organizations, where he posted a solid .293/.352/.443 slash in 321 plate appearances.
The Braves and infielder/outfielder Danny Santana have agreed to a minor league contract, reports SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (on Twitter). Atlanta non-tendered Santana last month rather than pay him a projected arbitration salary of $1.1MM (per MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz). Santana is represented by the Beverly Hills Sports Council.
Now 27 years of age, Santana was a Rookie of the Year candidate with the 2014 Twins when he debuted with a sensational .319/.353/.472 slash in 430 trips to the plate. That outstanding production, though, was buoyed by a sky-high .405 BABIP, and Santana’s output cratered in subsequent seasons when he (unsurprisingly) was not able to maintain that rate. Over the past three years, Santana has logged an unsightly .221/.255/.320 batting line in 720 plate appearances between Minnesota and Atlanta.
Though he hasn’t delivered much at the plate, Santana does bring plenty of speed and defensive versatility to the table. Santana’s 28.8 ft/sec average sprint speed (via Statcast) tied him with Jarrod Dyson and four others for 30th in the Majors, and he’s played everywhere on the diamond other than first base, catcher and pitcher in the Majors. While he doesn’t excel at any one position, that versatility pairs with his speed and switch-hitting abilities to make him at least an interesting depth option for the Braves to keep on hand in Triple-A Gwinnett.
The Braves have acquired outfielder Preston Tucker from the Astros, per an announcement from the Atlanta organization. Cash or a player to be named will go back in return. To open 40-man space, the Braves designated righty Luke Jackson.
Tucker is an interesting addition for a Braves organization that recently shed regular corner outfielder Matt Kemp. The young, left-handed-hitting Tucker is a possible platoon piece. He might pair with Lane Adams, for instance, if the organization decides it’d prefer to keep top prospect Ronald Acuna at Triple-A to open the season.
It’s certainly possible that Tucker could still turn into a valuable big league asset. The 27-year-old slashed .250/.333/.465 with 24 long balls in 569 Triple-A plate appearances in 2017. He has also shown an ability to hit the ball out of the yard in the majors, having popped 13 long balls in 323 plate appearances in 2015, though he also managed only a .297 OBP in that run, struggled badly in the ensuing season and has not seen the bigs since.
As for Jackson, the writing was likely on the wall as the Braves began committing 40-man spots to other relievers over the winter. The 26-year-old has a big fastball and managed a decent 10.2% swinging-strike rate in 2017, but managed only 5.9 K/9 against 3.4 BB/9 along with 4.62 ERA over 50 2/3 innings in his first extended MLB action.
The Braves have formally released Adrian Gonzalez, tweets Mark Bowman of MLB.com. Gonzalez was acquired over the weekend in a stunning five-player salary dump and immediately designated for assignment. As David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes, being designated and immediately released into the free-agent pool was actually a prerequisite for Gonzalez to waive his no-trade protection in the first place, as doing so gives him more say over where he’ll spend the 2018 campaign.
Gonzalez, 36 in May, was limited to just 71 games this season because of a significant back issue that has also clearly sapped his productivity at the plate. In the 252 plate appearances for which the five-time All-Star and former MVP candidate was healthy, he batted just .242/.287/.355 with three homers and 17 doubles. That, of course, is a far cry from the production Dodgers fans had come to expect after he hit .282/.344/.465 with 95 homers in 2577 plate appearances from 2013-16. Gonzalez ended his Dodgers tenure with a bang, though, belting a home run in his final plate appearance of the season (and, presumably, of his Dodgers career).
The release of Gonzalez underscores that Saturday’s blockbuster was a financial move for the Dodgers and Braves more so than a move that was motivated by interest in the players that changed hands. Gonzalez is still owed a total of $21.5MM for the 2018 season in the final year of a seven-year, $154MM contract and will be available to any team that has interest in him for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum (for any time spent in the Majors). That sum will be subtracted from the $21.5MM for which Atlanta is on the hook, but the remainder of the deal, nearly $20MM, will come out of Atlanta’s pockets regardless.
Of course, the Braves are fine with that outcome. The trade allowed Atlanta to dump Matt Kemp’s contract onto the Dodgers, freeing Atlanta of a multi-year albatross and paving a path for ballyhooed prospect Ronald Acuna to join the big league club once he’s deemed ready. Meanwhile, the Dodgers were able to dump a significant amount of 2018 payroll in exchange for spreading out that salary over the life of two seasons — and in doing so dramatically reducing their luxury tax payroll (which is calculated by average annual value).
The Dodgers and Braves swung an out-of-nowhere, payroll-geared trade Saturday consisting of five major leaguers, with just one (Matt Kemp) going to Los Angeles in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy and Charlie Culberson. LA, which made the trade for luxury tax purposes, previously tried to send Gonzalez, Kazmir and McCarthy to the Marlins as part of a package for now-Yankee Giancarlo Stanton, according to Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times. Although that failed, Dodgers brass already had a fallback option in the Braves, whose general manager – Alex Anthopoulos – worked in LA’s front office until mid-November. The two sides began discussing the parameters of Saturday’s trade shortly after his hiring, per McCullough. Talks gained steam during this week’s Winter Meetings before culminating in an agreement Saturday.
- The Braves immediately designated Gonzalez for assignment after his acquisition, but the 35-year-old had to waive his no-trade clause before the deal could occur. Gonzalez touched on that choice afterward, saying in a statement: “My final decision was not based on playing time, as I had agreed to a limited bench role. It is a way to test the free-agent market and see what opportunities are out there for me so I can make the best decision moving forward for me and my family. Lifting the no-trade clause is the hardest decision I have ever made in my career due to the fact that I loved every single second being a Dodger.”
- The Padres will consider a reunion with Gonzalez if they’re unable to reel in free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer, Bob Nightengale of USA Today suggests (Twitter link). Gonzalez was a franchise player in San Diego from 2006-10, slashing .288/.374/.514 with 161 home runs in 3,425 plate appearances and earning three All-Star nods.
- Shortly after the news broke, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported the Dodgers would likely trade or release Kemp before he ever plays another game in their uniform (he was previously with LA from 2006-14). The Dodgers will first try to flip Kemp, confirms McCullough, who adds that they “appear willing to offer prospects” to help convince someone to take some of his contract. Kemp, 33, is due $21.5MM in each of the next two seasons. Keith Law of ESPN opines that he wouldn’t even be worth picking up if the Dodgers ate all of that money (subscription required and recommended). Regarding a discussion he had with Kemp, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said: “I was very open and honest with him about what the future might hold. It’s just too difficult to say, definitively, at this point.”
- Having completed this trade, it seems the Braves’ heavy lifting for the offseason is mostly over, as David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution details. They improved their defense by getting rid of Kemp, thus freeing up a spot in the outfield for elite prospect Ronald Acuna (he’ll be in the majors early in 2018, whether it’s Opening Day or a bit later); added a veteran starter in McCarthy (possibly two if Kazmir recovers from a hip injury); and landed a backup infielder they like in Culberson. While Anthopoulos said the Braves could still seek a third baseman and relief help, he noted that those areas are not priorities, O’Brien writes.
- Meanwhile, Nightengale, Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs and Bill Shaikin of the LA Times agree that this trade will help set up an action-packed offseason in a year. Now that the Dodgers are unlikely to exceed the $197MM luxury tax threshold in 2018, they can be more aggressive in trying to reel in certain members of a star-studded class of free agents next winter. One of their own standouts, left-hander Clayton Kershaw, could be a prominent part of that group.
In a stunning swap of big contracts, the Dodgers have traded first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, left-hander Scott Kazmir, right-hander Brandon McCarthy and infielder Charlie Culberson to the Braves in exchange for outfielder Matt Kemp. The Braves will also receive $4.5MM in cash. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic was the first to report news of the trade. Furthermore, Mark Bowman of MLB.com adds that the Braves have already designated Gonzalez for assignment. A source close to Rosenthal tells him that the Dodgers are likely to trade or release Kemp (Twitter link).
There’s a ton to unpack here, but the biggest motivator of the trade appears to be money, and more specifically luxury tax implications for the Dodgers. Rosenthal notes in another tweet that the trade is “effectively cash-neutral overall,” but adds that the swap will put the Dodgers below the $197MM luxury tax threshold for the 2018 season. That will allow the Dodgers to reset the escalating luxury tax penalties, which seems to have been a significant objective for the club this offseason. The money owed to Kemp is spread out across the 2018-2019 seasons, while Gonzalez, Kazmir and McCarthy all have just one year remaining on their contracts.
Rosenthal offers further clarification yet, as he points out that the Dodgers have paid the luxury tax for five consecutive seasons. Their penalty for 2017 was over $30MM, but if they keep their payroll below $197MM, their penalty will drop from 50% on the overage to 20% the next time they exceed the luxury tax threshold.
Joel Sherman reports in his own tweet that the Braves are planning to release Gonzalez, but can’t do so until Monday since MLB teams can’t release players on weekends during the offseason. Gonzalez actually had to waive his no-trade clause in order to make this trade possible, and Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports reports that he did so mainly because the Dodgers told him he’d be buried on the bench and receive limited at-bats.
As for the Braves, the $4.5MM they’ll get in the deal will even out the overall dollars swapped in the trade (hat tip to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports). GM Alex Anthopoulos says that McCarthy satisfies the team’s “desire to add a veteran starter,” while Culberson fills their need for a bench player (via Mark Bowman of MLB.com). Kazmir has some upside as a rotation piece too.
Not insignificant is the fact that the Dodgers have opened up multiple spots on their 40-man roster, including one that was already earmarked for Tom Koehler, with whom the Dodgers have recently agreed to a one-year deal.
Kemp, 33, was a sixth-round selection of the Dodgers back in 2003. He made his major league debut in 2007, and went on to have some great seasons for Los Angeles, including a 2011 campaign in which he finished as the runner-up in the MVP voting. Later that year, the club signed the outfielder to an eight-year, $160MM extension. Not long after that, his performance began to decline; Kemp has only topped 1 WAR once in the past four seasons as his contract has been tossed between the Padres, Braves and Dodgers. For the 2017 season, Kemp hit .276/.318/.463, making him a roughly average major league hitter (100 wRC+). However, his poor defense in the outfield dropped his overall value to -0.5 fWAR.
Gonzalez, now 35 years of age, went to the Marlins with the number one overall pick in the 2000 draft. His breakout season came with the Padres in 2006; that year began a streak of ten consecutive seasons wherein the left-handed-hitting first baseman posted at least 2.9 fWAR. Across those years, he posted a .292/.366/.501 slash line and mashed 283 homers. This past season, however, Gonzalez battled injuries throughout the year and didn’t hit well when healthy; he amassed only 252 plate appearances across 71 games with the Dodgers and managed a career-worst .355 slugging percentage. All told, Gonzalez was valued at 1.1 wins below replacement level.
Kazmir’s story is a roller coaster of sorts; he was a great pitcher during his early years with the then-Devil Rays, including a 2007 season in which he posted a 3.48 ERA with 239 strikeouts across 206 2/3 innings. However, Kazmir began to struggle with injuries and ineffectiveness in 2009, and though he experienced a resurgence in July that prompted a trade to the Angels, his ERA during the 2009 postseason was an ugly 7.59. Those struggles continued into the 2010 season, and by 2011 Kazmir was pitching for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate and was cut before June was over. After spending 2012 out of MLB entirely, the Indians took a chance on him in 2013, and he rewarded them with a 4.04 ERA (and 3.51 FIP) campaign that earned him the Comeback Player of the Year Award. He signed a two-year deal with the Athletics the following offseason, and seemed to be “back.” The Dodgers signed Kazmir to a three-year, $48MM deal, but the injury bug struck once again, marring his 2016 performance and keeping him off the field entirely in 2017.
The 34-year-old McCarthy has a career 4.15 ERA across 1,145 big league innings with the White Sox, Rangers, Athletics, Diamondbacks, Yankees and Dodgers. He’s generally provided value while on the field, but has only topped 140 innings twice in his twelve-year career. Part of that can be attributed to injuries, including a 2015 Tommy John surgery when he famously noted on Twitter that “31 years is a lot to ask for from a ligament.” During the past two seasons, he’s put up a 4.27 ERA while striking out 116 batters in 132 2/3 innings.
Based on his age and team control, the soon-to-be 29-year-old Culberson is the one player in this deal who looks capable of being a long-term piece. The Georgia native won’t even be eligible for arbitration until next winter, meaning the Braves could control him for the next four seasons. The righty-hitting Culberson hasn’t found much big league success since debuting in 2012, though, having hit just .229/.269/.321 in 443 PAs with three NL West clubs – the Giants, Rockies and Dodgers. Culberson racked up a mere 83 trips to the plate in two seasons with the Dodgers, but he did swat a couple dramatic homers during his LA tenure.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Braves don’t seem to have interest in bringing Brandon Phillips back to his hometown team, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (Twitter link). Phillips spent the first five months of the 2017 season with the Braves, hitting .291/.329/.423 over 499 PA before his production fell off after an August 31 deal to the Angels. Atlanta is known to be looking for veteran stop-gap options at third base until prospect Austin Riley is ready, and Phillips already moved to the hot corner last season to accommodate Ozzie Albies’ promotion to the big leagues. There hasn’t been any hot stove buzz about Phillips this winter, as the 36-year-old looks to catch on for his 17th MLB season.