McAuley: 2016 Winter Meetings Day 1 Live Blog

Greetings from National Harbor, Maryland, where the 2016 Winter Meetings are underway. Each day, I’ll be keeping this journal of rumors, news and happenings for the Atlanta Braves and the rest of baseball. Check back often for the latest updates.

6:19 PM — As Day 1 comes to a close, we had our daily meeting with John Coppolella and John Hart up in the “War Room.” Talks have been ongoing throughout the day, but both men mentioned it is nice to be coming to these meetings without feeling like they have to do something. That said, they have already accomplished so much with the litany of moves they’ve made this winter. Could the Braves still add a top of the line starting pitcher to their rotation? That’s the question surrounding the team as rumors persist that Atlanta has inquired about White Sox ace Chris Sale, Rays righty Chris Archer and Oakland’s Sonny Gray. It is still a possibility. That led me to ask Coppolella: Where do you feel the line is between the needs entering the off-season and the wants for this club right now if the right deals present themselves?

“I think we’re there right now. I think the needs have been filled. The wants? Yeah, we all want Chris Sale. We have to explore Chris Sale. If we didn’t then we’re not doing our jobs. I mean, he’s arguably the best pitcher in baseball. Archer, Gray, both very solid pitchers and you’d love to have them. Little bit different animals than Chris Sale. So, yeah, I think on all three if they have a chance to help you then you’ve got to explore it, but they’re wants and not needs. We’ve filled our needs. We needed innings and we feel like we got 550 innings, hopefully, out of the three guys that we’ve [acquired].”

It sounds as though the prospect price could be, in both my words and Coppolella’s, “cost prohibitive” when it comes to trading for any of those top starters we’ve mentioned. That’s not to say the right deal couldn’t materialize, but Atlanta remains hesitant to do anything that would undo a large chunk of the work they’ve done to build a farm system that is stocked with young, controllable talent that could star for the club for years to come. Coppolella added they aren’t hoping to just open up a window to be competitive, but rather they want that talent to keep coming in waves in order to make a sustainable impact on a big league contender. So, regardless of the years of control on the pitcher, the Braves aren’t looking to pay the price for a finite amount of time to contend. Trading away key pieces, most notably Dansby Swanson, is not something the club is considering in order to bring over a top starting pitcher.

Another point of emphasis for the Braves when it comes to rounding out their rotation after Julio Teheran, Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia is to see exactly what young starter will get that opportunity. The smart money is on Mike Foltynewicz, who made definite strides to close 2016. Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair and others remain as “protection” in case of injury and attrition in the starting five. They’ll all be asked to come into spring training and compete, which Hart said is a natural and healthy part of any team. One thing is for sure, the days of handing out opportunities have passed. With veterans in house, it allows for some of these younger arms to get some much needed polish and finishing touches as they work at the Triple-A level rather than being force fed in the majors. As far as the notion that the crop of incumbent young pitchers might feel pushed aside with the trio of veteran starters now locked in rotation, Coppolella doesn’t feel that’s the case. He added it could also provide some valuable motivation, should it be needed.

“There’s been a lot of opportunities handed out here [the past two years]… If you feel like you’ve been slighted, or you haven’t gotten a chance, or you’re mad that we brought somebody better in, pitch better. Get better. We don’t owe anybody anything. The best pitchers are going to pitch for us. And you if you don’t like it, get better.”

While any sense of entitlement would be misplaced in the larger scope of Atlanta’s plan, the young starters will be asked to prove themselves in a different fashion in 2017 than we’ve seen the past two seasons. Some have enjoyed more success than others, but the level of expectation is certainly evolving as the team heads into SunTrust Park.

4:25 PM — Just spent about an hour chatting with former Braves reliever David Carpenter, who is in town to speak with prospective teams to get back to the big leagues in 2017. It’s always fun to share stories in the lobby and we also got to trade old minor league tales. Carpenter, 31, came to camp with Atlanta last spring, but was let go early. He ended up with the Rays to finish the spring, but also pitched in Triple-A for the Angels and in the independent AtlanticLeague. He told me the velocity is back in the mid-90s, so now he’s just looking for an opportunity. They don’t make them much better than Carp, so hopefully he’ll find the right landing spot.

2:10 PM — Braves ace Julio Teheran will pitch for his home country of Colombia in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Major League Baseball announced a group of 24 All-Stars who have been confirmed for WBC. Former Atlanta shortstop Andrelton Simmons will once again play for the Kingdom of  the Netherlands.

1:45 PM — I have been keeping an ear open regarding the Sonny Gray report from this morning. The Braves have been rumored to be interested in the A’s ace. While it doesn’t sound like talks went very far, it is not surprising that Atlanta continues to check in on viable top starters who could be had in trade. After adding a trio of veterans who fill “needs,” John Coppolella appears to have turned his attention to “wants,” in the event Atlanta can add an impact arm. Chris Sale and Chris Archer have generated the most buzz, but it stands to reason that the Athletics could look to trade Gray as they have done with so many young talents over the years. Given the shallow free agent market, they could still get a good return despite his injury-riddled 2016.  The initial report from Joel Sherman mentioned that Oakland has not asked for Dansby Swanson, unlike the White Sox in the Sale talks. That’s good, because the Braves aren’t interested in trading Swanson, even for a fellow Vanderbilt product. However, the two sides still have work to do for any potential deal. As I tweeted this morning, Gray is coming off a season that was derailed by arm trouble and is much more buyer-beware than Sale or Archer. When healthy, Gray was on the fast track to becoming one of the better pitchers in the American League. He is under control for three seasons, but is entering his arbitration years.

More reading – My full write-up on Gray as well as Chris Sale and Chris Archer.

12:44 PM — First big news of the day, and it comes on the closers market. And it also benefits the Braves as the division rival Nationals appear to have lost a major piece from 2016. Mark Melancon will be working the late inning by the Bay for the next few years.

It’s going to be a record deal for a closer as well. And it may not stay a record for long once Kenley Jansen signs.

Washington wants to address its needs and possibly make a splash in their backyard during the Winter Meetings, with rumors swirling that Chris Sale and Andrew McCutchen could both be targets. Losing Melancon means they’ll have to address the ninth inning. That could get rather pricey.

12:03 PM — We just wrapped up our media session with John Schuerholz, which has taken much of the last hour. Fascinating insight into a five decade career. I’ll have a 1-on-1 interview as part of tonight’s podcast as well, so expect links to that later. During our Atlanta-only media session, I asked Mr. Schuerholz what he wanted to get out of the game of baseball when he first walked into the Baltimore Orioles front office in 1966. The answer was fascinating and multipronged, as you might imagine. He decided to give it five years. The early days spent in the offices beneath Memorial Stadium, studying countless files to learn any and everything that would supply the knowledge needed to succeed in the game as a top level executive. The dream was clear. The climb was a measured and steady ascent to reach the summit of his profession. From Baltimore to Kansas City to Atlanta, his accomplishments, championships won and the relationships built have ultimately led him to Cooperstown, where he takes his place among baseball’s elite.

10:40 AM — All set up and one sweep through the lobby is complete. The media work room is starting to fill up as we await the Hall of Fame press conference which begins in just a few minutes. Braves president John Schuerholz was unanimously selected by the Today’s Game Era committee on Sunday. Former commissioner Bud Selig will join him, so it should be quite a morning. As many have noted, the election of Selig may give a fresh perspective to the question of PED users in the Hall, because that controversy was central to Selig’s tenure. Whether or not it tips the scales definitively in favor of breaking down the voter-imposed barrier against known or even suspected users is yet to be seen, and remains unlikely in my opinion.

I wrote extensively on the Braves rumors from Sunday in case you missed that or wanted to get caught up [Read it here]. It includes a more in depth look at Atlanta’s pursuit of Chris Sale and Chris Archer as well as interest in free-agent catcher Welington Castillo. The Braves also added a former Yankees top pick in Jacob Lindgren, who could be an intriguing bullpen possibility in the future.

 

Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can subscribe to the “Around The Big Leagues” podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. Follow Gran

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