3 back-up starting pitcher targets for the Braves with Sonny Gray off the market

Braves fans got a rude awakening yesterday with the news that Sonny Gray is off the market.

Sep 5, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease (84)
Sep 5, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease (84) / Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
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The Atlanta Braves had long been mentioned as a landing spot for free agent pitcher Sonny Gray this offseason. On the surface, the fit made perfect sense as he fit the preferred Braves' mold of a proven guy that wasn't going to require a long-term deal and Atlanta definitely needs to add at least one quality starter this offseason. Unfortunately, most of the league wants guys like that and, as it turns out, Gray's preference was to play for the Cardinals from the beginning so St. Louis was able to swoop in and snag him on a three year deal.

All of a sudden, the guy who was arguably the best option for the Braves given their contract preferences is off the market and things have been decidedly trickier for Atlanta this offseason. There are plenty of starting pitchers available, but most of the good ones are going to require a lot of money and will also come with qualifying offers attached which means they would cost draft picks to sign. While this isn't an ideal situation for the Braves, they still have some good options out there.

Here are some alternative starting pitching targets for the Braves with Sonny Gray no longer available

The Braves are in a good enough position that they don't need to force anything going into 2024. Moreover, it is important to be realistic in our expectations in what the Braves may be willing to do especially considering their luxury tax situation, so guys like Shohei Ohtani (who wouldn't be able to help them on mound in 2024 anyways) and Yoshinobu Yamamoto are probably not going to happen. That said, there are still some intriguing starter options out there that the Braves should be in play to bring into the fold.

Let's take a look at some of the better starting pitcher options left for the Braves this offseason.

Dylan Cease

After a couple years of seemingly not wanting to make any notable trades, general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been busy on the trade market in recent seasons including a stellar 2021 trade deadline as well as acquiring Matt Olson and Sean Murphy. Assuming a world where the Braves don't want to hand out big time years and dollars to a free agent pitcher, one name that is an intriguing trade option is the White Sox's Dylan Cease.

As soon as the Gray news broke, rumors started coming in that the Braves were among the teams that were engaged in trade discussions for Cease. Frankly, it is hard to blame the Braves for considering him as he is a power rotation arm who was one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2022 when he put up a 2.20 ERA and finished second in the AL Cy Young race. He misses bats as well which is always a plus.

In the end, it is all going to come down to the White Sox's price tag for Cease. There were some signs of regression out of Cease last season as his fastball lost a tick of it's velo, he got hit harder than you would expect, and his ERA jumped to 4.58 ERA thanks, in part, to finally getting punished for having a less than ideal walk rate. Assuming the Braves conclude that Cease's struggles last season were primarily because of all the trade chatter and the fact that the White Sox organization was a catastrophe last year, Atlanta should push to acquire Cease so long as they don't have to trade away too much for his two years of team control.

Jordan Montgomery

While the Braves have been reticent to sign free agents (especially pitchers) to long-term, big money deals, there have been some signs that Anthopoulos does have an open mind about it. The Braves were obviously in on Gray who was always going to command $21+ million a year and Atlanta was reported as willing to give Aaron Nola a six year deal for north of $160 million before he went back to the Phillies. Assuming that those reports are true and the Braves can still spend a good bit on a starter, the guy they need to key in on is Jordan Montgomery.

No player made themselves more money from their play on the field in 2023 than Montgomery. After several years of being a super reliable source of quality innings for the Yankees and Cardinals, Monty broke out in 2023 with St. Louis and Texas with a 3.20 ERA and dominating after the Rangers acquired him at the trade deadline including during Texas' playoff run.

Montgomery checks a lot of boxes that should appeal to the Braves even though he is going to require at least five years at $25+ million to sign. He doesn't get a ton of swing and miss, but he throws a lot of strikes and both his fastball and curve grade out well despite not being overpowering offerings. As an added bonus, Monty wasn't eligible to receive a qualifying offer this offseason, so there is no worry about losing any draft picks to sign him given that the Braves are over the luxury tax threshold.

If the Braves are going to actually spend a chunk of money on a starter this offseason, and that is still a big "if", they can do a lot worse than signing Jordan Montgomery.

Eduardo Rodriguez

It is possible that the Braves don't want to spend nine figures on a pitcher this offseason. While that certainly limits their options when it comes to quality arms, it would also fit the Braves' pattern of not wanting to be too invested in any one player.

Every team needs more pitching to be sure, but pitchers are also one of the worst investments a team can make as they are by far the most likely type of player to get hurt. Sometimes you get unicorns like Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander who dominate for a long time, but even those two guys have dealt with injuries in recent years. You also can get situations like Stephen Strasburg or Patrick Corbin whose contracts are among the worst in baseball right now.

So, if the Braves decide to hold firm to the philosophy of not being overly leveraged in their rotation, one guy that could serve as a bit of a middle ground is Eduardo Rodriguez. A finger injury messed him up in 2023, but Rodriguez was one of the better pitchers in the American League before the injury last season and he has generally been a guy that doesn't give up a ton of hard contact in his career despite some recent regression there.

E-Rod wouldn't be a perfect fit for the Braves. While his 2.64 ERA in the first half last year was great, it was more than a run worse in the second half and he does have a bit of a history of getting randomly hurt including a bout with myocarditis in 2020. However, assuming his contract demands are in the eight figures on a four year deal or so, Atlanta should give him strong consideration.

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