Click here to read a transcript of Tuesday’s chat with MLBTR’s Steve Adams.
The Brewers have signed right-hander Easton McGee and all-too-appropriately-named outfielder Brewer Hicklen to minor league contracts, reports Adam McCalvy of MLB.com. They’ll both be in major league camp during spring training, though McGee won’t be pitching, as he’ll still be rehabbing from last May’s Tommy John surgery. McCalvy further adds that McGee’s minor league deal is a two-year pact, so he’ll be in the Brewers system through at least the 2025 season.
McGee, 26 next month, appeared briefly in the big leagues with the 2022 Rays and 2023 Mariners, combining for 9 2/3 shutout innings. He fanned three hitters and walked just one during that time. He’s a soft-tosser by today’s standards, averaging 91.5 mph in ’22 and seeing that number drop to 90.1 mph prior to this past season’s surgery.
McGee was Tampa Bay’s fourth-round pick back in 2016, and though he doesn’t have power stuff or a history of elite run prevention in the upper minors (4.78 ERA in 141 Triple-A frames), he does boast outstanding command. He’s faced just shy of 2100 hitters since being drafted and walked only 4.6% of them. At 6’6″, his lanky frame likely helps his pedestrian fastball velocity play up a bit, and that standout command is difficult to develop in players. On what amounts to a no-risk minor league pickup for the Brewers, he’s a nice arm to stash in the system in hopes that he can eventually emerge as a back-end starter or perhaps a multi-inning reliever.
Hicklen, 28 in February, made his MLB debut with the 2022 Royals but went hitless in a minuscule sample of six plate appearances. He’s a 2017 seventh-round pick with a career .244/.348/.486 line at the plate in 853 Triple-A plate appearances.
While he didn’t hit for much power in 2023 (10 homers in 72 games), Hicklen popped 28 long balls with Kansas City’s Triple-A club in 2022 and has drawn praise for his plus-plus (70-grade) speed. Those wheels have been on display in Triple-A, where he’s swiped 56 bags in 61 tries. Overall, he’s stolen 186 bases in the minors with a hefty 85% success rate. He’s worked primarily in left field during his minor league career, but Hicklen has 1310 innings in right field and another 621 frames in center, so he’s capable of playing all three spots.
The White Sox announced Tuesday that they’ve designated outfielder Adam Haseley for assignment. His spot on the 40-man roster will go to infielder Paul DeJong, whose previously reported one-year deal has now been confirmed by the team. Chicago’s 40-man roster remains at capacity.
Haseley, 27, was the eighth overall selection in the 2017 draft by the Phillies but hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations associated with that draft stock. He’s appeared in parts of five big league seasons — the past two with Chicago after coming over in a 2022 trade sending McKinley Moore to the Phils — but compiled a tepid .259/.319/.356 batting line in 419 career plate appearances. The bulk of his offensive production came during his 2019-20 run with the Phils; he’s struggled at the plate in three seasons since.
Haseley spent the bulk of the 2023 season with the White Sox’ Triple-A affiliate in Charlotte, where he posted a .264/.338/.386 batting line that checked in 17% worse than league average, by measure of wRC+. The speedy outfielder walked in 8.9% of his plate appearances, showed good bat-to-ball skills with a 16.6% strikeout rate and went 10-for-14 in stolen base attempts in his 72 games at that level.
While Haseley’s bat hasn’t been up to the MLB standard, he’s logged time at all three outfield positions in the big leagues and graded out as an above-average defender according to each of Defensive Runs Saved (11), Ultimate Zone Rating (3.6) and Outs Above Average (1). He’s had a particularly tough time against fellow lefties in his career (.243/.309/.297) but handled righties at a more passable .262/.320/.371 clip.
Because he’s out of minor league options, Haseley would’ve needed to crack the White Sox’ Opening Day roster or else eventually be designated for assignment, as he was today. Another club in search of a lefty bat with some speed and contact skills who can handle all three outfield spots could place a waiver claim or acquire him in a small trade, but Haseley’s lack of minor league options would put that new team in the same spot. Now that he’s been DFA, Haseley will either be traded, released or run through outright waivers within a week’s time. He cleared waivers this time a year ago and was assigned outright to Charlotte, and that prior outright assignment will give him the right to elect free agency if he goes unclaimed a second time.
The SSG Landers of the Korea Baseball Organization announced Tuesday that they’ve signed right-hander Robert Dugger to a one-year deal worth $750K (link via Jee-ho Yoo of the Yonhap News Agency). He can earn another $150K via incentives.
Dugger, 28, logged MLB time each season from 2019-22, compiling a total of 86 2/3 innings between the Marlins, Mariners, Rays and Reds. He was hit hard during that stretch, yielding a 7.17 ERA, but he’s posted solid results in an exorbitantly hitter-friendly Triple-A setting in each of the past two seasons. Dugger’s 4.31 earned run average with the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate in 2023 actually led all qualified starting pitchers in the Pacific Coast League and ranked ranked fourth among starters with at least 70 innings pitched. He coupled that mark with a 22.6% strikeout rate, 9.5% walk rate and 43.5% ground-ball rate.
Baseball America ranked Dugger among the Marlins’ top 30 prospects each year from 2018-20, labeling him a potential back-of-the-rotation starter thanks more to a deep and varied five-pitch arsenal than due to any one truly plus offering. He’ll take that skill set overseas in his first foray into professional ball in Asia, and in doing so will secure a much larger payday than he’d have commanded as a depth arm in Triple-A hoping for what would’ve likely been a brief call to the Majors before again being a DFA candidate as an out-of-options journeyman.
Dugger has never been seen as a power arm, averaging just 90.9 mph on his four-seamer and 90.1 mph on his sinker throughout his big league trials. That lack of velo won’t be as glaring in the KBO, where the average fastball clocks in lower than in MLB.
As a former 18th-round pick, he’ll relish this opportunity to secure the largest guaranteed salary of his career. And with a nice season for the Landers, Dugger could position himself to re-sign on a seven-figure deal (or close to it). Enough success could garner him some interest from Japan’s NPB or perhaps even pave the way for an eventual return to the Majors.
Former American League Cy Young winner Shane Bieber is a year from reaching the open market, and the Guardians have discussed potential trade scenarios involving the 28-year-old righty with the Cubs and Reds, Jon Morosi of MLB.com reports. Other clubs have surely reached out on Bieber’s potential availability as well, and Morosi notes that the Cubs have also inquired on Rays ace Tyler Glasnow, who’s widely known to be available. Cincinnati was also linked to Glasnow just yesterday.
Bieber’s 2023 season was arguably his worst since his 2018 rookie season, though that’s a testament to his overall track record more than an indictment on his ’23 output. Forearm and elbow troubles limited him to 128 innings this past season, but he pitched to a solid 3.80 ERA when healthy enough to take the mound and averaged better than six frames per start.
That said, it’s worth highlighting that Bieber’s status as a former Cy Young winner probably gives him more name recognition and name value among fans than actual trade value among MLB front offices. Solid as his ’23 results were when he was on the active roster, his performance carried plenty of red flags. Bieber’s fastball velocity has steadily declined since that 2020 Cy Young win, and last year’s average of 91.6 mph was nearly three miles slower than during his 2020 peak. Bieber fanned a ridiculous 41.1% of opponents during the pandemic shortened season, but that mark dropped to 33.1% the following year, 25% in 2022 and a below-average 20.1% in 2023.
Bieber’s walk and ground-ball rates remain strong, but neither is quite elite. After posting ridiculous swinging-strike and opponents’ chase rates of 17.1% and 37% in 2020, he checked in below the league average in both last year: 10.5% and 30.6%, respectively. Bieber has never held top-of-the-scale rankings in terms of hard contact allowed, but he’s previously missed so many bats that yielding hard contact at average-ish rates didn’t matter. That’s no longer the case, given the lack of punchouts, and last year saw Bieber post career-worst marks in average exit velocity (91.6 mph) and hard-hit rate (47.2%). Those marks are as rough as they sound; Bieber ranked in the second percentile of MLB pitchers in average exit velocity and the third percentile in hard-hit rate.
Be that as it may, Bieber’s broader track record surely buys him some faith from other clubs, and it’s of course eminently possible that some of those red flags are attributable to health troubles that are now hopefully behind him. It’s a deep free-agent class for pitching, but not every club is going to fill its needs via the open market. Bieber still holds clear trade value, even if teams likely all agree that the 2020 version of the one-time ace probably isn’t going to resurface.
For both the Reds and the Cubs, there’s good sense in pursuing Bieber. Cincinnati boasts an exciting crop of young position players and several talented but yet-unproven rotation candidates. Bieber would give them a veteran anchor to pair with the likes of Hunter Greene, Andrew Abbott, Nick Lodolo, Graham Ashcraft and Brandon Williamson. Elsewhere in the NL Central, the Cubs have an established top three in the rotation (Justin Steele, Kyle Hendricks, Jameson Taillon) but less certainty beyond that veteran trio, with Hayden Wesneski, Javier Assad and Jordan Wicks among their still-emerging options.
Adding a steady veteran like Bieber to stabilize things surely holds appeal for either club as they set their sights on a weak NL Central. The Reds, in particular, should have no problem absorbing Bieber’s final year of club control; whereas the Cubs already have more than $178MM in projected payroll, Cincinnati’s 2024 outlay is scarcely more than $50MM right now. Greene and backup catcher Luke Maile are the only guaranteed contracts on the books, and their arbitration class is quite small.
From a bigger-picture standpoint, a trade of Bieber — or at least the discussion of one — should come as no surprise for fans who’ve followed how Cleveland has operated over the years. The Guardians churn out high-end starting pitching arguably better than any club in baseball but never let their top arms reach free agency. Part of the process that has helped Cleveland find continued success despite perennially bottom-of-the-barrel payrolls has been selling high on established starters in exchange for controllable young talent. The team’s unrivaled success in pitching development, paired with those regular influxes of young talent, have kept them competitive in a light AL Central division.
For example, none of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer or Mike Clevinger reached the open market in a Cleveland uniform. Kluber was flipped to the Rangers in a deal netting current closer Emmanuel Clase. Carrasco went to the Mets alongside Francisco Lindor in return for Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario. Bauer brought Franmil Reyes and a Yasiel Puig rental to Cleveland. Clevinger netted several players, headlined by Josh Naylor, pitching prospect Joey Cantillo, infielder Gabriel Arias and righty Cal Quantrill — who was recently traded himself (to the Rockies) on the heels of a down season.
Despite all the star-caliber pitchers who break out in Cleveland, the Guardians have never held onto one long enough to make a qualifying offer and collect a compensatory draft pick. Bieber would be a QO candidate next winter if he stays put, but his age, track record and reasonable $12.2MM projected arbitration salary (per MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz) should be enough to yield greater value than a potential comp pick in what would be the 2025 MLB draft.
Even as they’ve traded away so many arms, the Guardians haven’t ever felt compelled to backfill the rotation via free agency. The last time they signed a free-agent starter to a big league deal was nearly a decade ago when taking a $4MM flier on then bounceback candidate Gavin Floyd. The last multi-year deal they gave to a free-agent starting pitcher was nearly two decades ago: Paul Byrd.
The 2024 season has a good chance to represent a continuation of those trends. Even if Bieber is traded, Cleveland already graduated three top prospects — Tanner Bibee, Logan Allen and Gavin Williams — who all hit the ground running as rookies. Triston McKenzie dealt with an ominous elbow injury but finished the season healthy. If he can avoid further issues, he’s shown the ability to be an upper-echelon starter himself (191 innings, 2.96 ERA, 25.6% strikeout rate, 5.9% walk rate in 2022). In-house names like Cantillo, Xzavion Curry and Hunter Gaddis could all vie for the fifth spot in the rotation, and it’s eminently possible that a Bieber trade (or another offseason swap) could net Cleveland a potential rotation candidate to join that group.
The Marlins have claimed righty Ryan Jensen off waivers from the Mariners, the team announced. Seattle designated him for assignment last week after acquiring Seby Zavala and Carlos Vargas from the D-backs in the trade sending Eugenio Suarez to Arizona. Miami’s 40-man roster now has 38 players.
Jensen, 26, was the No. 27 overall pick by the Cubs back in 2019 but hasn’t made his big league debut. Command issues have plagued him throughout his minor league tenure, and the Cubs placed him on waivers shortly after the trade deadline, surely hopeful of sneaking him through in order to retain him without committing a 40-man roster spot. That didn’t happen, as Seattle scooped him up for what will go down as a brief tenure.
This past season, Jensen split the year between Double-A and Triple-A, working to a combined 5.32 earned run average in 64 1/3 innings of work. He operated primarily out of the bullpen, his first season doing so after spending the first few years of his career as a starting pitcher.
In parts of four minor league seasons, Jensen has a 4.42 ERA with a solid 26% strikeout rate but an untenable 14.5% walk rate. His strike-throwing struggles have only mounted as he’s climbed the minor league ladder. Like many prospects, Jensen was surely impacted adversely by the canceled 2020 minor league season, but his command troubles were present even before that lost season; Jensen walked more than 10% of his college opponents and issued 14 free passes in 12 innings of Low-A ball in 2019 following that draft selection.
Jensen has a mid-90s heater, plus ground-ball rates, above-average strikeout rates and a pair of minor league options remaining, so it’s not a surprise to see clubs continue to take a flier on him. He’s a former first-round pick who’s drawn plenty of praise for his athleticism, but he’s a clear project for the Marlins rather than someone on whom they’ll be relying to fill a key role next season. Miami has space on the roster for now, but once they fill the 40-man, Jensen is the type of fringe 40-man name who could again find himself in DFA jeopardy if the Fish feel they need to free up some more space.
The Nippon-Ham Fighters of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball have posted right-hander Naoyuki Uwasawa for Major League teams, tweets Mark Feinsand of MLB.com. The Fighters announced in October that they would honor the 29-year-old righty’s wishes to be posted. Like Yokohama BayStars left-hander Shota Imanaga, who was also formally posted today, Uwasawa’s 45-day posting window will now kick off tomorrow morning.
Uwasawa, who’ll turn 30 in January, logged 170 innings of 2.96 ERA ball this past season, albeit with a sub-par 17.8% strikeout rate that could temper some enthusiasm. His career mark of 19.7% is a bit better but still not the type of rate that generally catches they eyes of MLB front offices in a market that heavily rewards power arms with swing-and-miss stuff. Uwasawa does sport a sharp 7.5% walk rate in his career, including a particularly impressive 5.9% mark this past season.
Back in September, MLBTR contributor Dai Takegami Podziewski noted that Uwasawa’s fastball velocity on the year was averaging 90.8 mph. Paired with his pedestrian strikeout rate, that lack of velocity will give Major League teams some trepidation about how he’ll stack up against MLB opposition. The average MLB fastball among starting pitchers in 2023 was 93.8 mph — 94.2 mph if focusing in solely on right-handed starters.
Of course, that doesn’t entirely rule out success. Kyle Hendricks sat at an average of 87.8 mph with his “heater” this past season, while fellow righties like Bryce Elder (90.7 mph), Dane Dunning (90.6 mph) and Kenta Maeda (91 mph) were all in the same general vicinity as Uwasawa over the course of generally successful seasons. The majority of right-handed starters who sat in this range struggled, but as with all rules, there are exceptions. Uwasawa could well prove to be such an exception, and his broader track record in Japan could still pique some team’s interest — particularly if (as is expected) his price tag is considerably lower than the other, higher-profile NPB arms who are being posted.
In parts of nine NPB seasons, Uwasawa has amassed 1118 1/3 innings of 3.19 ERA ball with a 19.7% strikeout rate and 7.5% walk rate. He’s been particularly effective in recent years, compiling a 3.08 ERA over his past six NPB seasons. He made the NPB All-Star team in both 2021 and 2023. Uwasawa also tossed two shutouts and averaged better than seven innings per season this year.
If Uwasawa indeed finds a big league contract this offseason, any team signing him will owe a posting/release fee to the Fighters — his former club. The MLB/NPB posting system stipulates that in addition to the money paid to the player himself, his new team must pay a release fee to the former club that is equal to 20% of the contract’s first $25MM, plus 17.5% of the next $25MM, plus 15% of any money thereafter.
11:14am: It’s a one-year, $9MM deal for Heyward, McDaniel now adds. Terms have been agreed upon, but the arrangement is still pending the completion of a physical.
After a largely underwhelming seven-year run with the Cubs, Heyward signed with the Dodgers and had a bounceback season at the plate, turning in a strong .269/.340/.473 batting line with 15 home runs and 23 doubles in 377 trips to the plate. Last years’ 17% strikeout rate was his lowest since 2018, while his 9% walk rate was his best mark since the shortened 2020 campaign. Some of those improvements stemmed from being shielded almost entirely from left-handed pitching — just 7.4% of his plate appearances came against lefties — but Heyward also showed dramatic improvement against right-handed pitching as well.
Beyond his strong year at the plate, Heyward continued to rate as an above-average defender in the outfield. Los Angeles gave him the vast majority of his work in right field, but Heyward also logged 120 innings in center field and the first 25 innings of his career in left field. On the whole, Defensive Runs Saved (+3) and Outs Above Average (+6) felt he was a strong defensive presence in his 769 frames of work.
That steady glovework from Heyward also freed the Dodgers to get creative with perennial MVP candidate Mookie Betts, who not only logged time at second base but also spent considerable time at the shortstop position for the first time in his career. Lack of experience notwithstanding, Betts proved an apt defender at both positions, giving manager Dave Roberts significant flexibility in filling out the lineup card without needing to sacrifice substantially on the defensive side of things.
Heyward’s return could once again free Betts to log significant time in the infield — particularly against right-handed pitching. Against southpaws, Betts can return to his more customary right field. Other names in L.A.’s outfield mix include center fielder James Outman, utilityman/left fielder Chris Taylor and top prospect Andy Pages, who might’ve debuted in 2023 had shoulder surgery not cut his season short. Pages is expected to be ready for spring training, the Dodgers announced at the time of his June surgery, but Heyward’s return takes some pressure off him as he ramps back up from that procedure. And, if Pages ultimately pushes his way onto the big league roster, his right-handed bat will give Roberts a natural complement to lefties like Heyward and Outman.
It’s possible the Dodgers will bring in additional outfield help — they’ve been tied to Teoscar Hernandez, most notably — but starting pitching has been the primary focus for president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, GM Brandon Gomes and the rest of the front office thus far. In addition to their widely expected pursuit of Shohei Ohtani, the Dodgers have been connected to free agents like Blake Snell and the now off-the-market Aaron Nola, in addition to trade candidate Dylan Cease.
From a payroll perspective, Heyward’s straight $9MM deal brings the Dodgers up to about $150MM in projected spending, per Roster Resource. They’re well shy of the $237MM luxury tax threshold at this point, sitting between $167-168MM (using MLBTR’s projected 2024 arbitration salaries). That could leave them with as much around $70MM before they reach luxury tax status — though paying the CBT has not historically been a concern for the deep-pocketed Dodgers.
With Heyward on a one-year commitment and other veterans such as Blake Treinen, Miguel Rojas and Austin Barnes potentially coming off the books at the end of the 2024 season, the Dodgers have under $100MM of luxury-tax obligations on the books beyond the 2024 campaign. Bringing back Heyward on this contract maintains much of that enormous long-term flexibility in an offseason where the market features several candidates for weighty long-term deals (Ohtani, Snell and Yoshinobu Yamamoto among them).
The Phillies and right-handed reliever Jose Ruiz have agreed to a minor league contract, reports Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors. He’ll be invited to major league spring training this year and compete for a spot on the roster. Ruiz is repped by the OL Baseball Group.
Ruiz, 29, split the 2023 season between the White Sox — for whom he pitched from 2018-23 — and the D-backs, who acquired him for cash in April after Chicago designated the hard-throwing righty for assignment. He was rocked during the season’s first week in Chicago, yielding nine runs in just 3 2/3 innings, but Ruiz pitched decently with Arizona for much of the season.
In 40 2/3 frames with the eventual NL champions, Ruiz logged a 4.43 ERA with a 19.8% strikeout rate, 9.3% walk rate and 42.4% ground-ball rate. He averaged 96.6 mph on his heater along the way and notched a healthy 12.5% swinging-strike rate against a roughly average 31.5% chase rate on pitches off the plate. He also managed hard contact fairly well in Arizona, with better-than-average marks in exit velocity (88.5 mph) and hard-hit rate (34.4%).
Command was an issue for Ruiz throughout the year, as it has been more often than not in his career. While the 9.3% walk rate he posted with the Snakes was better than his ugly 10.9% career mark, it’s also still higher than the league-wide 8.6%. Beyond that, Ruiz’s command within the zone was lacking, which contributed to the hefty 1.55 home runs he allowed for every nine innings pitched this season.
The D-backs could’ve retained Ruiz through arbitration by adding him back to the 40-man roster, but they instead opted to let him become a free agent, which led the Phillies to pick him up on what amounts to a no-risk commitment. If he’s able to round back into form, he could be controlled for as many as three more seasons. Ruiz’s 2022-23 campaigns don’t stand out, but as recently as 2021 he racked up 65 innings of 3.05 ERA ball over 59 appearances with the ChiSox, striking out 23.2% of his opponents against a more palatable 9.2% walk rate.
Ruiz is out of minor league options, so if the Phillies do add him to the roster at some point, they won’t be able to send him down without first passing him through outright waivers.
The Braves are among the teams in ongoing trade talks with the White Sox regarding right-hander Dylan Cease, reports USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. Atlanta had been connected to a pair of notable free agent starters, Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray, but Nola re-signed in Philadelphia last week and Gray is reportedly wrapping up a deal with the Cardinals today.
With their ostensible top two free-agent targets off the board, it’s not a surprise to see the Braves being more prominently connected to the trade market. Cease’s White Sox are generally open for business on the heels of a catastrophic 2023 season that led to the firing of longtime baseball ops executives Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams. Assistant GM Chris Getz has since been elevated to the GM’s chair, and Getz plainly stated following the season that there are no untouchables on his roster. Cease, with two remaining years of club control, is among the likelier and most appealing trade candidates Getz has at his disposal.
Cease, 28 next month, was the American League Cy Young runner-up in 2022 but had a down season in 2023 — one of the myriad factors which contributed to the disastrous season on Chicago’s south side. His 2022 campaign featured 184 frames of 2.20 ERA ball with a dominant 30.4% strikeout rate against a 10.4% walk rate, but that version of Cease appeared far too infrequently for the Sox’s liking in 2023. This past season saw the righty post a pedestrian 4.58 earned run average in 177 innings, showing diminished fastball velocity (95.8 mph, down from 96.9 mph a year prior) and a lesser strikeout rate (27.3%).
[Related: Looking for a Match in a Dylan Cease Trade]
Cease made a nominal improvement in his walk rate (10.1%), but virtually every other aspect of his profile backed up in ’23. His opponents’ average exit velocity and hard-hit rates exploded, jumping from 86.8 mph and 31.2% in 2022 to 90 mph and 41.5% in 2023. Both his swinging-strike and opponents’ chase rate dropped sharply as well, and Cease allowed an average of 0.97 homers per nine frames after yielding 0.76 HR/9 in 2022. He had some obvious struggles due to the poor defense behind him, with a career-high .330 average on balls in play (up from .260 the previous year), but that alone is not the driving force behind his struggles. Some of the BABIP spike was likely of his own doing anyhow; the uptick in hard contact he yielded certainly contributed to more balls finding their way through an already porous defense.
Although Cease’s 2023 season wasn’t a particularly strong year in terms of run-prevention, he still boasts well above-average velocity and bat-missing capabilities. Fielding-independent metrics (3.72 FIP, 4.10 SIERA) felt he was better than that lackluster ERA, even if he wasn’t as sharp as he was in 2022. He’s also proven himself a durable and reliable arm, as he’s made a full slate of starts in each of the past four seasons. Add in a reasonable $8.8MM projected salary from MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, and it’s abundantly clear that Cease still possesses plenty of trade value. Consider that Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson, a pair of innings eaters in their late 30s who don’t have the same upside as Cease’s 2022 campaign, signed for $11MM and $12MM, respectively, with the Cardinals. Cease’s projected $8.8MM salary is a clear bargain — particularly with another year of arbitration set to follow.
As things stand, the Atlanta rotation projects to consist of Spencer Strider, Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Bryce Elder, with a fifth-spot competition headlined by AJ Smith-Shawver, Dylan Dodd and (eventually) a returning Ian Anderson, who underwent Tommy John surgery early in the 2023 season. The Braves have prioritized adding a playoff-caliber arm to that group, both to safeguard against injury for the top of the rotation and also to protect against the potential departure of Fried, who’ll be a free agent following the season. Cease would accomplish both of those goals.
In many ways, a trade is the more sensible route for the Braves to go in terms of their rotation need anyhow. Atlanta’s projected payroll is already just shy of $207MM, per Roster Resource, but their luxury-tax obligations are far more consequential. The Braves project at around $241MM of luxury considerations, which already has them north of the $237MM luxury tax barrier. This is the second straight year they’ll be paying the luxury tax, so they’ll be penalized at a 30% rate for the first $20MM by which they exceed the tax and a 42% rate for the next $20MM. Signing a free agent like Nola or Gray would’ve come with around $7-9MM in luxury penalties this year — on top of the player’s actual salary. And, since the Braves are set up to be third-time payors in 2024, they’d be facing even steeper tax percentages next season.
Cease, of course, will come with those same penalties, but a 30% tax on his projected $8.8MM salary would bring the total outlay for acquiring him (speaking strictly financially) to around $11.5MM — a far more palatable price point than the free-agent market has to offer. Atlanta would also have the offseason to explore a possible extension with Cease — an Atlanta-area native (Milton, Ga.). The Braves have had plenty of success both acquiring and extending players with local ties, be it through the draft or through trades.
The Braves’ farm system has been stripped down by previous trades to acquire names like Matt Olson, Sean Murphy and several relievers (Joe Jimenez, Pierce Johnson, Aaron Bummer, Raisel Iglesias). They still have some appealing young talent, particularly in the upper minors or even some young big leaguers who’ve already gotten their feet wet. Smith-Shawver, Dodd and infielder Vaughn Grissom, for instance, would all hold appeal to the White Sox (and to other potential trade partners with pitching to peddle). The Sox and Braves already lined up on one swap this offseason, with Chicago sending the aforementioned lefty reliever Bummer to Atlanta.
Atlanta figures to face steep competition with regard to Cease, who offers one of the most tantalizing blends of raw talent, affordable salary and remaining club control on this offseason’s trade market. MLBTR ranked Cease sixth on our original list of the offseason’s top 25 trade candidates.
The Dodgers are already known to be interested, and just about any other team in need of starting pitching figures to check in — particularly those that may not want to spend top-of-the-market dollars to augment their starting staffs in free agency. That group could include the Reds, Pirates, D-backs, Padres and Orioles, to list a speculative few.