The Braves have Justin Upton sitting in the front of their store window. He’s not necessarily on sale, but he’s definitely for sale. It seems to be inevitable that Upton will spend the last year of his contract with another team.
The talk has been the Braves want more for Upton than they got for Jason Heyward, who was paired with reliever Jordan Walden. St. Louis sent starting pitcher Shelby Miller, who has four years left under control, along with pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins to the Braves.
But can the Braves get that much? It might be tough. Heyward was bound to be loved by a statistically-minded organization due to his defensive metrics. The Cardinals are that type of team and had a huge need after the death of Oscar Tavares.
With teams making moves at a pretty rapid rate, the options for Upton are dwindling a bit. The Royals have been mentioned, but they have signed Kendry Morales and Monday agreed to a deal with Alex Rios.
The Mariners are likely still in the hunt. They were linked to Melky Cabrera, but he signed with the White Sox. The rumor is the Mariners do not want to give up young Taijuan Walker, who is rated as one of the top pitching prospects in the game.
Walker would be ideal for the Braves, and you can only imagine he’s exactly what they have asked for. In fact, Walker is so highly-rated you could probably think the Braves would take Walker straight up for Upton. It wouldn’t be bad if the Mariners threw in a reliever, like rookie Carson Smith.
Smith, a 24-year-old right-hander, made his big league debut in 2014 and did not give up an earned run in nine games. He allowed just two hits in 8.1 innings, with three walks and 10 strikeouts. Smith has a 2.55 ERA and 40 saves in three minor leagues seasons.
The Braves may have to settle for James Paxton instead of Walker and that wouldn’t be a horrible thing at all. Paxton is a bit older than Walker (four years older) but has been highly thought of for several years. He has pitched in Seattle for the last two years and has a 2.66 ERA in 17 starts, with 75 hits allowed in 98 innings.
The pitchers for Seattle are so impressive you almost wouldn’t mind if the Braves packaged Evan Gattis with Upton to make a megadeal. The Mariners have been linked to Gattis, as well. Getting both hitters, especially with Gattis still having four years of control, may entice Seattle to include Walker in a deal.
Would the Mariners trade Walker, Smith and outfielder Dustin Ackley for Upton, Gattis and recently DFA’d reliever (and former Mariner) Anthony Varvaro? That would be a great trade. Ackley has not lived up to expectations as a hitter so far in his career, but he has three years left under control. Ackley could slide into the left field spot for the Braves and also give them another hitter that does not strike out much in the lineup.
Seattle seems to be the best candidate for a trade. The Braves would be nuts not to want Walker or Paxton, and the bullpen arms the Mariners have make that attractive as well. Since Seattle has been linked to both Upton and Gattis, it might be the perfect match to get pitching depth back in a deal for the Braves.
The Padres are the next most-mentioned team linked to Upton. After they acquired Matt Kemp, it was assumed San Diego would be out on Upton. But Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal said Monday the Padres still liked Upton. They are hesitant, he reported, to include either Tyson Ross or Andrew Cashner in a deal for Upton. Those two would be similar to Miller – a young starting pitcher under control for a while.
Ross had a great 2014 season. He was an All-Star and posted a 2.81 ERA in 31 starts. Ross struck out 195 in 195.2 innings, with only 165 hits allowed. He’s under control for three more seasons. Cashner, who was actually drafted by the Braves out of high school but did not sign, is 28 years old. He’s got only two years left under control. Last season Cashner made 19 starts and had a 2.55 ERA.
Would San Diego instead push for the Braves to take Odrisamer Despaigne, a Cuban pitcher they signed last May and quickly put into their rotation. Despaigne made 16 starts and did well. He averaged six innings per start and had an ERA of 3.36. But he’ll turn 28 the first week of the 2015 season, so even though he’s under control through 2020, Despaigne is older than the pitchers the Braves may prefer.
But the Braves may have to be creative. What if they accepted San Diego’s top pitching prospect, Matt Wisler, in a deal? Wisler was rated as baseball’s 44th best prospect prior to 2014 by Baseball America. He was 9-5 in AAA El Paso with a 5.01 ERA in 22 starts, after posting a 2.10 ERA in his final Double-A starts in San Antonio. Wisler may be ready to step right in since he had that many starts in Triple-A.
Wisler had a 2.78 ERA in 26 games between AA and High-A in 2013. He struck out 131 hitters in 136 innings that season. Wisler just turned 22 in September, so he’d possibly be part of the rotation for six full seasons.
Since Wisler is not as highly-rated as Walker is for Seattle, the Braves would want more. The Padres pitching depth seems to be weaker than Seattle’s, but there are two pitchers that may intrigue the Braves.
Max Fried, San Diego’s first round pick in 2012, and Casey Kelly, a first round pick by Boston in 2008 but traded to the Padres in the big Adrian Gonzalez, are both coming off Tommy John surgery. They have been highly-rated in the past, so depending on their recoveries they could regain their value fairly quickly.
Fried turns 21 next month, so he’s still very young. He’s only pitched in Low-A, so when he returns from his surgery Fried will likely be in High-A. Fried might be two full years away, but if he regains his status as a top prospect, he might not be a bad arm to have in an organization desperate for talent.
Kelly is older at 25 and he has had a few issues coming back from his TJ surgery, which he had in April 2013. Kelly, who is the son of former Braves Triple-A manager Pat Kelly, made only four starts last season after missing all of 2013. So the Braves would really have to know what his prognosis is to have interest.
Joe Ross is another prospect that might interest Atlanta. He’s Tyson Ross’ brother. Ross turns 22 next May and will likely return to AA next season after ending last year there. He had a 3.92 ERA in 23 games between High-A and AA last season.
Would the Padres do a deal including Wisler, Fried or Kelly and a reliever like Kevin Quackenbush (2.48 ERA in 56 games last season in his rookie season) for Upton? Would that be enough for the Braves if the Padres refused to include Tyson Ross or Cashner in a deal?
The Giants have also been mentioned in connection with Upton. The defending champs don’t have a plethora of young pitching. In fact, reliever Hunter Strickland (who coincidentally is from Pike County, south of Atlanta) may be one of the more attractive targets for the Braves.
Kyle Crick is the Giants best pitching prospect. Baseball America had Crick as the 33rd best prospect in the game before the 2014 season. The 22-year-old Crick made 22 starts in Double-A Richmond and had a 3.79 ERA with 111 strikeouts in 90.1 innings. Crick generates different opinions on his potential, with some believing he can be a decent middle-of-the-rotation starter, while others wonder if he’s just a setup guy.
Crick was a first round pick in 2011 out of high school. He’s a big kid at 6’4” and throws hard. His control has been inconsistent, and that worries evaluators. But Crick is a pitcher that would fit well into the Braves’ future plans.
Chris Stratton is another possibility. The Giants drafted him in the first round in 2012 out of Mississippi State. Last season Stratton had an 8-9 record with a 4.78 ERA in 23 starts between High-A and Double-A, with 120 strikeouts in 122.1 innings. Stratton, a right-hander, turned 24 a few months ago.
Ty Blach could be a name to keep in mind. He’s a 24-year-old lefty drafted out of Creighton in the 5th round in 2012. Blach has a 3.02 ERA in his 47 games in the minors, with all but two being as a starter.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweeted Monday that the Braves had talks with the Giants about Upton and Chris Johnson. The Giants need a third baseman with Pablo Sandoval signing with the Red Sox. You have to wonder if that tweet was a hint at something Nightengale might know about the two sides talking again, particularly with Michael Morse on the verge of signing with the Marlins. Morse played left field for the Giants last season.
The Orioles need an outfielder after Nick Markakis signed with the Braves. It’s doubtful Baltimore would part with Kevin Gausman, the 23-year-old who made 20 starts last year in the big leagues. Dylan Bundy was Baltimore’s top prospect before he had Tommy John surgery. It would be a shock if the Orioles parted with Bundy.
Hunter Harvey might be more of a realistic target. The son of former big league reliever Bryan Harvey, Hunter was a first rounder in 2013. He actually had a forearm strain in the second half of last season, but he is still a solid prospect. Zach Davies will be 22 next season and could make it to Triple-A. Davies was rated as Baltimore’s sixth-best prospect by Baseball America.
Houston, Cincinnati and the Chicago Cubs have also been mentioned with Upton. As the free agent hitters come off the board, Upton’s trade value should take better shape.
As for Gattis, he’s a player the Braves need to trade. He should have significant value, particularly to an American League team. Gattis should just hit and forget about playing in the field, but his ability to catch and play first base and left field should help his value.
But the big thing with Gattis is he is four years away from free agency. So a team that trades for Gattis could have him for a significant period of time. Compared to the one-year rental that Upton would be, Gattis is actually the better deal.
Seattle and Baltimore have been mentioned with Gattis, so the pitchers listed could be possible in a deal for Gattis as well. But one team that would not want Upton but should drool over Gattis is Tampa Bay. The Rays might be the perfect fit for Gattis. They need power and they would probably love his versatility to play in the field at multiple positions.
Would the Rays consider a Gattis-for-Wil Myers trade? Myers just turned 24. He can play the outfield and would be a perfect player for the Braves lineup. Myers struggled last season due to injuries, so his value that was once off the charts is now more realistic. It’s a longshot, but it is certainly worth wondering about. Remember how Myers was compared to Dale Murphy when he was in the Kansas City Royals’ organization.
Texas has also been a potential landing spot for Gattis. He’s from Texas and the Rangers need another power hitter. Jake Thompson is a 21-year-old pitcher who is ready for AA next season. The Rangers got Thompson from Detroit in the Joakim Soria trade. Alex Gonzalez was the Rangers’ first rounder in 2013 out of Oral Roberts. Gonzalez was rated as Texas’ sixth-best prospect by Baseball America last month.
As you might have guessed by now, I’m advocating the Braves get pitching back in any deal for Upton or Gattis. I’m a pitching guy and believe the Braves best course of returning to glory is with a renewed emphasis on pitchers. The farm system is barren right now. They need a couple of solid drafts and they need to get pitching back in trades. Any deals for Upton and Gattis should include pitchers.
I mentioned a Wil Myers possibility, mainly because I’m a huge fan of Myers and believe he could be a star. But the Braves need pitching – a lot of pitching. And trading these two hitters could be the key to getting more of what once made this organization the model franchise.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Braves need pitching in big deals
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