The Atlanta Braves were in the running for Josh Donaldson right until the end. On Tuesday, however, the former MVP signed a four-year pact with the Minnesota Twins, leaving the Braves without a cleanup hitter.
Donaldson was an excellent one-year signing for the Braves, slotting into the order perfectly behind Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. The veteran slugger stayed fit after injury troubles in recent seasons and played a major role in the Braves winning the division. His absence leaves a hole in Atlanta’s line-up.
Meeting the need for a big bat can be done in a number of ways. It doesn’t have to be a third baseman, but that must be where the Braves are looking at the moment. There are plenty available at the moment despite Todd Frazier signing with the Texas Rangers earlier this week.
Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant have both been rumoured to be available via trade. Bryant has recently settled with the Cubs for a $18.6 million salary in 2020. As it stands, he is due to become a free agent after the 2021 campaign, but a grievance has been filed that could see his free agency moved up a year. No trade will happen until there is certainty about his control, and it will obviously change the required trade package if the Braves were to make a deal.
Arenado has similar uncertainty. The Rockies’ superstar has seven years and well over $200 million left on his contract. An opt out looms after 2021, which a potential trade partner may try to negotiate out of his contract.
Either player would require a substantial trade package with the Braves needing to give up multiple high-end prospects. Chicago and Colorado would likely ask for Cristian Pache and potentially a couple of pitchers from the Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson and Kyle Muller group.
Atlanta are in such a strong spot because they have been savvy about trading away their top prospects. A deal for Arenado or Bryant doesn’t fit with how the franchise has been run of late. There are other options to fill that third base hole, however.
Evan Longoria is the most obvious one. The San Francisco Giants are going nowhere, and Longoria posted an .870 OPS on the road in 2019. The three-time All-Star is owed just over $53 million over the next three years, making him considerably cheaper than Arenado and with more control than Bryant. The Giants might be willing to pay some of the contract if it can help them land a decent prospect – Farhan Zaidi was willing to ‘buy’ a prospect in the Zack Cozart trade earlier this winter.
Longoria isn’t a glamorous signing, but his decline has been exaggerated by playing half his games in San Francisco. He’d be a candidate to hit 30 homers in a Braves uniform – he’d be a good compromise.
Big free agent
The free agent cupboard is pretty bare after Donaldson’s move to the Twins was announced. The two hitters that come close to his level are Marcell Ozuna (carrying a compensation pick) and Nicholas Castellanos. If the Braves are happy to give Johan Camargo and Austin Riley the third base job, Castellanos and Ozuna could be free agent solutions to their Donaldson problem.
It’s not going to be cheap signing either player. Their free agencies have likely dragged on because of high demands, and neither excel defensively. Castellanos raked in 51 games for the Cubs last year, and could easily hit as well as Donaldson in 2020. Ozuna has been streaky since his breakout 2017 with the Marlins.
The financial commitment will be much greater than Longoria, but Ozuna and Castellanos have more offensive upside than the former Gold Glover.