Braves get Kelenic, Gonzales, White for 2 RHPs

December 4th, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- has not lived up to the great expectations that surrounded him when he was the top prospect the Mets used to acquire Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz from the Mariners after the 2018 season.

But the Braves are counting on him to benefit from the opportunity he will get next year while attempting to fill their left-field void.

The Braves opened the MLB Winter Meetings by completing a five-player trade with the Mariners on Sunday night. They received Kelenic, left-handed pitcher and first baseman in exchange for right-handed pitchers Jackson Kowar and Cole Phillips.

Braves receive: OF Jarred Kelenic, LHP Marco Gonzales, 1B Evan White, cash considerations
Mariners receive: RHP Jackson Kowar, RHP Cole Phillips

This was a cost-saving move for the Mariners, who sent an unspecified figure to cover a portion of the contracts of Gonzales, who is owed $12.25 million next year, and White, who is owed $15 million over the next two seasons.

It remains to be seen how either could fit the Braves. For now, it looks like Atlanta had to assume some of their costs in order to take a chance on Kelenic.

Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos sees the potential of Kelenic sharing left field with right-handed-hitting Vaughn Grissom, who is going to familiarize himself with the position while playing in the Puerto Rican Winter League.

Asked whether he believes this deal concludes his search for a left fielder, Anthopoulos immediately said, “Yes.”

“I talked to Jarred tonight and told him we really like Vaughn and feel like Vaughn really has a shot out there,” Anthopoulos said. “Obviously, we already know [Vaughn] can play the infield. We think Jarred has a chance to be a tremendous player, as well.

“We’re trying to win a World Series and [manager Brian Snitker] will be the one that makes the decisions in terms of who goes out there and competes.”

Given that Grissom is unfamiliar with the outfield and would be the right-handed portion of a platoon, it’s natural to think that Kelenic could get most of the time in left field. But Anthopoulos’ comments indicate the club is seriously thinking about the possibility of making Grissom its primary left fielder.

With that being said, Kelenic has great upside. The 24-year-old was the sixth overall selection in the 2018 MLB Draft and MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 prospect as recently as 2021. He has hit .204 with 32 homers and a .656 OPS through the first 252 games of his big league career.

Kelenic batted .253 with 11 homers and a .746 OPS in 416 plate appearances for the Mariners this year. His season was interrupted on July 19, when he angrily kicked a water cooler in the dugout and broke his left foot.

“With our lineup, we’re not looking for anyone to carry the load,” Anthopoulos said. “He’s talented, and the outfield depth for us is a little thin. He’s got tremendous upside and ceiling. He’s a good defender.”

If Kelenic at least proves serviceable, the Braves should feel good about this low-cost deal. Kowar posted a 6.43 ERA for the Royals last year and was acquired for Kyle Wright, who was dealt instead of being non-tendered a couple weeks ago. Phillips hasn’t pitched since undergoing Tommy John surgery shortly before the Braves took him with their second-round pick in the 2022 Draft.

Gonzales posted a 5.22 ERA while making just 10 starts for the Mariners in 2023. The 31-year-old dealt with forearm issues most of this past season and underwent season-ending surgery in August to decompress a nerve in his forearm. If he’s healthy, he could join the mix of candidates to be Atlanta’s fifth starter.

“He’s expected to be ready for spring,” Anthopoulos said. “He’s logged a lot of innings in the past, and we’ll just see how things develop.”

The Mariners believed White could be like Matt Olson when they signed him to a six-year, $24 million deal before the 2020 season -- before White had played a Major League game. White, 27, has hit 10 homers and constructed a .543 OPS over 306 career plate appearances. Plagued by injuries, he hasn’t appeared in the Majors since 2021.