ATLANTA – As SunTrust Park prepares to open its doors to the public, the Atlanta Braves celebrated the legacy of a baseball icon. On Wednesday, the team unveiled a new statue honoring Hank Aaron during a ceremony in the Monument Garden of the ballpark. It is the centerpiece of the area, which contains memorabilia and exhibits to honor members of both the National Baseball and team hall of fame.
Atlanta-based artist Ross Rossin was tasked with creating the statue that commemorates the tremendous achievement of one of the greatest players in the history of the game. At nine feet tall, the sculpture captures the moment Aaron’s bat made contact for his 715th home run on April 8, 1974, the night he surpassed Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record.
“It’s beautiful,” said Aaron of the newly minted statue. “I don’t think I could have added anything to it. [Ross] did a marvelous job with it, captured every diagram and did everything right.”
Aaron, who turned 83 in February, was originally signed by the Boston Braves in 1952 and went on to play 21 seasons with the franchise in Milwaukee and Atlanta. After setting a new all-time home run record with Atlanta in 1974, Aaron played two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers before retiring in 1976. He finished his career with a record 755 home runs and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982. That record stood until Barry Bonds surpassed the mark in 2007.
A general manager’s job is never done. With opening day looming, John Coppolella will be putting the finishing touches on Atlanta’s 25-man roster over the next 10 days. There are a number of spots still up for grabs on the bench and in the bullpen, giving the Braves much to consider when it comes to balancing the reserve players and relief pitchers.
Like most clubs, the Braves maintain dialogue with other teams on certain players. As Coppolella has been quick to point out, often times previous discussions can lay the groundwork for a deal that happens well down the line. We’ll see if he has anything up his sleeve in advance of the season opening series in New York.
A reserve capable of playing all three outfield spots is an obvious need for Atlanta. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports linked the Braves to Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur, but noted Chicago may not be inclined to move the 27-year-old, at least not yet.
Szczur batted .259/.312/.400 with five homers and 24 RBI In 107 games for Chicago last season. As Rosenthal notes, Szczur is out of options, which makes him a trade candidate leading up to opening day. The Cubs have Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Jon Jay and Albert Almora Jr. among their outfield options, with both Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist capable of playing the corner spots as well. Though the club may be reluctant to move Szczur, it stands to reason he could be shopped as Chicago makes its final roster decisions.
Other Windy City rumblings…
It appears the Braves are keeping an eye on Chicago for more than one reason. On the other side of town, White Sox lefty Jose Quintana continues to draw trade interest from multiple teams. Atlanta remains on the list of possible landing places according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.
Chicago White Sox scouts are everywhere – and the game of telephone ended with general managers across the game wondering: Are they finally going to deal Quintana?
The answer, major league sources familiar with the talks told Yahoo Sports, is the same it’s been since the White Sox committed to rebuild and started the dismantling of their core: Yes … but only for the right price. And even as the White Sox have dispatched more scouts than usual to those back fields, sources said, no deal has materialized.
This is not to say one couldn’t come together within weeks, days, even hours. Multiple teams, including the Atlanta Braves, have shown continued interest, according to sources. Others known to have been involved at points this spring are the Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Keeping in mind the potential cost of Quintana, it seems unlikely the Braves would be looking to undo much of the work they’ve done by gathering minor league talent in order to acquire what amounts to a very dependable lefty starter. Quintana, 28, has posted a 3.41 ERA (3.47 FIP) in 951 innings while averaging 4.0 WAR over his five seasons with the White Sox. He is under contract for the next four years at a total of $37.8 million if both club options are exercised. That kind of value that cannot be found on the free agent market, but any team looking to add Quintana to its rotation would have to pay a rather sizeable price in trade.
The Braves have made it clear that they are not interested in dealing shortstop Dansby Swanson. However, the White Sox just extended Tim Anderson and would not necessarily demand a middle infielder in return, especially with Yoan Moncada knocking on the door as the club’s second baseman of the future. Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuña and Kevin Maitan are the best position players in the Atlanta system, with the latter two men as close to untouchable as prospect can get. Austin Riley may be the best power bat in the organization, but is at least two or three years away from reaching the majors.
Additionally, the Braves would have to part with some of their young pitching, but they are deeper than any other organization in that department. Mike Foltynewicz is the best of the major league-ready bunch and appears primed for what could be a breakout season in 2017. His electric arm profiles as a front of the rotation type starter that any club would be happy to add to its stable. Understandably, the Braves would be just as happy to see that future play out at SunTrust Park over the coming years. The idea of parting with a Max Fried, Kolby Allard or Sean Newcomb plus the other pieces to get the deal done is a high price to pay. Young starters like Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair, who have struggled to establish themselves at the big league level, are unlikely to be enough to headline a potential deal with the White Sox.
Quintana is talented, but is not the kind of impact player that traditionally yields a king’s ransom. If anything, he may be one of the more underrated pitchers in the game. On the flip side, the White Sox are right to ask for the moon in return. While Chris Sale may have taken top billing in the White Sox rotation in recent years, Quintana has established his value on an annual basis. Times have changed and some teams seem more willing to go the extra mile to get the deal done in recent years. The market will dictate the return, as it always does. There are a few questions that surround the risk vs. reward in a possible Quintana trade:
Is he valuable? Yes.
Is he durable? Absolutely.
Is he the one piece Atlanta is missing? Unlikely.