When it comes to Braves outfielder, Justin Upton, the name of the game is hurry up and wait. Over the last two months, the trade that will send Justin Upton elsewhere has hardly been the best kept secret in major-league baseball. As he goes into the final year of his contract, the Braves have shown no interest in keeping him here long term. That would be too expensive. Justin is hitting the prime of his career. He's 27 years old and he's coming off a season that saw him hit 29 home runs and belt 102 RBIs. If it were 1998, those numbers would be commonplace, but in the steroid free era (mostly) that baseball is currently in, numbers like that are monstrous. As difficult as it is to land a top of the rotation ace it's even more challenging to find power and big slugging numbers like those that Justin Upton produces. With all of those factors combined Justin is a year in, year out MVP candidate, so long as he puts up numbers like he did last season. That makes him extremely valuable.
So here's the question, when will this trade take place? The answer to that could be as soon as a week or as long as months from now. The Braves know they have an extremely valuable piece in Justin Upton, and they aren't going to trade him for just anybody. John Hart knows what Upton is worth, and the longer the Braves wait to trade him, I believe the more they'll be able to get in return. There's not a humongous rush to trade him as the off-season still has two months left to go. But whenever this trade does take place, make no mistake, this is the trade the Braves MUST win this off-season. The proper return for a player like Justin Upton is a must, and I feel like John Hart is going to find a way to get big return for Justin. What that return will be is anybody's guess. But when it comes to top-notch starting pitching, solid bullpen arms, top prospects and all star position players, expect names that fall into these categories in return for Justin Upton.
So after this trade gets made what do the Braves look like moving forward into 2015? Well, you may say that the NL East will be more wide-open this year than in any season we've seen over the last decade. In my opinion, as things stand right now in mid December, the Nationals haven't gotten that much better. The Marlins have gotten much better. The Phillies have gotten worse and the Mets have gotten better. Some would say that the Braves have taken a step back, only to take large steps forward in 2017. We'll just have to wait and see about that. As things stand right now, who knows what to expect from the Braves offensively? Surely they can't be any worse this season than they were at the end of last season. If they can pitch, play defense and have a solid bullpen, they can go along way, but they must hit. They have the pieces to pitch and play defense, but will the Justin Upton trade bring on players that can help this team score more runs? I hope that's the case. That's why this trade is so important. If the Braves can get prospects, a hitter and a starting pitcher in this deal, that can go in awfully long way. The Jason Heyward trade was a big trade, but the biggest blockbuster is still looming. When Justin Upton gets traded, count on it being the biggest blockbuster the Braves will make all off-season, as well as the trade that will shape their foreseeable future.
As the Winter Meetings get underway today in San Diego, all eyes will be on John Hart and how he continues to shape the Braves roster for 2015 and beyond. The moves from the last two weeks signal that Hart isn’t ready to completely dismantle and rebuild a club that won 17 fewer games this season as opposed to 2013. Hart knows he has valuable commodities in both Justin Upton and Evan Gattis. He also understands that the one area his club struggled in last season came from an offensive standpoint. Move Justin and or Gattis, and runs will really come at a premium.
Let’s take a look at what’s gone on to this point. The first move came about a month ago as Tommy La Stella was sent to the Cubs for Arodys Vizcaino. Then, a few days later, Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden were moved for Shelby Miller and prospect Tyrell Jenkins. Then, last week, free agent Nick Markakis agreed to a four year deal with Atlanta, adding a two time Gold Glover and guy who can hit .290 at the top of the order. Now that the Winter Meetings have kicked off, the Braves will be one of the more interesting teams to follow. Some had noted that they were likely in a position to tear it all down and go into rebuild mode for the new park in 2017. And yes, if they trade Justin and Gattis, that would clearly be the case. But, there are two seasons to be played in the interim, and from what I can tell, the Braves aren’t ready to write those off. There are certainly items on Hart’s shopping list that could get crossed off this week. The rotation continues to be an area of focus now that Medlen and Beachy have been non tendered. As constructed now, Atlanta has four starters (Teheran, Wood, Minor and Miller). David Hale has shown over the last two seasons that he’s capable of being another guy you’d feel good giving the ball to. But, still, I think adding another piece to the rotation will remain a priority for Hart and the Braves Front Office.
Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin
On Tuesday evening, the Braves announced that they have non tendered three players, all pitchers as Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Gus Schlosser all failed to receive contracts for 2015. The trio of hurlers are now free agents and able to sign with any club. However, it doesn't mean their Braves careers are over. I fully expect Atlanta to continue to have conversations with Medlen, one of the most popular players in that clubhouse. Both Medlen and Beachy are recovering from their second Tommy John surgeries and their timeline for when they could be ready for the upcoming season is still to be determined. Both Medlen and Beachy should generate interest from a number of teams, but given their injury history, teams may be leary to go much higher than the Braves would offer. Medlen was originally drafted by Atlanta in the 10th round of the 2006 draft and is 34-20 with a 2.95 ERA over 152 career appearances (61 starts). Beachy on the other hand was signed as an undrafted free agent in July of 2008 and hasn't appeared in a Major League game since August 20, 2013.
Tuesday's move leaves the Braves with three arbitration eligible players left unsigned for the 2015 season: Mike Minor, David Carpenter and James Russell. With the MLB Winter Meetings set to get underway on Monday in San Diego, the Braves will likely engage in a number of conversations with both free agents and other clubs. With Lester likely out of the picture, most of the talk should surround both Justin Upton and Evan Gattis.
By the way, for those counting, pitchers and catchers report to Orlando in just 80 days!!
Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin.
Peak off-season period looming for Braves
It's early December and the MLB Winter Meetings are right around the corner. This is a crucial stretch for the Braves as rumors continue to swirl about multiple players. Traditionally, the winter meetings have served as a time for some of the biggest off-season moves, but over the last few years the trend has been for teams to make some really big moves right before the meetings and feel like they beat the rush. There really isn't any certainty as to which names will be moved, but it appears that the Braves are doing their best to move multiple players. Just recently, the Braves and Astros were having serious conversations about moving Evan Gattis and BJ Upton to Houston in exchange for Dexter Fowler and Carlos Corporan. A deal like this is exactly what John Hart is searching for. The reason it would be a good deal for the Braves (if for no other reason) is so they could shed BJ Upton and his expensive contract. At this point, the Braves would trade BJ Upton for box of balls had a couple of used fungos if a team agreed to take his contract. I am convinced that John Hart is doing everything he possibly can to trade BJ Upton, and I don't believe he will stop until that actually happens.
Aside from that it appears that the Braves are out on the Jon Lester sweepstakes. You could say that it may have been a pipe dream all along, but good for the Braves for at least getting Lester in the office to discuss what it would take to put him in a Braves uniform. The Braves aren't quite ready to pay what it would take to bring in a free-agent like Lester right now, but a year from now could be a much different story. Have you seen the pitchers that will probably be free agents after 2015? Let me allow you to daydream for a moment.... Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, David Price, Zack Greinke and Jeff Samardzija.... just to name a few. And while the Braves aren't ready to lure a big name like that now, 12 months from now, I feel like they will land a pitcher of that caliber. In the time being, the Braves are doing what they can to put a better product on the field for 2015. The latest name rumored to become a Brave is Nick Markakis. Monday, 12/1/14, it was reported by Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that he is likely not to resign with Baltimore. The Orioles will continue to try and resign the right fielder, but the Braves, Giants and Blue Jays are very interested. A lot of it makes sense for Atlanta. Markakis is a native Atlantan (Woodstock), went to college in Georgia, owns a home in Atlanta, and after last month's trade, the Braves need another outfielder. The 30 year old hit .276/.342/.386 with 14 homers last season and had a decent postseason in Baltimore's run to the ALCS. A 4 year deal at 10-12 million a year for his services is probably what he'll receive. We'll just have to wait and see if the Braves want to play ball or not on a deal like that. In my opinion, if you know you're going to trade Justin Upton this offseason, I think a guy like Markakis is a good fit. Either way, the biggest question for the Braves is "how much will they get for Justin Upton?" That deal is going to be a huge one. If John Hart wins that trade, it'll give the Braves a significant boost moving forward. They hold a very valuable piece, time to see if they can maximize what they'll get in return for him.
Here's the deal, this is a work in progress. There's no other way around it. That's the reality of where the Braves are right now. The good news is that they really aren't too far away from being in a really good place talent wise. How can you not admire the aggressiveness and focus that John Hart is showing right now? I'm very interested in which buttons he will push between now and Christmas. Whatever happens, I feel like he has a trick up his sleeve that no one will have predicted. December should be a major turning point for the Braves as an organization. I'm greatly anticipating what it's going to entail.
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For those of us who predicted a busy offseason for the Braves Front Office, the recent trade of Tommy La Stella to the Cubs was only a preview of what’s to come. Monday morning, Atlanta completed a trade that sent homegrown, Gold Glove right fielder Jason Heyward along with setup man Jordan Walden to St Louis. In return, the Braves acquired a pair of young righties, including Shelby Miller who finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2013. On the surface, the trade signals that the team is seemingly headed towards a rebuilding mode for 2015 and beyond. The question is, will it be a complete rebuild, or will the Braves look to build around young talent that was locked up last offseason (Freeman, Simmons, Kimbrel, Teheran, etc).
The answer will certainly come over the next few months, as the Braves have pieces like Evan Gattis, Justin Upton and Craig Kimbrel that could bring big returns to help replenish a depleted farm system. However, if it’s not a complete rebuild, Atlanta may choose to keep Gattis and Justin in hopes of continuing to find pieces to compliment the young nucleus of the club intact. One thing’s for sure, as the Winter Meetings get underway in San Diego the second week of December, expect to hear the Braves included in many conversations when it comes to trade discussions and free agent interest. Perhaps the biggest name on the free agent market when it comes to starting pitching is Jon Lester, who makes his offseason home about 30 minutes west of Atlanta. Is it realistic to think the Braves could really land a starter of the caliber of Lester? At first glance, a bidding war is likely on the horizon with teams that have less payroll limitations than the Braves. However, with a new ballpark set to open in 2017, a back loaded deal is certainly a possibility.
One thing is for sure…you haven’t heard or seen the last of the Braves when it comes to offseason news and notes. The unknown remains…what does the Heyward trade mean for the future of the club. Complete rebuild? Mini rebuild? Time will tell, but it’s clear that John Hart will be fielding many phone calls between now and February 19th when pitchers and catchers report to Orlando.
Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin