Rumors: The Atlanta Braves May Use A.J. Smith-Shawver As Trade Bait

The trade deadline is hurtling toward the Atlanta Braves at an ever-increasing pace but Alex Anthopoulos has a slow heartbeat. Is he preparing to steal an ace?

 The Atlanta Braves may trade starting pitcher prospect AJ Smith-Shawver for Major-League-Ready pitching.
The Atlanta Braves may trade starting pitcher prospect AJ Smith-Shawver for Major-League-Ready pitching. / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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Fans are demanding that Atlanta Braves president of baseball operations and GM Alex Anthopoulos wave his wand and make something happen immediately. But that’s not the way it works.

Anthopoulos moved quickly to do the possible - reinforcing the bullpen with the promotion of Daysbel Hernandez and adding discarded lottery tickets to make spot starts and put a finger in the dike until better, long-term options are available.

Atlanta Braves Starting Pitching 

Strider is still Strider, Morton struggled in his last outing, but he’ll figure it out. Fried will return, but Elder has come down off the mountain to look like the fifth starter many scouts projected him to be.

The Braves bats carried them while their horses were injured but they’ve predictably slowed down after the All-Star Break.

Braves minor league pitchers struggled to fill the starting pitching void, Wright won’t return until September, and Elder’s regression makes his starts problematic at best.

In Friday’s Braves Beat newsletter, Mark Bowman opined that the future for a pitcher everyone hoped would become an ace isn’t rosy.

“Will (Michael Soroka) ever get back to where he was before he tore his right Achilles tendon…The odds are heavily against him. Could he be an effective No. 4 or No. 5 … that's still a possibility”
Mark Bowman

That’s not what any of us want to hear but Soroka’s been a shadow of his former self. The Braves unexpectedly sent him down after his last start, signaling they believe he needs a lot more time.

Atlanta Braves’ Prospect Capital

Bowman also made the case that adding all the lottery-ticket arms is a way of adding bullpen depth so the Braves can trade A.J. Smith-Shawver.

“My feeling is …(the Braves) may need to use some of their key pieces to acquire a key reliever or starter (and Smith-Shawver) is coveted by other teams…”
Mark Bowman

Trent wrote about a potential deal for Eduardo Rodriguez, but his contract includes a player option when the season ends. He’ll certainly exercise his option if he pitches well and declines it to earn $49M over the next three years if he doesn't.

An earlier post discussed a potential deal for Michael Lorenzen, but his 1.95 ERA in May came with an unsustainable .198 BAbip. His 5.03 ERA in June with a .302 BAbip looks more realistic. He shouldn’t cost much as he’s a rental and a lottery ticket.

We know Anthopoulos prefers to add players under long-term control when he gives up his best. With that in mind, I’ve found two pitchers who might be available, but I haven’t seen them linked to the Braves. Since rumors of Anthopolous' interest in a player are rarely accurate, not being linked to Atlanta isn’t a bad thing.

The Atlanta Braves may be interested in acquiring pitcher Mitch Keller, but the cost would be high.
The Atlanta Braves may be interested in acquiring pitcher Mitch Keller, but the cost would be high. / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Mitch Keller – RHP Pirates 

Keller is A 27, earns $2.44M this year, and is under team control through 2025. He throws a four-seamer at 95.5mph (25%), a 94mph sinker (22%), a 90mph cutter (22%), an 83mph slider (17%), and a curve (10%).

In 128 innings over 21 starts, Keller allowed 16 homers, struck out 137, and walked 37 while pitching to a 4.01 ERA, 3.80 FIP, and 1.20 WHIP.

Keller’s the best the Pirates have, and I doubt they’ll let him go easily. In a piece this morning for MLBTR, Mark Polishuk agreed with that assessment.

…Keller seems like the longer shot, as Pittsburgh is perhaps only listening to trade offers out of due diligence, and would command a huge prospect return in any deal…

Because of the prospect cost, and the fact that Ben Cherrington isn’t an idiot, I’d set the odds of Keller becoming a Braves at 5%; that’s high, but I’m an optimist.

Aaron Civale – RHP Guardians

Civale earns $2.6M this year and is under team control via arbitration through 2025. He throws an 88mph cutter(39%), a 78mph curve(25%), a 92mph sinker (16%), and a 92mph four-seamer (13%) to keep batters honest.

Civale’s having his best year with Cleveland, pitching to a 2.54 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, striking out 54, and walking 20 in 71 IP over 12 starts. He induces batters to chase pitches off the at a 34% rate and features a 39.6% groundball rate.

Speculation about his availability stems from the moves the Guardians made in recent years, trading Kluber, Bauer, and Clevinger to boost their system and replacing them with a seemingly endless line of young pitchers.

The Guardians are in second place in the weakest division in baseball and playing .500 ball, 1.5 games behind the Twins. Fangraphs gives them a 25% chance of winning the division and a 0.5% chance of winning a Wild Card series.

I suspect they will trade and a deal including Smith-Shawver and Owen Murphy is, on paper, fair value. However, the Guardians need run producers. Maybe there’s a three-team deal that works, but on their own, the Braves can’t offer what the Guardians need.

The odds of Civale becoming a Brave via trade, 15%.

That’s a Wrap

The odds of finding a controllable starting pitcher worth the investment are thin, but if anyone can make it happen, Anthopoulos can.

The more likely outcome is acquiring a rental like Jordan Montgomery from St. Louis and adding more late-inning bullpen depth. I’ll discuss that option in my next post.