The Atlanta Braves might not be in position to contend this year, but they appear to be doing everything they can to get back to winning for years to come.
Already the owners of Keith Law's No. 1 farm system, Atlanta is poised to be among the most active clubs on the 2016-17 international market. In an interview with MLB Network Radio, Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said the team is "gonna be players" on many international free agents.
"We hope to be very active internationally," Hart said. "We're doing everything we can, I think, to put the Braves in that upper echelon of having young, quality players throughout the system."
Recently, the Braves have been linked to top Cuban prospect Lazaro "Lazarito" Armenteros, who was expected to make a decision on where he would sign last week. According to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, the 16-year-old is weighing options from new teams in the mix, which has slowed down the timetable for his decision. Still, the Braves figure to be one of his top suitors, as they held a private workout for the outfielder last Saturday.
Lazarito, who was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball on Jan. 8, could sign during the international signing period that started July 2, 2015 or wait until the next international signing period begins July 2 of this year. If he wishes to sign with Atlanta, he'll have to wait until this year's period.
Other notable names believed to be top targets of the Braves this summer are Venezuelan shortstop Kevin Maitan and catcher Abrahan Gutierrez, Ben Badler of Baseball America writes. Maitan is described as "perhaps the best 16-year-old July 2 prospect since Miguel Sano" by Badler, who expects the shortstop to land a record deal ($4 million or more) for a Venezuelan player. Gutierrez also won't come cheap, as he's projected to command a bonus of more than $3 million.
Given the young age of the international talents the Braves are targeting, it isn't likely that any of these players will see the majors in the near future. However, their additions and potential for success would give Atlanta an even deeper farm system that could help put a perennial winner back on the field for a long time.
Here are a few more rumors from the weekend making their way around the league:
Jose Fernandez: The Miami Marlins' young ace appears to be unhappy with the team for numerous reasons. Citing information from a "friend" of Fernandez, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes that the team’s trades last summer and the removal of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez upset the 23-year-old. In addition, former Marlin Jeff Baker is said to have "soured Fernandez and others on the front office." It's unknown how reliable a source Fernandez's friend is, but his claims, especially what he says about Baker, could create significant problems for the Marlins. Fernandez remains under team control through the 2018 season, so his happiness will likely be a focal point for the Marlins if they wish to retain him on a long-term deal. The right-hander is expected to seek $30 million a year if he reaches free agency, a figure Miami doesn't intend to meet, Jackson writes. Considering everything, a trade involving Fernandez could be a possibility over the next few years.
Matt Kemp: Add Kemp to the list of San Diego Padres players the Baltimore Orioles are said to be interested in. According to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, the O's and Pads discussed a deal involving Kemp this winter, with San Diego willing to eat some of the 31-year-old outfielder's salary. However, it appears a trade is unlikely and Kemp is "still not coming to Baltimore," Kubatko writes. The Orioles also discussed Andrew Cashner and James Shields with the Padres but were unable to make a deal for either. Kubatko also notes that the O's aren't listening to offers for young second baseman Jonathan Schoop and that the team is open to any bounce-back candidate returning from injury, including Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum. With Baltimore also said to be nearing a deal for Yovani Gallardo and showing interest in Dexter Fowler, Jay Bruce and Pedro Alvarez, it could be a busy week for the team.
Alex Cobb: The Tampa Bay Rays right-hander is targeting a late July return from his Tommy John surgery, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. Cobb went under the knife last May, so a July return would have him 14 months removed from his surgery. The 28-year-old enjoyed back-to-back strong campaigns in 2013 and '14 before missing all of '15 with his injury.
Brandon Belt: Having barely avoided an arbitration hearing with Belt by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal for 2016, the San Francisco Giants and their first baseman have mutual interest in a multiyear contract extension, executive vice president Brian Sabean told reporters, including Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News. "If we had a settlement figure of $5.3 (million) or $7.5 (million), it might not be as good of a springboard," Sabean said. "But I think we ended up in the joy spot, which is palatable for both sides. It's a good place to start the conversation." Belt is still two years away from free agency, which is the prime time for a team to lock up young talent that it hopes to keep for years to come. Baggarly opines that Freddie Freeman's eight-year, $135 million deal with the Braves could be a comparable benchmark for Belt.
Tyler Chatwood: The 26-year-old right-hander is looking forward to his chance at returning to the Colorado Rockies after his second Tommy John surgery, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes. "I'm really excited I get to be an athlete again," Chatwood said. "I am going to have a normal spring training and go through my outings like I normally would. We'll watch things closely, so that if I get tired we'll make sure I get the rest I need." Chatwood hasn't pitched in a major league game since April 29, 2014, and certainly there will be plenty of injury risk surrounding him for the remainder of his his career. However, the Rockies desperately need pitching, and Chatwood producing similar numbers to what he did in 2013 (3.15 ERA in 20 starts) would be a huge boost for the team.