Making Sense of the Braves’ Offseason

During an offseason that has had many fanbases bemoaning their teams’ inactivity, the Braves have stood out as one of the few very active teams. Atlanta’s freshly-extended President of Baseball Operations Alex Anthopoulos, perhaps best known for his trademarked extension strategy, has been on a trade rampage, completing nine of them between November and the time of this writing. 

Though Braves fans are probably grateful they’ve consistently had moves to discuss this offseason, more than a few of them have been head-scratchers (”Wait, you mean we’re trading away the player we just acquired… again?”). Let’s break these trades down using their surplus value numbers and see if we can find a method to the madness. For the purpose of this analysis, we’ll use the values reported at the time of each trade.*

The Braves got their offseason started by extending two relief pitchers, Pierce Johnson and Joe Jimenez, and declining their team option on two others, Collin McHugh and Kirby Yates.

Trade #1: Acquire Aaron Bummer from the White Sox for bulk

To replace some of those lost innings in the bullpen, Anthopoulos made the first of his barrage of trades, acquiring left-hander Aaron Bummer ($1.0M surplus value) in exchange for starting pitchers Michael Soroka (-$3.0M) and Jared Shuster ($2.4M), middle infielders Nicky Lopez ($5.1M) and Braden Shewmake ($2.0M), and minor league pitcher Riley Gowens (not in system).

Assuming Gowens as a net zero throw-in, this deal resulted in -$5.5M of surplus value for the Braves. It was accepted by our model as a slight overpay, but converting a group of 40-man players without clear roles in the majors into a useful reliever feels logical, so we’ll trust Anthopoulos’s thought process so far.  


Trade #2: Dump an injured pitcher

The following day, Anthopoulos completed a second trade, this time sending starting pitcher Kyle Wright ($3.5M) to the Kansas City Royals for 27-year-old starting pitcher Jackson Kowar ($0.0M).

A 5th overall pick in 2017 and a 21-game-winner as a 26-year-old in 2022, Wright seemed like he could be a long-term stalwart of the Braves rotation. A shoulder injury held Wright to just 7 starts and 9 overall appearances in his age-27 season, however, and resulted in surgery that will keep him out for the entirety of 2024. 

Content not to let Soroka’s tumultuous Braves career (one that resulted in just 10 major league appearances over the last four seasons and ended with Soroka traded as a negative asset just one day prior) repeat itself, the Braves swapped Wright for Kowar.

Though Kowar, a former first-round pick himself, profiled as more of a depth piece in Atlanta, his health meant he could contribute to the 2024 club in a way that Wright couldn’t from the injured list. With six years of team control and one option year remaining, there was long-term upside there as well, so again we can understand the logic.


Trade #3: Acquire Jarred Kelenic, mostly by taking on underwater contracts from Seattle

Kowar’s Braves career never saw the light of day, however. Less than a month later, Kowar ($0.0M) was included alongside 20-year-old minor league right-hander Cole Phillips ($3.2M) in a trade to the Mariners, bringing back left-fielder Jarred Kelenic ($19.4M), left-handed starter Marco Gonzales (-$8.8M), first-baseman Evan White (-$13.6M), and $4.5M in cash. Yet again, Anthopoulos took on negative surplus value in the trade (-$1.7M), but this time as a means of acquiring a 24-year-old outfielder who was once deemed one of the top prospects in all of baseball.

The Braves were in need of a left-handed hitting outfielder after declining the $9M club option on World Series hero Eddie Rosario’s contract, and they got one with tremendous upside in this deal.

There is some doubt that Kelenic will ever reach the heights expected of him in his Mets and Mariners days, but would anyone be surprised if hitting in the lower third of the Braves star-studded lineup finally allows him to blossom? I sure wouldn’t, especially after Kelenic showed signs of progress in the opening month of the 2023 season. We’ve all seen a salary dump before, so again no issues, but if you’re scoring at home that’s a total of -$10.7M in surplus value for the three deals.


Trade #4: Flip Gonzales, include money

This is where things start to look a little strange. Marco Gonzales, as it turns out, would be another pitcher not long for Atlanta. Two days after being dealt by Seattle, Anthopoulos flipped him and $9.25M to the Pirates in exchange for a player to be named later. Without knowing who the PTBNL is, the trade tentatively goes down as another -$0.45M in surplus value for the Braves. 


Trade #5: Flip White's underwater contract for more underwater contracts

Evan White, the other player salary dumped in the Kelenic deal, was also moved within the week, this time to the Angels for catcher Max Stassi (-$4.8M) and infielder David Fletcher (-$14.0M), another -$5.2M in surplus value. 


Trade #6: Flip Stassi, include money

Continuing the chain reaction, Stassi was traded along with $6.26M to the White Sox the very next day for another PTBNL. Assuming net zero surplus value for the PTBNL once more, this resulted in yet another -$1.46M in surplus value to the Braves.

Stassi was the fourth player acquired and immediately dealt away again by Anthopoulos, with the Braves on the hook for two of their salaries (Gonzales and Stassi) and accepting a nearly even salary amount in exchange for another (White for Fletcher).


Trade #7: Acquire Ray Kerr by taking on another underwater contract

The following week, Anthopoulos struck again, acquiring 38-year-old designated hitter Matt Carpenter (-$4.7M), 29-year-old left-handed reliever Ray Kerr ($4.5M), and $1.5M in cash for minor league outfielder Drew Campbell (not in system). Finally, the Braves took in positive surplus value, gaining $1.3M of value in the deal. 

[Release Carpenter]

Not one to actually roster the players he acquires, however, Anthopoulos released Carpenter just three days later. (Carpenter recently signed with his former team, the Cardinals, for the league’s minimum salary.) The Braves will pay Carpenter his $5.5M salary, minus the league minimum the Cards will pay, adding him to the list of players the Braves will pay to play elsewhere this season.

Kerr projects to be optionable lefty relief depth for the Braves behind A.J. Minter, Aaron Bummer, Tyler Matzek, and Dylan Lee, and is certainly a worthy acquisition.


Trade #8: Acquire Chris Sale and money for Vaughn Grissom

At this point, aside from Kelenic, the Braves had done a whole lot to seemingly accomplish very little. That perception changed a bit with their final trade, which saw them move former top prospect Vaughn Grissom ($17.1M) for Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale (-$5.7M) and $17M in cash. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Braves took in -$5.8M in surplus value on the deal. 

The promising Grissom, however, had no clear path to playing time with Ozzie Albies at second base and Orlando Arcia at shortstop. In parting with him, the Braves acquired a starting pitcher with World Series pedigree, having won it all with Boston in 2018 before signing his 5-year, $145M extension to stay there. Sale managed to pitch in just 31 games over the life of that deal following a series of unfortunate injuries that included a Tommy John surgery, a stress fracture in his right rib, a broken pinky finger suffered on a comeback line drive, and a broken wrist suffered while falling off his bicycle. 

Sale still had some promising performances during his 20-start run in 2023, however, and slots in as the #4 starter for the Braves. If they can keep him healthy and rested in the 4-spot heading into October, they’ll have the upside of a #1 they so desperately needed in last year’s playoffs.

Sale signed a 2-year $38M extension with the Braves upon completion of the deal, converting his 2025 vesting option into guaranteed money and tacking on an $18M option for 2026.


So, did you get all that?

Let’s recap: The Braves made eight trades here resulting in a total of -$22.31M in surplus value. They acquired four players that they immediately dealt to other teams, and are paying three of them to play for their new team.

The two “impact” players they acquired (Kelenic and Sale) each have major question marks. Surely Anthopoulos is off his rocker, right? Well, let’s take a closer look at these deals in aggregate:


In         Out      
Player AFV Salary Surplus   Player AFV Salary Surplus
Aaron Bummer 7.8 6.8 1   Michael Soroka 0 3 -3
Jackson Kowar     0   Braden Shewmake 6.2 4.2 2
Jarred Kelenic 36.4 17 19.4   Jared Shuster 6.3 3.9 2.4
Marco Gonzales 3.4 12.2 -8.8   Nicky Lopez 14.9 9.8 5.1
Evan White 3.4 17 -13.6   Riley Gowens     0
Cash from Seattle   -4.5 4.5   Kyle Wright 10.5 7 3.5
David Fletcher 0 14 -14   Jackson Kowar 0 0 0
Max Stassi 2.7 7.5 -4.8   Cole Phillips 3.2 0 3.2
Matt Carpenter 0.8 5.5 -4.7   Marco Gonzales 3.4 12.2 -8.8
Cash from San Diego   -1.5 1.5   Cash to Pittsburgh   -9.25 9.25
Ray Kerr 10.8 6.3 4.5   Evan White 3.4 17 -13.6
Chris Sale 21.8 27.5 -5.7   Tyler Thomas     0
Cash from Boston   -17 17   Max Stassi 2.7 7.5 -4.8
          Cash to Chicago   -6.26 6.26
Totals 87.1 90.8 -3.7   Drew Campbell     0
          Vaughn Grissom 29.7 12.6 17.1
Net 6.8 29.1 -22.3   Totals 80.3 61.7 18.6


When taken together, we can see that, although the Braves’ net surplus value from the sum of these deals is -$22.3M, their net gain in field value is $6M (taking into account that Carpenter was released and they won’t see his $0.8M). In other words, the win-now Braves purchased $6M in field value for roughly $29M in salary. 

Although one wouldn’t necessarily call that efficiency, it is a viable strategy for a team with World Series aspirations like Atlanta. Taking into account other factors, like blocked prospects (Grissom) and injured players (Wright) who have future value but would contribute little or no field value in the upcoming season, Atlanta’s intentions become even clearer. 

This sequence of trades sheds light on two important points about this site’s tools. 

First, a team’s needs, positional surpluses, and contention timeline always matter. The Braves had more major-league ready infielders than they could fit in their everyday lineup, and because they are a contender, they needed a starting pitcher that could move the needle for them in the playoffs more. For that reason, they were willing to accept a trade that they may have lost according to our models, but made sense for their ballclub at the time of the deal. 

Second, always take into account a player’s field value when evaluating a deal, not just their surplus value. It’s clear the Braves are doing that here, and it shows that Anthopoulos and company may just know what they’re doing after all. 

*One trade, the Nick Anderson deal to the Royals for cash, is excluded from this analysis since dollar figures have not been publicly shared. This trade was made just prior to the non-tender deadline, and Anderson was likely to be let go by the Braves for nothing had the Royals not stepped in.


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John Meloche

That is interesting that they still netted a positive AFV out of all the deals.