McAuley: 2016 Winter Meetings Day 3 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.

5:15 PM — The media workroom lit up as the Nationals and White Sox hooked up on a trade that illustrates two teams heading in different directions. Washington picked up outfielder Adam Eaton and paid a tremendous pitching prospect bounty. Chicago gets Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning (three of their top 10 prospects). Adding that haul to the quartet of prospects that came over from Boston in the Chris Sale trade and all of a sudden the White Sox have gone from one of the worst farm systems in baseball to one of the best. Getting Giolito and Yoan Moncada is a big reason why. It’s not often a club can land the position player prospect and the top pitching prospect in the game (though Giolito may have slid a bit after 2016).

The Nats are probably out on Andrew McCutchen, but they pick up an outfielder who was a 6.0 WAR player in 2016. Eaton is also two years younger than McCutchen, who was coming off his worst season. The contracts are also completely different stories. While McCutchen would cost about $29 million over the next two seasons, Washington has Eaton for five-years and $38.4 if they exercise the option years. He may not be six win player every year, but Eaton is one of the more underrated players in the game. With the pressure mounting each year for Washington to finally have some postseason success, he fits into the win-now plan. That’s apparent, considering the pitching that is heading to Chicago.

4:45 PM — The Braves have indeed checked in on Orioles reliever Brad Brach (first reported by Joel Sherman), but adding a soon-to-be 31-year-old coming off two good seasons wasn’t going to come cheap. If the cost is Mallex Smith plus more, then it’s no surprise Atlanta passed on that permutation of the trade. Brach is going into his arbitration years as well, so it’s not like he’s coming over on a team friendly contract in his mid-t0-late 20s.

3:51 PM — Daily media availability with John Coppolella and John Hart just wrapped up. With on a few real hours left on the final full day, all is quiet on the Braves front. Hart did not believe that the Sale trade really opened up a logjam of potential moves, say had it been a big free agent signing and setting the market. Coppolella continued to reinforce that much of the “heavy lifting” when it comes to winter shopping was completed in the days and weeks leading up to this trip.

“It comes down to needs and wants,” said Coppolella. “We don’t have needs in starting pitching. Do we want a number one starter? Is Chris Sale a number one starter? Yes.”

As I mentioned earlier, Jose Quintana is a name that piques the interest of the Braves and other clubs, but Atlanta is weighing its options when it comes to trading away young arms that could essentially become Quintana’s equal over the next few years. While he is a quality starting pitcher who has four years of affordable team control, the strategy of trading away pitchers who could grow into the same kind of finished product is counter-intuitive. Coppolella said that is not something the Braves are interested in.

“Why go out and give up the kids to get Quintana? You know, look, if some deal falls into our laps, we’re always going to look at it because we’re always going to be opportunistic. But I don’t think we feel like we have to make a trade for a pitcher, certainly not after having already acquired three starting pitchers this off-season.”

Hart added that signing one year deals with the veterans like Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey allows for maneuverability. The team is pleased they struck early in the market, and while it’s not some of the top flight trade targets, they have added stable arms that are a big improvement over the 2016 rotation.  And they’ve done all of that without trading away the future.

Atlanta’s bullpen is a strength for the club, one that Hart mentioned is by design. They’ve collected some nice young arms – guys like Arodys Vizcaino and Mauricio Cabrera – with more on the way. That is done with the intent of staying out of the increasingly pricey free-agent market for closers and relief help. “Grow your own,” said Hart. “Go out into the backfield, open up your door. Instead of seeing a fallow field with some dust, you know the Oklahoma dust bowl, you want to see a whole bunch of good arms, power guys coming up through your system. You know, you trot one of those guys back there at some point. To go out there and jump in $80 million, whatever it’s going to be for these guys [Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen], it doesn’t make sense.”

1:39 PM — We just finished up the managers luncheon, which is a Day 3 staple. The media members from each team get to sit and enjoy a pretty good meal with their team’s skipper. There is no social media during that time, hence the blackout for the last couple of hours. Among the highlights, Brian Snitker said he talked to Ozzie Albies and expects him to be ready to go in spring training after suffering a fractured elbow in September. Albies has already begun strengthening exercises and is out of his elbow brace. This is a great sign for a young player who could factor into Atlanta’s plans sooner than later.

Speaking of the future, Snitker said he enjoyed his trip to instructional league and was impressed with Atlanta’s collection of young players. Kevin Maitan and Cristian Pache were two players who really stood out. Both of those men were prizes from the Braves international signings the past two summers. Pache made his debut in the state this past season, playing for both the Gulf Coast league and Danville, batting .309/.349/.391 in 57 games. The working plan is for Maitan to follow a similar track in 2017.

11:09 AM — Talked to some folks close to Tampa Bay that indicated lefty Drew Smyly is the most likely candidate to be traded among the Rays young starters. Chris Archer’s five-years of control are a definite advantage when it comes to demanding what was termed as a “Chris Sale type return.” The Rays have made “quantity” type trades before, perhaps not landing a team’s best prospect, but getting a bunch of good young talent. It doesn’t sound like they’d be willing to do that for Archer, but oddly enough the team landed him in one of those deals when they traded Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs in 2011. It remains to be seen if the Braves will ramp up talks, or if the Rays are interested in building a potential trade around somebody other than Dansby Swanson.

Meanwhile, the Braves could also target another White Sox left-hander. With Chris Sale on his way to Boston, Jose Quintana is drawing interest from several clubs. Quintana, 27, was an All-Star in 2016 and has posted a 3.41 ERA (3.47 FIP) over five seasons with Chicago. He is under contract for the next four seasons for just under $28 million. Though Quintana is not the same caliber of pitcher as Sale or Archer, he has quietly built a reputation as one of the most dependable left-handers in the game. The Nationals, Astros and Dodgers are other clubs that could make a run at Quintana.

10:12 AM — It’s the final full day of the Winter Meetings, so we’re settled into the media work room for a busy day. Braves manager Brian Snitker had his press availability this morning. You can tell that he’s excited to see the pieces that have been added and ready to combine them with a team that finished 2016 on a high note and playing its best baseball. Innings from the rotation were a major concern that has been addressed with the acquisitions of Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia. Atlanta also signed one of the most versatile players available in Sean Rodriguez. From all accounts, Snitker is anxious to put together some lineups and see the team come together. Snitker said that to a man, his team’s goal is to come to spring training ready to compete for a division title.

As we’ve progressed through the winter, much was made about Atlanta’s pursuit of an ace starting pitcher – something I wrote about at length yesterday (John Hart discusses Braves pursuit of an ace). Throughout those talks, Dansby Swanson’s name was thrown around as the reported asking price, but Atlanta called that request a “non-starter.” Swanson is a key piece of the future for this franchise and one the organization and fans alike are looking forward to seeing grow in 2017. In his first taste of the big leagues, Swanson spent most of his time toward the bottom of the lineup, something most expect to change next season. In fact, Snitker addressed the distinct possibility that his young shortstop could be hitting up at the top of the order.

I’ll have more with Brian Snitker on today’s Around The Big Leagues Podcast. Be sure you check those out. Interviews with John Coppolella and John Hart over the past couple of days. Lots of good stuff about what the front office feels they’ve accomplished thus far and, of course, what’s left to do this winter.

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 Grant on Twitter.

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