MLB’s annual Winter Meetings are this coming week in Nashville and the stove is starting to get hot. The Atlanta Braves have acquired outfielder Jarred Kelenic, left-hander Marco Gonzales, and first baseman Evan White from the Seattle Mariners for righties Jackson Kowar and Cole Phillips, the team announced late Sunday night. Atlanta also receives cash in the trade.
“I want to thank Marco, JK, and Evan for the contributions to our club. All three played key roles at different stages of our growth over the past several seasons,” Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said in a statement. “As we continue to work through this offseason with a goal of improving our team for 2024 and beyond, we believe the additions of Jackson Kowar and Cole Phillips, as well as the roster and payroll flexibility created tonight, will move us closer to that goal.”
For the Braves, the trade gives them a new left fielder in Kelenic and much-needed rotation depth in Gonzales. The oft-injured White could be flipped elsewhere or even released. He certainly will not unseat Matt Olson at first base. The Mariners get a solid prospect in Phillips but mostly salary relief, allowing them to upgrade other parts of their roster in the coming weeks.
Kelenic, who is still only 24, was once one of the top prospects in baseball. He has struggled mightily in the big leagues, however, and it appears Seattle has finally run out of patience. He is a career .204/.283/.373 hitter in 252 MLB games, though it was a more respectable .253/.327/.419 slash line with 11 home runs in 105 games around a foot injury this past season.
Atlanta declined Eddie Rosario’s club option earlier this offseason and Kelenic can step right into Rosario’s lefty-hitting platoon left field role. Given his pedigree, there is still considerable ceiling here, though Kelenic’s swing and miss issues are extreme. He cannot become a free agent until after the 2028-29 offseason. This is potentially a long-term addition for the Braves.
Gonzales, 31, had a 5.22 ERA in 10 starts around a forearm injury that eventually required surgery this year. From 2018-22, he was a competent league average innings eater who specialized at weak contact. Once healthy, Gonzales will give the Braves a veteran option behind top four starters Bryce Elder, Max Fried, Charlie Morton, and Spencer Strider.
The 27-year-old White has not played in the big leagues since 2021 because of ongoing injuries and poor performance. He is a career .165/.235/.308 hitter in 84 MLB games.. Needless to say, that contract has not worked out for the team at all.
In Gonzales and White, the Braves absorbed $29 million in salary obligation over the next two years. Gonzales is owed $12 million in 2024. White is owed $7 million in 2024, $8 million in 2025, and a $2 million buyout on his $10 million club option for 2026.and Seattle has shed $30 million in 2024 dollars already this offseason.
What the Mariners will do with that money remains to be seen. They are believed to be out on Shohei Ohtani already, though Juan Soto is on the trade block, and he’s projected to earn $30 million or so through arbitration in 2023. He’d slot nicely into Seattle’s roster and also into their payroll now. Plenty of other free-agent bats would fit with the Mariners as well.
The Braves acquired Kowar from the Kansas City Royals earlier this offseason in a one-for-one trade for Kyle Wright. The 27-year-old has allowed 79 runs in 74 career MLB innings and is a change of scenery candidate. Atlanta selected Phillips in the second round in 2022. He did not pitch in 2023 due to injury.