Braves seek bullpen help at Winter Meetings
Trading Miller could bring attractive return for rebuilding club
ATLANTA -- Though the Braves do not have the financial means to bid for any of the top remaining free agents, they will draw plenty of attention during next week's Winter Meetings, as other clubs continue to express interest in Shelby Miller.
As a proven, controllable and relatively cheap frontline starter, Miller has drawn interest from approximately 15 teams. There has been strong indication that some members of the Braves' organization have no desire to trade the 25-year-old right-hander.
As the Braves approach the second season of their rebuilding process, they are focused on adding further strength and depth to their bullpen. The Braves are among the many teams that have maintained an interest in signing Darren O'Day. But with multiple needs and a less than $15 million left to spend, it might not be feasible.
MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, with the Network launching 35 hours of live Winter Meetings coverage on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Fans can also catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, as well as the announcement of the Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee inductees on Monday at 11 a.m. ET and the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 10 a.m. ET.
Bullpen: With the additions of Jose Ramirez, David Carpenter and Jim Johnson, the Braves have some depth in their bullpen, but they have said they'd still like to add a setup man and a lefty specialist. They also have to guard against Jason Grilli or Shea Simmons experiencing a setback in their attempts to return to full health. Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria stand as options to O'Day.
Center fielder: Michael Bourn will serve as the primary center fielder until Mallex Smith is deemed ready to handle this position at some point next summer. In the meantime, the Braves want to find a right-handed hitter who can occasionally spell Bourn in center. Drew Stubbs and Austin Jackson are potential targets.
Catcher: The Braves were certainly pleased when A.J. Pierzynski opted to return for the 2016 season. But now, they must decide whether they want to keep Christian Bethancourt to share the position. Bethancourt's stock has fallen and he does not seem to have much trade value. But two potential free agent targets -- Chris Iannetta and Brayan Pena -- have already signed elsewhere.
Infielder: Even after signing Gordon Beckham earlier this week, the Braves indicated that there is still a chance they could pursue Kelly Johnson or Ben Zobrist. Zobrist has drawn widespread attention, so that's an inidication that Atlanta's front office is doing what it can to provide a better product for the 2016 season. The Braves will attempt to find somebody who can play third base, or at least share the position with Adonis Garcia.
Who they can trade if necessary
Miller: If the Braves trade Miller, they will likely require an everyday bat and a Major League-ready pitcher be included in the return. Still, this would be a deal that could certainly delay their hopes to become a playoff contender by at least one year. Miller stands as a strong anchor for a rotation that will be filled with young pitchers who are destined to endure growing pains over their first few seasons.
RHP Julio Teheran: The struggles Teheran endured through this season's first four months diminished his value to a point where the Braves would be selling low on him.
SS Erick Aybar: Aybar and Andrelton Simmons flip-flopped jobs less than a month ago. But on the night of the trade, Braves general manager John Coppolella mentioned that he was already drawing interest in Aybar, who will be a free agent at the end of the 2016 season. If the Braves can get value now, they could move Aybar before the start of the season. If not, they could do so before July's Trade Deadline.
The Braves are hopeful that top-10 prospects, left-handed pitcher Sean Newcomb and right-hander Lucas Sims, will reach Atlanta at some point next summer. Right-hander Tyrell Jenkins might be the first prospect to arrive, but he will likely begin the season at Triple-A. If lefty Manny Banuelos' left elbow is healthy, there's a chance he could rejoin Atlanta's rotation as early as Opening Day.
Rule 5 Draft
Coppolella showed some creativity last year when he took right-handed reliever Daniel Winkler during the Rule 5 Draft. Because Winkler was already slated to miss most of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Braves will not have to keep him on their Major League roster for a full season. If necessary, he could be optioned to the Minors in early June. With Winkler already guaranteed a spot on the Opening Day roster, the Braves might pass on taking another player this year. But it has never been wise to rule anything out during the Coppolella era.
Big contracts they might unload
Given that Freddie Freeman's trade value has been significantly diminished by the wrist injury that bothered him for last season's final four months and sidelined him for the regular season's final week, it was surprising that his name was even mentioned in trade rumors this offseason. But it did not take long for the Braves to make it crystal clear they do not plan to move the first baseman, who is owed $118.5 million through the end of the 2021 season.
Nick Markakis, who is owed $33 million over the next three seasons, stands as a similar case. His value will be better defined later this year, as he progresses through his second full season since undergoing a major neck surgery.
The Braves have made a number of cost-cutting moves over the past year, including ridding themselves of the ugly contracts of Melvin Upton Jr. and Chris Johnson. But at the same time they took on some cost for the 2016 season, when they agreed to take both Nick Swisher and Bourn from the Indians in exchange for Johnson. They also are set to give sizeable raises to both Freeman and Miller. As a result, they now have a little less than $15 million to spend this winter.