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Inbox: Is Ryu a potential fit for Braves?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers fans' questions
@mlbbowman
December 19, 2019

What does a pitcher like Hyun-Jin Ryu mean to a contending team needing innings? -- @colbysteadham9 Madison Bumgarner wanted to be with the Braves, but the Braves were not willing to provide more than a three-year offer to the lefty, who ended up signing a five-year deal with the D-backs.

What does a pitcher like Hyun-Jin Ryu mean to a contending team needing innings?
-- @colbysteadham9

Madison Bumgarner wanted to be with the Braves, but the Braves were not willing to provide more than a three-year offer to the lefty, who ended up signing a five-year deal with the D-backs. So, it was somewhat surprising this week when I started to hear about Atlanta’s interest in Ryu.

Ryu produced a MLB-best 2.32 ERA while making 29 starts for the Dodgers this year. But the 33-year-old southpaw totaled 40 starts from 2015-18 and made more than 15 starts in just one of those four seasons. Bumgarner missed time during both the 2017 and ’18 season. But one injury (sprained left shoulder) came via a dirt bike accident and the other (broken finger) via a comebacker.

Hyun-Jin Ryu rumors

If the Braves weren’t interested in giving Bumgarner a fourth year, it seems highly doubtful they’d make this kind of commitment to Ryu. My take is they are just monitoring his market in the event his cost reaches the point where it makes sense to make a two- or three-year gamble.

The Braves don’t have a definitive need to add a starter. But as they repeatedly say, you can never have enough, and there’s further reason to question why they didn’t appease Charlie Morton’s wish to return to Atlanta last winter.

Hot Stove Tracker

What is the latest update on Josh Donaldson?
-- @Nakoman1970

It appears Josh Donaldson continues to be in a holding pattern and might remain there until after the holiday season ends. Donaldson remains in good position, given his two most likely suitors remain the Braves and Nationals. But both division rivals still seem to be concerned about offering a guaranteed fourth season.

As detailed in a story I wrote last week, Mike Schmidt and Chipper Jones both continued to excel at 34-year-old and beyond. But many other elite third basemen, like Eddie Mathews and Wade Boggs, significantly declined in their mid-30s. The 34-year-old Donaldson seems like a safe bet for at least another couple seasons. But when you’re dealing with an average annual salary of approximately $25 million, there is reason to question how a decline could negatively impact roster construction beyond 2021.

While Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos would gladly welcome once again reuniting with Donaldson, he has continued to explore other opportunities. Throughout last week’s Winter Meetings, there was chatter about the Braves continuing to check on Anthony Rendon. Now, they were never going to come close to the seven-year, $245 million deal Rendon got from the Angels. But they at least checked on the possibility of a shorter-term deal with a slightly higher average annual value.

As for the possible trade alternatives, Kris Bryant does not seem too high on the wish list. Nolan Arenado and Francisco Lindor would be better fits. But there’s a good chance the Rockies end up keeping Arenado, and there will be plenty of competition from other teams willing to make strong offers for Lindor.

The Braves have repeatedly said they could fill their middle-of-the-order need by acquiring an outfielder. But like the third-base market, the outfield market provides limited options.

Once again, this is a good thing for Donaldson, who remains the best option from an immediate standpoint. But his future may not be determined until the Braves, Nationals or possibly another club opt to provide that fourth year, which, in this case, could be considered the cost of doing business.

These teams are driving the third-base market

Will the Braves ever trade some prospects?
-- @VaBravesFan

Instead of revisiting how quickly the value of many prospects drop, especially after being introduced to the Majors, let’s just look at the numbers crunch the Braves will experience as they attempt to find space on their 40-man roster over the next few weeks and months.

When the Braves non-tendered Charlie Culberson, they gave him the chance to explore opportunities to gain a Major League contract. At the same time, they created a necessary spot on their 40-man roster, which currently has just two vacancies.

When Braves brought Culberson back with a Minor League deal last week, they recognized the strong possibility he could end up filling one of those two vacancies. There would still be a desire to add another backup infielder and a middle-of-the-order bat. Then, of course, there’s a chance another starting pitcher could be added, or the five-man bench could be further enriched with a backup outfielder.

At the bare minimum, the Braves will need to add three more players to their 40-man roster. So you could argue there’s actually a need to part ways with a couple pitching prospects this winter. You don’t want to risk further reduced value, and you certainly don’t want to face the possibility of losing assets without any return.

Braves' Top 30 prospects

Are the Braves done with the bullpen? Or do you think they’ll still add a long-man or lefty on the chance Newcomb becomes a starter?
-- @scottcoleman55

Though the three-batter minimum rule erases the need for a left-handed specialist, there will be a need to have a lefty available to cover those innings when the likes of Bryce Harper and Juan Soto are scheduled to bat. Will Smith currently stands as the only lefty you can confidently project to be in the Braves’ bullpen. Sean Newcomb would be in that mix if another starter is indeed added. This might suffice. But there could be some comfort gained by adding a lefty more experienced than A.J. Minter, Philip Pfeifer and the other internal lefty candidates.

As for a long reliever, it would be nice to see Josh Tomlin return. But you could also continue utilizing Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson and others in that role.

With Julio Teheran now with the Angels, who starts Opening Day next year?
-- @CoachJohnFisher

J.T. Realmuto. Yeah, he had to be included in the last Inbox of 2019.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.