It’s only fitting that a mere hours before the first pitch of the 2015 season the Padres and Braves, arguably the two most active teams in the offseason for different reasons, agreed on one final player swap to grab the headlines. Atlanta jettisoned four time All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel to the Padres along with the catastrophic contract that is Melvin Upton Jr. for veteran outfielders Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin, prospects Matt Wisler and Jordan Paroubeck, and the 41st overall pick in this year’s entry draft. I’ll let Bryan Luhrs, our resident NL West expert, really delve into this deal from the Padres side this Saturday. For now, let’s look at the ramifications of this from the Braves’ point of view.
Fans without a clear understanding of what the Braves are trying to accomplish were throwing their arms in the air in disgust after watching yet another premier talent get shipped out of town. Add Kimbrel to the list including Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis of 2014 contributors who no longer call Atlanta home. But let’s face facts: the Braves were not going to be contenders this season for a division title before the Kimbrel trade, so where’s the downside of getting rid of a closer with an AAV (average annual value) of over $10 million over the next four years. Kimbrel is a unique talent yes, up there with Aroldis Chapman as the best closers in the game, but he’s a luxury item for a team that won’t be in contention.
So if losing him means Atlanta can also shed the contract of Melvin Upton in its entirety, I’m all for it. Including this season, Upton is due another $46 million over the next three years, making him one of the worst contracts in all of baseball. With Atlanta’s goal being a return to relevance in 2017 when the new SunTrust Park opens in Cobb County, washing their hands of the Upton deal completely is a savvy business move that frees up a lot of cash. And while including Upton did take away from the quality of prospects they could receive in return for Kimbrel, the Braves were still able to nab a couple promising assets in return.
MLB.com has the 22-year-old Wisler listed as their #70 prospect and Baseball America ranked him #34 despite coming off a less than stellar year between AA-San Antonio and AAA-El Paso where he posted a combined ERA of 4.42 with 136 K in 146.2 IP. He possesses a high 90s fastball to go with an effective curveball and slider. He slots in as the Braves #2 ranked prospect, just ahead of Mike Foltynewicz, whom the Braves acquired from Houston in the Gattis deal. These two will both start the season at AAA-Gwinnett and further bolster a young pitching stable that will be the Braves’ anchor in the future as it has been for so many years in the past. He should already be on your radar in dynasty leagues, but this deal potentially moves up the timeline that we see him on a big league mound, possibly as early as this season.
Paroubeck, 20, has a much longer route to the majors in front of him as he’s received just 157 AB in the minors. The Braves are devoid of outfield talent right now and, because of his above-average speed, Paroubeck could make for a decent center fielder after a few years of seasoning. His overall ceiling isn’t much higher than replacement level.
It’s also clear that the Braves are stockpiling picks to reload their farm system as well. When you add that #41 overall pick in the entry draft, plus the #75 overall pick that Atlanta acquired from Arizona on Monday for OF Victor Reyes, it gives them six picks inside the top 90. It also gives the Braves the fourth-highest amount to spend on draft picks with a pool of now more than $10.5 million.
The two household names Atlanta received in this deal are of the least interest to me. Carlos Quentin, who himself has an unattractive contract, has already been designated for assignment as the Braves try to find a team to take on at least part of the $8 million he’s owed for 2015, preferably in the AL where his poor defense can be mitigated by a move to DH. Those in AL-only leagues should keep their trigger fingers ready to make the add any day now. Cameron Maybin also escapes the glut of outfielders in San Diego and has a much clearer path to playing time than he ever would have as a Padre. While he’s started just one of Atlanta’s first three games, he did pinch hit in the first two and collected a pair of RBI in their 12-2 drubbing of Miami on Tuesday. He’s worth keeping on your radar for those in NL-only leagues if you’re looking for any kind of speed, but his contributions will be limited unless an injury opens up more playing time.
The biggest winner from a fantasy perspective has to be Jason Grilli. He’s been tabbed by Fredi Gonzalez as the closer and hopefully you rushed to the waiver wire and were able to nab him minutes after the news of the trade leaked. He should be a decent source of saves, especially in the first half of the season. Should he find success, I would look to deal him around the All-Star break from my fantasy squad. If a major league team comes calling in June or July looking to add a bullpen arm, we already know the Braves are more than willing to part with a veteran if it helps their future outlook. He could find himself right back in an eighth inning role a couple months from now. Jim Johnson gets bumped into the primary setup role where he should accumulate a handful of holds for those who use it as a scoring category. I don’t anticipate him being as attractive to contending teams down the stretch, meaning he could back door his way into save chances himself later in the year.
Atlanta Not the Only Team Shuffling Its Bullpen
As interesting a pickup as I think Grilli is, I don’t even think he’s the best reliever to target in his own division. The Mets’ incumbent closer, Jenrry Mejia, hit the DL on Tuesday with elbow inflammation after feeling tightness when warming up for a save opportunity on Opening Day. The reports all suggest there’s no structural damage, but this is a troubling development for Mejia considering he’s already gone under the knife for Tommy John surgery back in 2011.
With Bobby Parnell still not ready to rejoin the Mets after his own TJ surgery last year, the closer role falls into the hands of Jeurys Familia, a development I’m very happy to see. A month ago in my Mets season preview, I noted that Familia had the most electric stuff of any of the three candidates to close for New York, and I haven’t budged off that statement despite his well-chronicled struggles against left-handed batters. After a lackluster Spring, he was back to his dominant ways against the Nationals on Monday, touching 98 with his fastball, mixing in a heavy sinker and nasty slider. I think it’s a prelude of things to come and I’ll go so far as to say Familia figures things out against lefties and doesn’t give back the closing gig in 2015, notching 30+ saves in the process. If somehow he’s still available, run to the wire and snatch him up.
First Pitch Swinging: News and Notes Around the Division
- Jayson Werth began his rehab assignment with Class A-Potomac yesterday after right shoulder surgery in January. Although he’s eligible to return Saturday, don’t expect to see him back with the Nationals until some time late next week.
- Anthony Rendon began some lateral drills and should be taking ground balls next week. There’s still no timetable for his return as Matt Williams is classifying him as “week-to-week”.
- Chad Billingsley is also beginning a rehab assignment on Friday. He’ll be with AAA Lehigh Valley and could be in the Phillies’ rotation in two weeks when they open up a six game homestand with Miami and Atlanta.
On Deck: What to Watch for April 10-16
Atlanta: vs. NYM (3), vs. MIA (3)
Miami: vs. TB (3), @ATL (3), @NYM (1)
New York: @ATL (3), vs. PHI (3), @MIA (1)
Philadelphia: vs. WAS (3), @NYM (3,) @WAS (1)
Washington: @PHI (3), @BOS (3), vs. PHI (1)
Hitter to Watch: Dan Uggla, WAS
Mark my words, the redemption tale of Dan Uggla will turn out to be more than just a feel-good story. Uggla had a strange inner ear issue that was caused by taking a pitch to the head in 2012, then another in spring training the following season. What resulted was an inability to see the ball clearly while his body was in motion, which contributed to his rapid decline these past two years. After some recalibration in the offseason, Uggla returned to baseball and had a very solid spring with Washington slashing .261/.433/.457 in 46 AB, striking out less than 20% of the time, and adding two home runs. WIth Anthony Rendon out of the lineup, Yunel Escobar has shifted over to third and Uggla is getting the starts at 2B. He’ll spend the week in Philly and Boston, two of the better parks for right-handed power hitters, and outside of Cole Hamels, none of the pitching matchups really scare me. I look for Uggla to give owners searching for middle infield help a surprise boost this coming week.
Pitcher to Watch: Mat Latos, MIA
Latos struggled mightily in his Marlins’ debut giving up 7 ER in 0.2 IP to what many believe will be the worst offense in baseball, the Braves. His fastball topped out at 93 MPH, but hovered mainly around 90 MPH, similar to last year, and Latos found the middle of the plate far too often. He’ll get another shot at the Braves on Monday, this time in Atlanta. I’ll be looking to see any kind of improvement in Latos’ location as he’ll have to be much more pinpoint considering the velocity looks to be gone for good. If I own Latos, I’m still running him out there (it is the Braves after all), but another poor start will give owners a legit reason to panic.
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