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Braves seeking power bat at Winter Meetings

@mlbbowman
December 5, 2019

ATLANTA -- Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos has reshaped his roster with the many moves he has made since the offseason began. But when he arrives in San Diego for the start of the Winter Meetings on Sunday, he’ll still be looking to satisfy what might be his most influential

ATLANTA -- Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos has reshaped his roster with the many moves he has made since the offseason began. But when he arrives in San Diego for the start of the Winter Meetings on Sunday, he’ll still be looking to satisfy what might be his most influential need.

If the Braves can re-sign third baseman Josh Donaldson, or at least gain another legitimate power threat, they will justify the significant commitments they have already made to strengthen their bullpen, rotation and the catching position.

By signing left-handed reliever Will Smith, veteran starter Cole Hamels and catcher Travis d'Arnaud, the Braves have strengthened their bid for a third consecutive National League East title. But their aspirations to advance past the NL Division Series for the first time since 2001 may rest on their attempt to lure Donaldson back to Atlanta.

Donaldson will surely draw plenty of attention during this four-day event that brings executives, managers, agents and media members together in an environment ripe with rumors and news that will shape the 2020 season.

Here’s a look at where the Braves stand entering the Winter Meetings.

Club needs
Anthopoulos has already committed more than $90 million to free agents this offseason. But he still has to satisfy his primary need to either reunite with Donaldson or compensate for what his departure would do to the middle of the lineup.

Donaldson’s future might not be determined before fellow third baseman Anthony Rendon decides where he will be playing next year. These two third basemen stand as the top two position players on the free-agent market.

With the scarcity of talent available via free agency, the Braves will be among teams linked to Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor and Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, who have all already generated a lot of trade buzz.

But Atlanta’s preference would be to avoid the steep trade costs by reuniting with Donaldson, whose presence would strengthen the value the Braves already possess with Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman at the top of their lineup.

Who might they trade?
The bullpen’s quality depth gives the Braves reason to at least explore the possibility of trading right-handed reliever Shane Greene, who is entering his final arbitration-eligible season. It’s less likely they would trade Mike Foltynewicz. But Foltynewicz would be the most likely candidate if Atlanta opts to trade a starting pitcher. The slim outfield free-agent market might also create interest in Ender Inciarte. But with some uncertainty regarding when Cristian Pache will be deemed ready, Inciarte will likely remain with Atlanta.

Prospects to know
Teams will continue to show interest in Pache and Drew Waters, who both rank among the game’s top outfield prospects. If the return is right, the Braves could be persuaded to deal one of these outfielders. But if attempting to deal from an area of strength, they would likely dip into a pitching pool headed by Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson, Bryse Wilson and Kyle Muller. Wright and Anderson would only be included in a significant trade.

Payroll summary
If you account for guaranteed deals, projected arbitration salaries and the cost of rounding out a roster with minimum salaries, the Braves have already committed approximately $130 million to their payroll. The club has not indicated how significantly the payroll will increase. But given Donaldson’s average annual value will be around $25 million, there seems to be a willingness to spend at least $150 million, which would be approximately $20 million more than was allocated this year.

One question: Will the Braves re-sign Donaldson?
We know there’s a need, a want and mutual interest to extend the relationship that blossomed as Donaldson spent this year making the most of his one-year, $23 million deal. The former American League MVP Award winner has drawn interest from the Rangers, Dodgers and Nationals, three teams that have also expressed interest in Rendon. This common interest gives Donaldson reason to possibly delay his decision until after Rendon signs.

There’s a possibility the NL adopts the designated hitter within the next few seasons. But as things currently stand, AL clubs have an advantage in that they can more comfortably give a free agent like Donaldson an additional year. With that being said and all things being relatively equal, Donaldson will likely end up re-signing with the Braves.

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