3 inexpensive trade options the Braves should consider in Acuña's absence

Losing your star player is never easy but the Atlanta Braves have to find a way to replace theirs.

How will Alex Anthopoulos address the loss of Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr?
How will Alex Anthopoulos address the loss of Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr? / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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Atlanta Braves fans held their breath and hoped for the best when Ronald Acuña Jr. went down on Sunday. Unfortunately, their worst fears were realized when the team announced that he’d torn the ACL in his left knee.

Acuña will miss the remainder of this season and most – probably all – of the 2025 season as well. Initially, the club is looking to internal options to fill the roster spot, promoting J.P Martinez as their fourth outfielder. However, it’s likely a better option is needed.

In 2021, Atlanta Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos pulled a rabbit – make that three rabbits – out of his hat after the injury that ended the season for Ronald Acuña Jr. If he decides to make a trade this year, these players could be targets.

In-house options to replace Ronald Acuña Jr.

Adam Duvall is 35, and injuries restricted him to 86 games in 2022 and 92 games in 2023. Despite his reputation as a lefty-masher, over the past three seasons, he batted only .212/.270/.444/.715 and struck out in 33.5% of his PA.

Jarred Kelenic’s been a stud defender since his arrival but historically struggles against lefties. It seems the Braves may be ready to send Marcell Ozuna out to play left field and use one of their catchers as DH. That’s not ideal. So, who might the Braves look at, and what would it cost?

Potential Braves trade targets to replace Acuña

JJ Bleday – Oakland L/L Pre-Arb

JJ Bleday was the fourth player drafted in 2019 and immediately became one of baseball’s top 100 prospects, a role he held until he aged off the list in 2023.

Oakland sent A. J. Puk to Miami in exchange for Bleday in February 2023. After platooning Bleday in 2023, he became the Athletics everyday center fielder in 2024 and is currently batting .240/.315/.464/.778 with a .336 wOBA and 122 wRC+. He’s pre-arb this season with roughly $500K remaining on his contract and under team control through 2028.

His arbitration status and contract fit the Braves' needs, and right field looks like his best position, though his glove needs improvement. He’s 26 years old and probably not in the Athletics future, but he is inexpensive, so I suspect it would cost the Braves three good prospects to acquire Bleday.

Connor Joe – Pirates R/R – Free Agent 2028

The Braves saw a lot of Connor Joe over the weekend; he went 5-11 in the series, including 2-3 against Chris Sale on Sunday. The Pirates selected Joe in the 1st round of the 2014 draft but traded him to the Braves in August 2017 in exchange for Sean Rodriguez. The Braves traded him to LA for international draft money a month later.

He had two seasons with the Rockies and was a fan favorite when they traded him to the Bucs. The Pirate gave him more playing time and he’s performed well in the outfield and at first base. He’s currently batting .280/.351/.458/.809 with a .255 wOBA and 131 wRC+, which sounds like a reason to keep him, except that he’s 32 in August and a free agent at the end of the year.

There’s roughly $1.4M remaining on Joe’s contract, he’s played both corner outfield spots well and, as we saw, also plays a solid first base. He hits both right and left-handed pitchers well, so there’s no reason to platoon him. Joe should be that costly because he’s 32 and a free agent with three arbitration years remaining after this season.

Jesse Winker – Nationals – L/L Free Agent 2025

The Reds selected Winker in the first round of the 2012 draft, and he remained with the team through the 2021 season. While he hit 24 homers in his last season with the Reds, he’s always been more of a gap-to-gap hitter with double-digit homers and doubles.

He batted 288/.385/.504/.888 as a Red, but after being traded to the Mariners in March 2022, recurring injuries meant he never found the same groove with the M’s. In December, the Mariners traded to the Brewers, where his injury issues continued. Back spasms sent him to the IL in July, and he missed the rest of the season.

This season with the Nationals, he’s batting .235/.348/.398/.746 with a .333 wOBA and 116 wRC+, and seven stolen bases in eight attempts. He walks 12% of the time and strikes out 23.2%, a significant increase from his time with the Reds in a small sample size.

Winker’s 31 in August and on a one-year deal with about $1.33M remaining. He played a lot during Lane Thomas' absence, but he’s a free agent at the end of the year and wouldn’t be an expensive addition.

 Tyler O'Neill could fill the Atlanta Braves outfield need, but can the Braves afford him?
Tyler O'Neill could fill the Atlanta Braves outfield need, but can the Braves afford him? / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

More Expensive Options

If the Braves could move David Fletcher’s contract, it might be possible to add a more expensive player. Daulton Varsho and Tyler O’Neil may also be available, but both would add about $3.75M to the payroll, and I doubt they’ll do that without some creative accounting,

And let’s not forget that the Braves need to add at least one starting pitcher – Eric Fedde, for example – to make a serious postseason run.

When it comes to cost, the Atlanta Braves have proved willing to spend to reach the World Series. But, as Mark Polishuk explained in a post for MLBTR discussing the Zach Eflin rumor, the long-term cost of an expensive addition is more than money.

That’s a Wrap

Some fans want the Atlanta Braves to simply go out and get a better player as if it’s as easy as going to Amazon and ordering one. Smart fans know It isn’t easy or cheap. 

Alex Anthopoulos has found ways of adding players without trading significant prospects. However, the Braves’ farm system is short on high-upside prospects, and those they have represent the future of the rotation.

He'll resist trading those pitchers and busting the third CBT threshold because it's hard to find quality prospects in what’s effectively the late second or early third round.

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