Atlanta Braves

Braves are most logical Kris Bryant suitor after Dodgers acquire Mookie Betts

Braves are most logical Kris Bryant suitor after Dodgers acquire Mookie Betts

The Dodgers have won two of the last three National League pennants. They won the most games in franchise history (106) in 2019 and were already going to be an NL favorite in 2020.

Tuesday, Los Angeles stamped their claim as the best team in the NL — and perhaps all of baseball. According to multiple reports, the Dodgers are set to acquire 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts from the Red Sox in a three-team deal featuring the Twins.

Many expected the Dodgers to make a big move in free agency, but they came up empty on the likes of Gerrit Cole (Yankees) and Anthony Rendon (Angels).

Los Angeles was still primed to add a big name, albeit through trade. They’ve been connected to Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant this winter, and while Tuesday’s move doesn’t rule such a move out, it makes it less necessary. In Betts, the Dodgers have added an elite talent, all while not dipping into their loaded farm system other clubs envy.

If the Dodgers don't make a move for Bryant, the most logical suitor for him is the Braves.

The Cubs are seeking young, controllable assets in a Bryant deal, which Atlanta has plenty of. The Braves have five top 100 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, two of which are pitchers in Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright.

During Theo Epstein's tenure as team president, developing starting pitchers has been the Cubs' Achilles' heel. Adding one of Anderson and Wright — along with another young pitcher — would address one of the Cubs' biggest needs.

Besides young pitching, third baseman Austin Riley could be a potential piece in a Bryant trade. Riley had a rough 2019, but he was a well-regarded prospect last season and would serve as Bryant's replacement at the hot corner.

Other potential Bryant suitors include the Rangers, Nationals and Rockies, all of whom have been linked to him this winter.

The Rangers don't have as widely regarded of a farm system as other potential suitors, so it’s hard to see Bryant getting dealt there. The Nationals have been disinclined to include 22-year-olds Victor Robles (center fielder) and Carter Kieboom (infielder) in Bryant negotiations, per reports. If that’s the case, it’s unlikely Bryant is traded to the nation’s capital.

Colorado and the Cubs reportedly have discussed a one-for-one deal involving Bryant and Rockies star Nolan Arenado. That would require the Rockies eating a portion of Arenado’s mega-deal (owed $234 million through 2026) or the Cubs trading another player to offset salary, as their goal is to get under the luxury tax this season.

The logistics of such an Arenado-Bryant move make it highly improbable. This brings us back to the Braves.

Atlanta recently signed slugging outfielder Marcell Ozuna, but that shouldn’t stop them from pursuing Bryant. The Braves are all in on 2020, and adding Bryant would make them a true contender alongside the Dodgers for the NL pennant. Whether that brings the two teams together is to be seen.

Even with Nicholas Castellanos, can the Reds — or anyone — challenge the White Sox for baseball's best offseason?

Even with Nicholas Castellanos, can the Reds — or anyone — challenge the White Sox for baseball's best offseason?

Winning the offseason is meaningless if you don't win in the regular season and the postseason.

Everyone knows this, particularly the big league clubs who are making all these offseason moves. White Sox general manager Rick Hahn talked just last week about this very thing.

“Quite candidly, we haven't accomplished anything yet, we haven't won yet,” he said during his pre-SoxFest press conference last Thursday. “This whole process was about winning championships, was about finishing with a parade at the end of October down Michigan Avenue. Until that happens, I don't think any of us are really in a position to feel satisfied or feel like we've accomplished anything.

“We've had a nice winter. ... We think very bright days are ahead of us, and we look forward to enjoying them. But in terms of feeling like we've accomplished something or feeling satisfied, ask me after the parade.”

That being said, the White Sox seemingly have won the offseason. By adding a slew of accomplished veterans to a young core that broke out in a big way in 2019 there are justified playoff expectations on the South Side. Look no further than an extremely excited fan base buzzing during SoxFest over the weekend.

But, you know, other teams have had good offseasons, too. Here's a look at some baseball's best winters. Let's make sure the White Sox really have earned the fictional and totally meaningless title of "offseason champions."

White Sox

Before we reach across the league, let's run through what Hahn & Co. have done since the book closed on 2019's 89-loss campaign:

— The White Sox signed Yasmani Grandal to the richest contract in team history, adding an All Star behind the plate for the next four years. Obviously, he's one of the better offensive catchers in the game. And as we've seen, Grandal's skills as a totally committed guiding force for the pitching staff are already having an effect,

— They gave a three-year contract to Jose Abreu, the face of the franchise. While Abreu rightfully earns a ton of credit for his off-the-field work with the White Sox younger players, which will remain important over the next three seasons, especially with fellow Cuban Luis Robert hitting the majors this season, let's not pretend like he's washed up or anything like it. Abreu just had one of the most productive seasons of his career as a 32-year-old in 2019, leading the American League in RBIs and coming three homers away from a career high.

— They traded for a new everyday right fielder in Nomar Mazara, who has hit 79 homers in four big league seasons. He might just be a "bridge" (a descriptor Hahn unleashed last week) to the organization's still-developing outfield prospects, but White Sox brass keeps touting the untapped potential they think they can coax out of the one-time top prospect, who's still just 24 years old.

— They added Gio Gonzalez to the starting rotation, a reliable back-of-the-rotation piece who will finally get his chance to pitch for the organization that drafted him a decade and a half ago — then traded him, twice.

— They signed Dallas Keuchel to a three-year contract (with an option for a fourth), bringing in the accomplished front-of-the-rotation starter they needed to team with Lucas Giolito this winter. Keuchel has a Cy Young Award, a World Series ring and a closet full of Gold Gloves on his resume and brings the winning experience this roster was lacking. With question marks in the middle and back of the rotation, Keuchel's steady hand figures to be of great benefit.

— They signed Edwin Encarnacion, the veteran slugger, to a one-year deal (with an option for a second) that not only added the thump they needed to the lineup but signaled that these White Sox are indeed trying to win and win big in 2020. The other, longer term deals could have pointed to a solid though perhaps more cautious belief that the contention window might still be a little ways off from opening. Not the one-year pact with Encarnacion, though, which showed the White Sox are serious about contending this year with a 37-year-old bopper hitting a bunch of dingers.

— They gave a six-year contract extension (with a pair of options that could push it all the way to eight) to Luis Robert, the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball. For the second straight offseason, the White Sox locked up a young player who's yet to play a game in the majors. But Robert and Eloy Jimenez figure to be powering this team for the better part of the next decade. The extension cleared the way for the five-tool Robert to be the White Sox starting center fielder come Opening Day, and 162 games' worth of a guy expected to be a superstar is better than any lesser alternative.

— They added Steve Cishek to the bullpen, complementing back-end pitchers Alex Colome and Aaron Bummer with a veteran who proved both effective and dependable in his two seasons on the North Side, posting a 2.55 ERA in a whopping 150 appearances.

So that's all pretty good. Can anyone else can compete with that? Let's see.

Cincinnati Reds

If anyone's coming close to challenging the White Sox for that ridiculous title of "offseason champs," it's the Reds. Much like the White Sox, the Reds are a team with some great young talent looking to capitalize on a weaker division and make some noise. The Reds have positioned themselves to do just that, adding the biggest piece of their offseason haul Monday morning with the signing of outfielder Nicholas Castellanos. He was on a lot of White Sox fans' wish lists, particularly the ones not sold on Mazara as a confidence-inspiring option in right field. But Castellanos is finally off the market, getting a four-year deal from the Reds (that includes opt-out clauses after each of the next two seasons).

Castellanos now anchors a lineup that already included a pair of newcomers: slugging infielder Mike Moustakas, who White Sox fans know well from his days with the Kansas City Royals, and center fielder Shogo Akiyama, who came over from Japan this winter. Add those guys to an already potent group of hitters that included Eugenio Suarez, Joey Votto, Aristides Aquino and highly rated prospect Nick Senzel (coming off shoulder surgery), and you've got yourself a contender — if not the favorite — to win the NL Central crown. And, oh yeah, their pitching staff ain't half bad, either, with Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer as perhaps the best 1-2-3 punch in the NL. They added Wade Miley this offseason, too, bolstering (if not in a huge way) that rotation further.

That's a great offseason, no doubt, and if you don't count Robert as a true offseason addition on the South Side — he was already part of the organization — then it's not a stretch to say that Castellanos and Moustakas are a better pair of lineup improvements than Grandal and Encarnacion, though it's close. On the new-pitching front, Keuchel, Gonzalez and Cishek make for a more appealing group than Miley by himself. It seems like the White Sox addressed more areas — and more glaring needs — than the Reds, but both teams are well positioned to challenge for a Central Division title.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves, like the White Sox, got to work early and often. They're the two-time defending NL East champs, yet they've been ousted in the NLDS in each of the last two postseasons, then had to watch the division-rival Washington Nationals win the World Series. So they understandably loaded up this winter. They added perhaps the biggest name on the relief-pitching market, Will Smith, to an already significantly remade bullpen that included midseason acquisitions Mark Melancon and Shane Greene. They added Cole Hamels to their starting staff, bringing in the kind of winning experience and veteran know-how the White Sox found in Keuchel.

While White Sox fans spent months debating whether they wanted Marcell Ozuna on the South Side, the Braves found a seeming bargain in getting Ozuna on just a one-year deal. While there were justifiable red flags in Ozuna's numbers during his two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, he has the potential to be an impact bat in the middle of a championship lineup. And with Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman already in the Braves' lineup, it's not like Ozuna has to shoulder the load.

The Braves also added a new catcher in Travis d'Arnaud and brought back Nick Markakis. In the same division as the team that just won it all, the Braves might still be the favorites to repeat in the NL East.

Washington Nationals

The reigning champs had their biggest offseason success in retaining Stephen Strasburg, the World Series MVP who proved during the postseason that he's among baseball's best hurlers. Of course, they couldn't retain Anthony Rendon, one of the most consistently excellent hitters in the game. But had they lost both to greener bank accounts the winter after winning the whole thing, that would have been brutal. Keeping Strasburg counts as a huge win, even if the Nationals have lost their biggest bopper in each of the last two offseasons: first Bryce Harper, now Rendon. But they won the World Series without Harper, so ... 

The Nationals also retained former White Sox pitching prospect Daniel Hudson, who played such a huge role out of the bullpen en route to their championship, and Howie Kendrick, who hit that unforgettable game-winning grand slam to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and send the Nationals to the Fall Classic. New guys include Will Harris, who along with bringing Hudson back goes a long way toward solidifying a bullpen that was the team's weakest link throughout the regular season in 2019. Eric Thames and Starlin Castro join the position-player side of things, though they won't be expected to make up for Rendon's departure like the guys who were already there: Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Victor Robles and the like.

It's hard to say the Nationals are anything but worse, on paper, than they were when they won the World Series three months ago, but hey, that's what happens when you lose a perennial MVP candidate. Still, even with the Braves' big offseason (and status as defending NL East champs), the Nationals remain right in the thick of things in their division thanks to an elite 1-2-3 in the rotation of Max Scherzer, Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.

Philadelphia Phillies

Attempting to keep pace in the NL East, the Phillies followed up their spending spree from an offseason ago by handing out another huge contract, this one going to Zack Wheeler, who turned down a richer offer from the White Sox to pitch on the East Coast. Wheeler provides a nice safety net for a Phillies rotation that needed an infusion after big ERA increases for both Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola last season (though Wheeler's 2019 ERA was still higher than Nola's). The Phillies also brought in Didi Gregorius, who was very good in his tenure with the New York Yankees, to be their new starting shortstop.

The Phillies, especially offensively, appear to be loaded, with Gregorius joining Harper, Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, and Scott Kingery. The pitching staff has its issues but also has some arms that have been/could be very potent. So what's the problem? Well, they play in baseball's most competitive division. They looked loaded last year, too, and finished fourth. They've got to prove they can hang with the Braves and Nationals and horribly underwhelm with a .500 finish like they did in 2019.

New York Yankees

I'm going to fly through these next three teams, not because they didn't have good offseasons but because their good offseasons are based on the addition of one superstar player. The Yankees reeled in the biggest fish in the free-agency pond, adding Gerrit Cole, who showed during the postseason that he might just be the best pitcher in baseball. It looked like he was going to land on the West Coast. Instead, he landed on the East Coast, giving the Yankees a much-needed dominant force at the top of their rotation. The AL pennant — thanks in part to Cole's defection and in part to the Astros losing their general manager and manager in the wake of their cheating scandal — looks like the Yankees' to lose.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins did more than just signing Josh Donaldson. They brought back Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda and added Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. That's four starting pitchers, and yet their starting rotation is still a question mark. What's not a question mark is their lineup, which last season set the record for the most home runs hit in a single campaign. They might hit even more of them now that they've got Donaldson, a perennial MVP candidate who the White Sox now have to worry about trying to get out 19 times a year for the next half decade. The White Sox had a better offseason than the Twins, yes. But the Twins are still looking like one heck of a challenge in the AL Central, not because they won 100 games last season and still employ Nelson Cruz, but because they now also employ Donaldson.

Los Angeles Angels

The aforementioned Rendon is now in the same lineup as Mike Trout. Dear god. Of course, this is the Angels we're talking about, a team that has made the postseason all of one time in Trout's eight full major league seasons. The guy who's arguably the best baseball player ever has played in just three playoff games and won zero of them. So is Rendon going to single-handedly change that? No, probably not. Joe Maddon might, though, and the new skipper in Anaheim could prove a bigger addition than his new middle-of-the-order bat. But if there's ever been a time to jump up and dethrone the Astros, it's now, considering they could be in for a season of disarray in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that cost them their GM and their manager. The Angels have a big-time outfield prospect coming up in Jo Adell. But how have they fortified their worrisome starting rotation? With Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy. Ok, maybe the Astros will be fine.

Toronto Blue Jays

Certainly, the Blue Jays have been active, most of their efforts directed at remaking their rotation. They landed one of the bigger fish on the starting-pitching market in Hyun-Jin Ryu, as well as bringing in Chase Anderson, Tanner Roark and Matt Shoemaker. How good those moves are remain to be seen, as those three have plenty to prove. Ryu is obviously a nice acquisition after he won the NL's ERA crown last season. Travis Shaw was the big addition to the lineup.

The thing with the Blue Jays is not only are most of these moves not terribly exciting, they do little to make a dent in the AL East race. The Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays still seem much better after their playoff appearances last season, and though the Boston Red Sox suffered a crippling World Series hangover last year — and face a ton of questions about their future, given their financial commitments — they still have the kind of talented roster to win more games than the Blue Jays. So, in the end, how effective was this offseason for Toronto?

———

The verdict: The White Sox won the offseason.

As established, of course, that means nothing until it turns into on-the-field success. But it allows for some changing expectations in certain places, the South Side included, which gets to reap realistic playoff hopes from the work of the front office.

But as for whether the team has actually accomplished anything, do what Hahn says and ask him after the parade.

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Marcell Ozuna signing with Braves rules out potential suitor for Kris Bryant

marcell_ozuna.jpg
USA TODAY

Marcell Ozuna signing with Braves rules out potential suitor for Kris Bryant

When former Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson signed with the Twins last week, one thought was Atlanta could pivot and try to acquire Kris Bryant to fill the void in their lineup.

That possibility looks less likely now, as the Braves announced Tuesday they’ve signed former Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million deal.

The Braves didn’t have a dire need for a third baseman — 22-year-old Austin Riley, a former top prospect, is waiting in the wings — so much as they needed a bat to replace Donaldson. Bryant would have checked both those boxes, but the path to acquiring him is more difficult.

Bryant has been fixated in trade rumors this winter, but any extensive negotiations won’t occur until his service time grievance case is resolved. NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan reported last week Bryant trade rumors this winter have been “greatly exaggerated” because the lingering grievance.

The Braves have been named a potential Bryant suitor as they hold the top prospects the Cubs would seek in return for Bryant. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman threw cold water on that notion recently.

There’s also the possibility the Cubs don’t move at all Bryant this offseason.

"No, we're not in a position where we *have* to do anything,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Friday at Cubs Convention. “I think you want to always avoid being put in a corner where you have to make a deal and your back's against the wall and you're gonna take any deal that's out there.

“We’re not at all in that position but looking at the longer time horizon of the next two years, I think you would be wise at some point to do something that looks out a little bit more for the long-term and a little bit less for the short-term, but that doesn't have to happen now. We're not in a position where we have to move anybody."

Ozuna joining the Braves means the Cardinals lost one of their most productive bats from the 2019 division championship club. Like the Cubs, St. Louis' offseason has been marked by low-key moves, outside of the Cardinals acquiring pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore from the Rays, a deal which sent Cardinals slugger Jose Martinez to Tampa Bay.

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