Winter Meetings Day 4: No major deals for Braves in San Diego

BY Zach Dillard • December 11, 2014

There was no splash.

The Atlanta Braves were among the most active teams in baseball before the Winter Meetings kicked off at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel this week, and there were strong indications more waves were on the way. After trading star outfielder Jason Heyward, acquiring young starter Shelby Miller and talented prospect Tyrell Jenkins and signing former Orioles Jim Johnson and Nick Markakis -- the latter to a four-year, $44 million deal to take Heyward's spot in right -- the Braves were embracing wholesale changes.

That activity slowed to a crawl on the West Coast.

There were rumors and rumblings, but at the end of the day, Atlanta's most significant moves involved signing a little-known Cuban outfield prospect and a stop-gap infielder. The team's two buzz-worthy trade chips, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis, remain on the roster. The fifth spot in the rotation remains open. According to any and all reports, Braves president of baseball operations John Hart, assistant general manager John Coppolella and their staff listened to a multitude of talks involving Upton, Gattis and other pieces on the roster, but nothing came to fruition.

While the Dodgers, Marlins, Tigers and others reshuffled their respective decks, the Braves didn't find the blockbuster deal they were looking for.

There's still plenty of time this offseason, and it's a safe bet that the phone will be ringing at the Turner Field offices. Still, after weeks of building anticipation, Atlanta's 2014 Winter Meetings will be marked by inactivity and the big move that never happened.

Baseball's Rule 5 Draft is hyped as the diamond-in-the-rough event at the Winter Meetings, the avenue that provided savvy (and fortunate) clubs with the likes of Josh Hamilton, Dan Uggla and Johan Santana. Operating in a similar fashion and draft order as the first-year player draft, the Rule 5 Draft allows teams to draft players not protected on opposing teams' 40-man rosters. There are stipulations to keeping drafted players -- it costs $50,000 per selection in the major league phase and they must be placed immediately on the 40-man roster and stick on the 25-man roster, etc. -- but there's always the outside chance of landing significant major league help.

The Braves, however, have rarely utilized their Rule 5 selections. Since the turn of the century, the franchise had selected two players, Robert Fish (2011) and Chris Spurling (2002), in the event. That wasn't the case on Thursday.

Atlanta used its No. 15 pick to take Rockies minor leaguer Danny Winkler, a 24-year-old right-hander who underwent Tommy John surgery in June.

The Braves also selected Diamondbacks minor leader catcher Steven Rodriguez, who will provide some organizational depth at the position, in the Triple-A phase of the draft.

Winkler, a former 20th-round selection in the 2011 amateur draft, was in the middle of an impressive 2014 season before being sidelined by the elbow injury. In 12 starts for Double-A Tulsa, Winkler posted a career-best 1.41 ERA. He struck out 71 batters and walked only 17 in his 70 innings of work. One of the reasons the franchise made the move for the 6-foot-1 right-hander is that he will not be subjected to the use-him-or-lose-him stipulation -- if a drafted player does not stick on the 25-man roster, he must be offered back to his former team for $25,000 -- since he is expected to spend the majority of the '15 season on the disabled list. He will need to stick on the Braves' 25-man roster for at least 90 days starting in 2016.

The Braves also lost a player in the major league phase of the draft.

Hard-throwing right-hander J.R Graham, who was once one of the top prospects in the organization before suffering through injury issues and a drop off in production, was selected by the Minnesota Twins with the No. 5 pick after not being placed on the Braves' 40-man roster. On the other hand, another Atlanta prospect that drew attention in the draft's build-up, right-hander Cody Martin, will remain in the club's system after not being selected. If Graham does not stick on the Twins 25-man roster, the Braves will have an opportunity to re-purchase his contract after the season. (The Twins also parted ways with former Braves prospect Sean Gilmartin on Thursday, who was selected in the Rule 5 Draft by the New York Mets.)

All in all, the Braves took a flyer ... and that was just about the extent of their noteworthy activity on the Winter Meetings' final day.

With the return of Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Mike Minor to Atlanta's rotation, Shelby Miller, the MLB-ready return piece of the Jason Heyward trade, is going to be expected to replace the production of Ervin Santana in 2015.

Santana signed a one-year, $14.1 million contract and delivered on it last season, posting a 14-10 record with a 3.95 ERA and 2.8 wins above replacement. On the heels of that performance, his second consecutive quality campaign, the veteran began seeking a long-term deal the Braves were not willing to offer. Atlanta did its due diligence, though, submitting a one-year qualifying offer to guarantee a compensatory pick if and when another team signed Santana.

That process came to a close on Thursday thanks to, again, the Minnesota Twins.

The Twins agreed to terms with Santana on a four-year, $54 million deal (plus a fifth-year vesting option) on the final day of the Winter Meetings -- the richest free agent contract in franchise history.

In return, the Braves receive the Twins' draft pick in the 2015 June Amateur Draft's compensatory round. Previous Atlanta draft picks in compensatory rounds include Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Kelly Johnson and Jason Marquis.

The Braves arrived in San Diego with very specific needs: second base, starting pitching and, possibly, more quality bench depth. The Braves' brass will board its return flight without acquiring a fifth starter, but it did make a significant addition at arguably its most contentious position.

The addition of veteran infielder Alberto Callaspo on a one-year deal worth a reported $3 million plus incentives likely answers the team's question of who will start at second on Opening Day (barring a future deal involving Chris Johnson, which would make Callaspo an option at third base, too). Callaspo split his defensive work between first, second and third base last season for Oakland, and has played every position outside of catcher and center field over his nine-year career.

However, it remains an interesting, albeit slightly troublesome, situation for the franchise. After trading Tommy La Stella and seeing Ramiro Pena electing free agency after being designated for assignment earlier in the offseason, the team entered the Winter Meetings with Phil Gosselin, Tyler Pastornicky and standout prospect Jose Peraza as potential starting options on the active roster. Callaspo's presence will likely help provide as a stop-gap until Peraza is ready as well as allow the team to use Gosselin in more of a utility role. There's also the possibility of using Callaspo, Johnson and Gosselin in a type of rotating platoon.

Just how well the 31-year-old can fill those roles next season remains up in the air.

Callaspo, a switch hitter with better career numbers against lefties, is coming off one of the worst seasons of his MLB career, hitting just .223/.290/.290 in 451 plate appearances with the Oakland A's. That was good enough for a minus-1.1 WAR, tied for the second-worst mark among all MLB second basemen with at least 200 plate appearances.

The Braves are, obviously, banking on a bounce-back season.

If not, and if the team wants to contend in the NL East next season (as its veteran-heavy offseason moves allude to), Pereza's time could come sooner rather than later.


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