Braves fans have craved action on the free-agent or trade fronts since Atlanta’s postseason ended abruptly with a Wild Card loss to St. Louis.
Well, there could at least be some rumblings from the desert during the annual general managers’ meetings Wednesday through Friday in Indian Wells, Calif.
Things are usually relatively sedate at the GM meetings compared to the annual Winter Meetings held in December, as teams do more laying of groundwork for trades rather than actual finalizing of deals. But two years ago the Braves pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade for Dan Uggla from the Marlins on the first day of the GM meetings in Orlando.
This year the Braves have not one but two holes to fill in their lineup – center fielder/leadoff man and either a left fielder or third baseman — and are believed to have about $25 million to spend on those two players’ salaries for next season.
Braves GM Frank Wren has been known to strike quickly when a possible deal arises.
“It’s always unlikely something major is going to happen at the GM meetings, because it’s usually just too early for the clubs to have gotten all the information they need,” he said. “You get accustomed to the dance that happens at the GM meetings, where you don’t really get to the specifics that you’d like, but you get an additional round of information.”
But, Wren said, you never know when a deal might materialize sooner than anticipated. Such as the Uggla trade, which Wren and Marlins GM Larry Beinfest had discussed for a few days before the meetings, then finalized quickly when the two were chatting during a group meeting on the first morning of the GM gathering in Orlando.
This year, there is reason to believe the GM meetings, and especially the subsequent four weeks period leading up to the Winter Meetings Dec. 3-6 in Nashville, could be more eventful than in the past. That’s because under baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement some key free-agency rules have changed.
In the past, teams didn’t have to offer arbitration to their own free agents until early December to assure they’d get draft-pick compensation if they lost those free agents to another team. That served to slow the free-agent market, because other teams would wait to find out which players were offered arbitration and would thus cost them a draft pick or picks to sign.
Under the new system, teams were required to make one-year, $13.3 million “qualifying offers” to their own free agents by Friday, five days after the World Series ended, and those players have seven days to accept or decline those offers.
Any free agent who receives a qualifying offer and then signs with another team will cost that team its top draft pick, or its second pick if the first pick is among the draft’s overall top 10.
By Friday, GMs will know exactly which free agents are available and which ones will cost a draft pick to sign.
“The timetables for some of the offseason dates have been moved up as part of the news basic agreement,” Wren said, “which should lead, I think in some cases, to guys having a better feel for their position in the marketplace. I would think that would lend to some possible quicker decisions, but it’s hard to say. Every market takes on its own characteristics.”
The Braves made a qualifying offer to their free-agent center fielder Michael Bourn, who’ll surely reject it as his agent, Scott Boras, looks for a salary in excess of $15 million annually in a multi-year deal for the stolen-base specialist and two-time former Golden Glove winner.
The Braves seem unlikely to offer nearly that much for a 30-year-old whose greatest asset is speed — an asset that usually doesn’t age as well as some others including power.
Wren said immediately after the season that the Braves would not overpay for free agents, and might look for two players for the salary of one top-salary-tier free agent if they can get more production from those two. That statement would seem to preclude the Braves from pursuing free-agent Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton, who reportedly seeks a long-term contract worth around $25 million annually.
The Braves could search for a replacement center fielder via trade – Minnesota’s Denard Span, Colorado’s Dexter Fowler and others could be available – or free agency, where San Francisco’s Angel Pagan stands out as someone who might produce comparable stats to Bourn and come at a cheaper price and perhaps a contract of two or three years instead of four or five.
Pagan didn’t receive a qualifying offer from the Giants, so he couldn’t cost any draft-pick compensation to sign.
A switch-hitting former Met traded to San Francisco last winter, Pagan hit .288 with a league-leading 15 triples, a career-best 38 doubles and eight homers with 29 steals in 37 attempts. He made $4.85 million in 2012 and could more than double that salary as a free agent.
The Braves will move Martin Prado to third base to replace retired Chipper Jones if they decide the market is better suited to acquire a power-hitting left fielder than a third baseman, which appears will be the case.
Among free-agent outfielders, Dodgers (and ex-Phillies) center fielder Shane Victorino and the Angels’ Torii Hunter, 37, didn’t receive qualifying offers and could be signed without giving up a draft pick.
Cincinnati left fielder Ryan Ludwick, 34, became a free agent after opting out of a $5 million option for 2013. He hit .275 with 26 home runs and 80 RBIs for the the Reds.