The Braves announced the acquisition of reliever Aaron Bummer from the White Sox for a five-player package. Chicago acquires starters Michael Soroka and Jared Shuster, middle infielders Nicky Lopez and Braden Shewmake and minor league righty Riley Gowens. All but Gowens occupy spots on their teams’ 40-man rosters.
Bummer, a 30-year-old southpaw, had spent his entire career with the ChiSox. He developed from an unheralded 19th-round selection into one of the game’s more quietly excellent setup men. Bummer broke through in 2019, when he turned in a 2.13 ERA over 67 2/3 innings on the back of an eye-popping 72.1% grounder percentage.
The following February, Chicago signed Bummer to a long-term extension. Various injuries impacted him between 2020-22, as he spent time on the shelf with biceps and lat issues in his throwing arm and a right knee strain. Bummer remained effective when healthy, turning in a 2.92 ERA over that stretch.
That strong run prevention mark collapsed this past season. Bummer was tagged for nearly seven earned runs per nine over 58 1/3 innings. Among pitchers with 50+ frames, only 12 had a higher ERA than his 6.79 mark. While that’ll make this a head-scratching move for many Atlanta fans, it’s clear the front office is placing a lot more stock in Bummer’s promising underlying indicators.
Bummer struck out an above-average 29.2% of batters faced this year. He has fanned just under 27% of opponents over the course of his career. He averaged 94.5 MPH on his sinker (a solid mark for a left-hander) and missed bats against hitters of either handedness. While he’s no longer posting ground-ball numbers reminiscent of peak Zach Britton, he kept the ball on the ground at a lofty 58.2% clip. That’s the 10th-highest rate among relievers who logged at least 50 innings.
Certainly, Bummer isn’t a flawless pitcher. While he tends to keep the ball down, he gives up a fair amount of hard contact. He has well below-average control and walked over 13% of opposing hitters this past season. While an elevated batting average on balls in play was a big reason for his disappointing ’23 campaign, he didn’t do himself many favors by handing out so many free passes.
The Braves clearly feel Bummer’s results will more closely match those he managed before this year. He joins A.J. Minter and Tyler Matzek as potential high-leverage options from the left side. Pierce Johnson and Joe Jiménez are mid-late inning righties to help bridge the gap to closer Raisel Iglesias.
If Bummer returns to form, he could be a longer-term bullpen piece. He’ll make $5.5MM next season in the final guaranteed year of the aforementioned extension. He is guaranteed a $1.25MM buyout on a $7.25MM club option for 2025, while the deal also contains a $7.5MM team option (with a $1.25MM buyout) for the ’26 season.
It’s a consolidation trade for a win-now Atlanta team that can afford to target specific players it considers finishing touches to a championship-caliber roster. The White Sox are in the opposite position. Fresh off a 101-loss season, first-year general manager Chris Getz has set out to add depth to a team that has become far too top-heavy.
Trading a reliever for five players — four of whom are MLB options — is one way of doing so. While none of the four big leaguers is near the peak of their trade value, it’s easy to envision any of them playing a role on the 2024 White Sox from day one.
Soroka may be the most recognizable name. A former first-round pick and top prospect, he earned an All-Star nod and runner-up finish in NL Rookie of the Year balloting in 2019. Soroka had pitched to a 2.68 ERA over 29 starts in his age-21 season. He looked like one of the sport’s brightest young pitching talents before his career was sidetracked by horrible injury luck.
The right-hander sustained successive tears of his right Achilles tendon nine months apart in 2020 and ’21. The injuries cost him almost two full seasons. While he returned to the mound in 2023, he struggled to a 6.40 ERA over seven big league outings. Soroka had quite a bit more success in Triple-A. Over 17 starts with their top affiliate in Gwinnett, he pitched to a 3.41 ERA with an above-average 25.9% strikeout rate. Forearm inflammation ended his season in September but is not expected to require surgery.
Soroka accrued MLB service time throughout his injury rehab. As a result, he has over five years of service and will be a free agent next winter. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects him for a $3MM salary in his final season of arbitration. That made him a non-tender candidate for Atlanta, particularly since he can no longer be optioned to the minors. The White Sox are apparently willing to commit something in that range to see if he can recapture mid-rotation or better form.
Chicago has almost nothing in the way of rotation locks beyond Dylan Cease. Soroka now seems likely to get that opportunity. He could be joined by Shuster, a former first-round pick out of Wake Forest. The left-hander secured an Opening Day rotation spot with Atlanta a season ago. He struggled in his first MLB look, allowing a 5.81 ERA with a well below-average 13% strikeout rate over 52 2/3 innings.
Shuster had similarly discouraging numbers in Gwinnett. He was tagged for a 5.01 ERA through 16 starts with the Stripers. He struck out only 17.9% of hitters in Triple-A while walking 12.6% of opponents. While there aren’t many positives in Shuster’s 2023 performance, he’s only a year removed from ranking as one of the top pitchers in the Atlanta system. He’d posted a 3.29 ERA with a strong 26.2% strikeout rate in the minors in 2022, drawing praise for a potential plus changeup along the way.
Still just 25, Shuster could battle for a spot at the back of the Chicago rotation in Spring Training. He still has two option years remaining and has less than one year of MLB service. The Sox will hope he can put his tough debut behind him and reach the back-of-the-rotation projection of many prospect evaluators.
In some ways, Shewmake is a position player analogue of Shuster’s. He’s also a former first-round college draftee who’d generated some fanfare in Atlanta as recently as last spring. The Texas A&M product had a big Spring Training that led to some speculation he could open the season as the Braves’ starting shortstop. Atlanta rolled with veteran Orlando Arcia instead, a move that turned out well.
Not only did Arcia put together an All-Star season, Shewmake had a rough year in the minors. He hit .234/.298/.407 over 526 plate appearances for Gwinnett. He connected on 16 homers but hit only .264 on balls in play, keeping his on-base percentage down.
Scouts have questioned how much offensive upside the lefty-hitting Shewmake brings to the table. He’s soon to turn 26 and has only played two MLB games. Yet he’s a plus runner who went 27 of 28 in stolen base attempts in Triple-A. Shewmake can play either middle infield spot and has a pair of minor league options.
Adding middle infield talent was a necessity for Getz and his staff. The Sox had almost nothing at second base, relying on Lenyn Sosa and Romy González there. After buying out Tim Anderson, they were even lighter at shortstop. Shewmake could battle for a job, while Lopez seems likely to step into an everyday role at one of those positions.
The Sox are plenty familiar with Lopez from his days with the Royals. The 28-year-old has received elite grades for his defense at both middle infield spots and in more limited time at third base. It’s an all-glove profile, as Lopez has bottom-of-the-scale power. He’s a .228/.297/.284 hitter in 742 plate appearances over the past two seasons.
Lopez has between four and five years of service and is projected for a $3.9MM arbitration salary. That felt like a luxury for an Atlanta team that relies on Matt Olson, Ozzie Albies, Arcia and Austin Riley almost every day. It’s a more palatable sum for a team that’ll use Lopez as a bottom-of-the-lineup regular — as the Sox now seem positioned to do.
Rounding out the return is Gowens, a 24-year-old righty who was selected in the ninth round of this past summer’s draft. He pitched to a 6.30 ERA but struck out almost 28% of opponents over 12 starts during his junior year at Illinois. Baseball America praised the life on his fastball in his draft report, suggesting he could project as a reliever in pro ball.
It’s an unexpected trade made possible by the discrepancy in the organizations’ depth. Atlanta could afford to package some players who had fallen towards the back of the roster for a reliever with upside but legitimate question marks. Chicago buys low on a handful of players at positions of need, hoping that one or two can click and provide more value than they would have received out of Bummer.
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