Image credit: (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
While most of the MLB offseason has moved slowly so far, the Braves and Mariners continue to be two of baseball’s busiest teams.
The two teams made a five-player trade Sunday night on the eve of the Winter Meetings. The Braves acquired lefthander Marco Gonzales, outfielder Jarred Kelenic and first baseman Evan White from the Mariners in exchange for righthander Jackson Kowar, righthanded pitching prospect Cole Phillips and cash considerations.
The trade marked the second time in less than three weeks the Braves made a major multiplayer trade. They completed a six-player deal to acquire lefthanded reliever Aaron Bummer from the White Sox on Nov. 18. They also traded righthander Kyle Wright to the Royals for Kowar on Nov. 17, only to flip Kowar to the Mariners.
The Mariners, meanwhile, continue to shed payroll in the offseason’s early goings. They traded third baseman Eugenio Suarez to the D-backs for backup catcher Seby Zavala and prospect righthander Carlos Vargas on Nov. 22, shedding Suarez’s $11.3 million salary for 2024. Gonzalez and White were due to make a combined $19.25 million next season.
Marco Gonzales, LHP
A first-round pick by the Cardinals in 2013, Gonzales found his footing after being traded to the Mariners in 2017 and spent the last six seasons in their rotation. He pitched well initially but struggled the last two years, leading the American League in losses in 2022 and going 4-1, 5.22 in 10 starts last year while dealing with a lingering nerve issue in his forearm that eventually required season-ending surgery. Gonzales is the prototypical pitchability lefty at this point with a fastball that averages 88-89 mph, a plus changeup and a curveball and cutter that round out his arsenal. He doesn’t miss many bats, but keeps the ball on the ground and stands to benefit from pitching in front of a strong Braves defense. Gonzales gives the Braves needed pitching depth and should slot into the back of their rotation as long as he returns healthy from his surgery. He is signed through 2024 with a $15 million team option for 2025.
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Jarred Kelenic, OF
Once one of the top prospects in baseball, Kelenic struggled badly in his first two seasons in the majors before showing signs of progress last year. He got off to a red-hot start before slowing down and broke a bone in his left foot kicking a Gatorade cooler after striking out in the ninth inning of a game on July 19. He returned in September and finished the year batting .253/.327/.419 with 11 home runs, 49 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 105 games. Kelenic has flashed the ability to hit for average and power from the left side but has long been held back by his volcanic temper and inability to bounce back from failure. He appeared to have finally matured and turned a corner last year, only to regress to his previous behaviors and break his foot. He has plus raw power from the left side, as he showed with a 482-foot home run at Wrigley Field on April 12, and plays above-average defense in both outfield corners, but he’s going to have to mature and learn to control his emotions in order to fulfill his potential. He’ll get a fresh start in Atlanta and will have a chance to win their starting left field job. He is under team control through 2028.
Evan White, 1B
A first-round pick by the Mariners in 2017, White signed a six-year, $24 million contract before playing a major league game but has been hamstrung by injuries. He missed most of the 2021 season after having left hip surgery, missed most of 2022 after having sports hernia surgery and played only two games at Triple-A Tacoma in 2023 after suffering a groin strain followed by another surgery on his left hip. White previously flashed elite defense at first base – he won the American League Gold Glove award as a rookie in 2020 – as well as moderate power, but his present ability is in question after so many injuries and little playing time. He is guaranteed $7 million in 2024 and $8 million in 2025 and has team options from 2026-28.
Jackson Kowar, RHP
A supplemental first-round pick in 2018, Kowar flashed promise in the minors but fell flat in three seasons in the majors with the Royals. He has a 9.12 ERA over 39 career appearances and shifted from the rotation to the bullpen in 2022. Kowar has a 94-97 mph fastball and a plus changeup, but he failed to develop his slider as a third pitch and struggled to throw strikes in the majors. He’s been ripped by opponents for a .330/.424/.559 slash line in his career and has given up 15 home runs in only 74 career innings. The Mariners have been one of baseball’s best organizations at developing pitchers in recent years and will try to fix Kowar while giving him a change of scenery. He won’t be arbitration eligible until 2026 and will be under team control through 2029.
Cole Phillips, RHP
Phillips was one of the fastest risers in the 2022 draft before having Tommy John surgery his senior year at Boerne (Texas) High. The Braves drafted him in the second round, No. 57 overall, and signed him for an above-slot $1,497,500 even with his surgery. Phillips has yet to pitch in a professional game but is due to return for the 2024 season. Prior to surgery, he showed an athletic delivery out a projectable 6-foot-3 frame, a 95-98 mph fastball and the makings of a plus slider to go with impressive command for his age. He’ll try to show that remains intact when he returns to the mound in 2024.