The Atlanta Braves were the first National League East team to strike this winter, signing third baseman Josh Donaldson and catcher Brian McCann to bolster their offense. The Braves have since watched the rest of the contenders in the division make their own big moves. The New York Mets traded for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz; the Philadelphia Phillies also dealt with the Seattle Mariners, grabbing Jean Segura and a couple relievers; and the Washington Nationals inked Patrick Corbin to complete what might be the best one-two-three punch in baseball.
While Alex Anthopoulos probably isn’t thrilled that the rest of the division is adding talent, he does have one thing to be pleased about: the trade market seems to align with what the Braves need, at least as it pertains to filling the void in their outfield. Between the Mariners and the Arizona Diamondbacks — two clubs embracing wholesale rebuilds — the Braves ought to have ample opportunity to convert their young pitching surplus into a quality outfielder.
Let’s rank Atlanta’s targets based on their desirability.
Mitch Haniger is the best of the bunch, an All-Star-caliber player with four years of team control remaining. He’s still a year from arbitration as well, but he just wrapped up his age-27 season, during which he homered 26 times and posted a 139 OPS+. Haniger also sports a good glove. He’d likely cost a ton to acquire, yet he’d make the biggest difference of any player listed here.
With Paul Goldschmidt traded and A.J. Pollock on the free-agent market, David Peralta is the Diamondbacks’ best remaining hitter. He homered a career-best 30 times last season while running his career OPS+ to 115. He requires benching against tough left-handed pitchers, but he could be a good most-days solution with two seasons of team control remaining.
We promise we’re not picking on Mallex Smith by listing him here just weeks after he was traded to the Mariners. Smith is coming off a career season that he seems unlikely to sustain. He’s fast and should provide enough defense and production against right-handers to merit starting most days. Be warned: he has a below-average arm and more swing-and-miss in his bat than someone with his pop. Smth won’t hit the open market until after 2022.
Acquired in a small trade in 2016, Ben Gamel has since given the Mariners a couple seasons of league-average production. He’s not going to become anyone’s favorite player, but he’ll hit for average, take his walks, and show off better-than-average wheels. Unfortunately, Gamel’s defense looks better on the highlight shows than on the stat sheet, and his lack of a standout skill is likely to get him non-tendered before his four additional seasons of team control expire.
Jarrod Dyson seemed like a nifty signing when the Diamondbacks inked him to a two-year deal last winter. Alas, he played in just 67 games and managed a terrible 43 OPS+. Dyson’s strengths are his wheels, his glove, and his on-base skills against righties. Whatever team he’s on needs to be mindful of overexposure, making him a good fit for a team with a micromanager. Due less than $4 million, he could prove to be a bargain if he has his normal season.
Following a breakout 2017, Steven Souza Jr. had a nightmare 2018. On the plus side, he’ll probably rebound from his crater season to be a league-average hitter who contributes 15-to-20 homers a season. On the negative side, he’s been around longer than most realize — he’ll turn 30 in April and hit free agency in two years — and 30 of his 70 homers came in one season. Oh, and he’s played in more than 130 games just once so far in his big-league career.
Jay Bruce has posted an OPS+ below 100 in three of the last five seasons (albeit once in the last three). He’s on the wrong side of 30 and he’s owed $28 million through 2020. There are too many better options available to believe Bruce will wind up with the Braves.