Braves bank on 'tooled up' Kelenic

December 7th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

It will take some time before we learn exactly what the Braves gained via their acquisition of this week. But if the left-handed-hitting outfielder performs like he did before breaking his left foot this past summer, the Braves may have gained a real bargain.

Why would I say this when the Braves needed to take on $29 million worth of bad contracts to get Kelenic (who has hit .204 with 32 homers and a .656 OPS through the first 252 games of his Major League career)?

Well, the Mariners included $4.5 million in the deal, and some of the remaining cost was further erased Tuesday night, when the Braves traded pitcher Marco Gonzales and his $12 million salary to the Pirates.

The Braves didn’t reveal how much cash they sent to Pittsburgh. So the total savings isn’t known. But Braves fans at least know the Gonzales Era will not be as financially draining as the Jake Odorizzi Era.

First baseman  was the other player the Braves agreed to take in the Kelenic deal. The Mariners thought White was going to be Matt Olson when they gave him a six-year, $24 million contract after the 2019 season, before he reached the Majors. He hit .165 with 10 homers and a .543 OPS while playing just 84 games for Seattle. None of those games have been since June 2021, when he underwent the first of two hip surgeries. The most recent was performed in March.

Moving White’s contract will be a challenge. But with Kelenic still a season away from being eligible for salary arbitration, the Braves could afford to eat the $17 million White is guaranteed over the next two seasons. 

Kelenic will make approximately $800,000 next year, and White is owed $7 million for the next season.

Even if the Braves are paying half of Gonzales’ salary, the cost of acquiring a left fielder for 2024 would be approximately $13.8 million. Again, that’s seemingly the high side of an estimate.

The Braves could have kept the 32-year-old Eddie Rosario for $9 million. They also could have pursued a proven free-agent outfielder, who likely would have required a multiyear commitment that included something north of a $10 million salary.

Instead, they gambled on Kelenic, who has far greater upside than Rosario and most available free-agent outfielders. The 24-year-old was the sixth overall Draft pick in 2018, and he was MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 prospect as recently as 2021.

Kelenic hit 11 homers with a .759 OPS in the 90 games played before he mistook a water cooler for a soccer ball. He was on pace to hit 19 homers, two fewer than Rosario hit while producing a .755 OPS this year.

“I just talked to a few of my scouting buddies here and people that have seen him,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said during the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn. “It sounds like he's a tooled-up, really nice-looking player. I’m looking forward to seeing him.”