Following the latest bombshell to hit the already thin 2017 MLB free-agent market. maybe it really is time for the Braves to explore just what kind of return they could legitimately expect for Teheran and his VERY team-friendly deal.
Everyone’s consensus top free-agent target this winter – Stephen Strasburg – shocked most people when he agreed to a $175 million extension with the Washington Nationals earlier this week. As a result, front offices for several teams with good young Pitchers under their control for the near future have been dancing in the streets – even if they’re actually the back alleys of their offices. There seem to be two opposing views among industry “experts” about what Strasburg’s surprise decision means in the grand scheme of things, and I actually see merit on both sides. There are those who think he’s “crazy”, and that he left bags of money on the table because he was hands down the best available option for 29 other teams to get into a bidding war over in a few months. Many of them will throw out comparisons to the contracts that Max Scherzer, David Price, and Zack Greinke signed recently (with $5+ million higher AAVs), and say that they could argue that Strasburg possesses even more upside than those Pitchers. I personally find it tough to argue that they’re wrong – all three of those guys were 30 years old (or older) when they signed their mega-deals, while Strasburg will be 28 in 2017. It’s also really hard to avoid the hype surrounding him when the Nationals drafted him, when many people labeled him the best pitching prospect to be drafted in the history of the game. Of course he’s represented by super-agent Scott Boras, who’s ALWAYS been widely known as “the guy who will get more money for his players than they really deserve”. Strasburg’s already had his first Tommy John procedure, and the consensus around the game is that Pitchers who have to have a second one are “done” as effective highest-level contributors. Not only was Boras able to negotiate the highest contract ever awarded to a Pitcher who’s undergone the procedure for his client, he got him $65 million more than former teammate Jordan Zimmerman received from the Tigers last winter (another Tommy John survivor), he also got him a similar amount of total dollars as fellow “Aces” Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander got when they signed their extensions, and neither of those Pitchers has had the procedure yet. Ultimately Strasburg might have given up a little money, but he gained complete security by doing so – protecting the health of his elbow doesn’t have to be the main concern for the rest of this season, so now he can just go pitch.
While no one (not even the biggest of Braves “homers”) would dare to say Julio and Strasburg are “comparable”, it does seem fair to view Teheran as one of the most valuable potential trade chips now that no one will have the opportunity to simply throw money at a front of the rotation type of Pitcher to help their cause if they view themselves as legitimate contenders over the next couple of seasons. The best starters potentially available (assuming options aren’t exercised or players aren’t also extended) have now become Matt Moore, Edinson Volquez, Gio Gonzalez, Jason Hammel, Jaime Garcia, Andrew Cashner, R. A. Dickey, and Jon Niese (in no particular order), and it’s relatively easy to make the case that Julio offers a far better alternative than any of those names. Assuming an acquiring team exercises his option year, Teheran’s under control through 2020 for $37.3 million – $9.325 million/season plus whatever would be left of his $3.3 million in 2016 if/when he was traded. When you consider that he’d still be under 30 years old at the end of his current deal, he’s one of the best bargains in baseball right now. No, he’s not an “Ace”, but he’s being paid like a #4. How good would he make rotations in smaller markets look?
Just for kicks, imagine how much he might impact teams with limited resources like the Royals, Orioles, Mariners, Giants, or the Astros (my personal favorite). All of those teams are solidly “in the mix”, and all of them could also use someone like Julio to SERIOUSLY deepen their rotations – allowing them all to slide most of their current starters down one slot. You don’t think teams would be seriously concerned about having to deal with a Giants’ rotation (in an even-numbered year, no less) consisting of Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Teheran? Now that Kevin Gausman appears to be turning the corner, how tough would it be to deal with the Orioles’ offense if they were also able to run Chris Tillman, Gausman, Julio, and potentially Dylan Bundy out to the mound in a playoff series? King Felix, Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, and Teheran sure would look like a handful.
While most people still view the Cubs as the most logical fit in a Teheran deal – understandably so since a Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Teheran foursome is enough to give anyone nightmares – the two most-often mentioned players they’re speculated to offer if a deal is eventually struck (Javier Baez and Jorge Soler), just aren’t quite “perfect” fits. Either would fit from the perspective that they’d be right-handed bats with power potential, but both come with HIGH strikeout rates, and Soler offers questionable defense at best.
My mind continues to drift back to Houston as the best fit if Teheran’s traded. They’re a smaller-market payroll team with a lot of young, controllable pieces in place who are legitimate contenders RIGHT NOW if they could add an inexpensive arm like Julio without completely blowing up their farm system to go get someone like Sonny Gray. They have plenty of offense – Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Gomez, Luis Valbuena, and Colby Rasmus – to support their pitching staff if they just had ONE more good arm, and they traded away a couple of their prospects that might’ve filled that role when they went out and got Ken Giles last offseason. They’d be pretty scary with Dallas Keuchel fronting a rotation ahead of Lance McCullers and Vincent Velasquez right now. If they could slot Teheran in Velasquez’ place and they could get anything resembling past performances from Mike Fiers, Collin McHugh, or Doug Fister at the back of their rotation, they’d become a really tough “out”.
Another former SEC SS, Bregman was the #2 overall pick in last year’s draft (behind Dansby Swanson). Alex projects to have significantly more power than Swanson should with a much lower strikeout rate (and better approach) than either Baez or Soler, which would make him a great candidate to be the Braves’ 3B of the future. He’s currently slashing .314/.422/.671/1.093 with 4 2Bs and 7 HRs for the Astros’ AA affiliate (Corpus Christi). With Correa entrenched as their SS for a long time, Houston’s likely just leaving him there defensively for a little while longer before sliding him over to the hot corner. A player like Bregman would seemingly fit the Braves’ needs and timeline perfectly as a right-handed bat with pop and above-average on-base skills who will be “ready” just about anytime the organization called on him. That doesn’t even begin to consider how much the team’s young Pitchers would appreciate having an infield full of Shortstops playing behind them.
While Bregman would certainly be a high price to pay, he’d cost much less than the asking price to obtain than the return Gray’s likely going to command (if the A’s actually do decide to make him “available”), and Julio would be a far less-risky financial investment when you consider the fact that Gray begins to cash-in in arbitration this winter. The Astros would still have Colin Moran as a long-term 3B option. Given the thunder they have in their lineup, having a 3B who only projects to hit 12-15 HRs a year isn’t that big a deal (not to mention they have the flexibility of using a power guy as a DH).
Adding Bregman wouldn’t only “solve” the Braves’ infield situation (both short and long-term), it would also provide even more financial flexibility for the franchise – money that could be spent on that one more power bat (such as Yoenis Cespedes), on a mid-level free-agent Catcher who’s strong defensively (such as Francisco Cervelli), on a mid-level veteran free-agent SP (such as Jaime Garcia), in the bullpen, and on extensions for long-term pieces. We all understand it’s seldom been the “Braves’ Way” to spend on the higher end of the free-agent market, but moving Teheran in a deal for Bregman and trading Nick Markakis for whatever live arms (or maybe a Catcher prospect) they could get would set them up to bid on Yoenis Cespedes to round out a really strong lineup as SunTrust Park opens its doors in April of 2017 – and you’ve suddenly become a contender when most people have said being competitive next year is nothing but a pipe dream…
2B- Albies, SS- Swanson, 1B- Freeman, LF- Cespedes, 3B- Bregman, C- Cervelli, RF- Inciarte, CF- Smith
Rotation: Aaron Blair, Matt Wisler, Garcia, Mike Foltynewicz, Tyrell Jenkins/John Gant/Lucas Sims
No, you wouldn’t have an “Ace”, but you don’t have one even if you hang onto Teheran. Folty and Sims have that type of upside as does Sean Newcomb, Kolby Allard, Max Fried, and someone like A. J. Puk (if he were to be there when the Braves pick #3 in June’s draft), any of whom could be here as early as 2018.