Braves among teams interested in Marlins’ Yelich

8:55 p.m Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017 Atlanta Braves
Christian Yelich has drawn interest from multiple teams including the Braves, who could improve their defense and lineup significantly by trading for the Marlins outfielder. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

New Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos has said he doesn’t intend to come out with guns blazing and trade top prospects until he gets a better feel for the organization’s top talent, but perhaps he would make an exception if he could land Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich.

He has Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, turned 26 this month and is signed to a team-friendly deal with contractual control for up to five more seasons at $58.25 million.

The Braves were among approximately 10 teams that had talked to the Marlins by Tuesday about Yelich according to Marlins writer Joe Frisaro. The Cardinals also were among teams pursuing Marlins outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Yelich in hopes of landing either, after St. Louis was spurned by no-trade-clause-wielding Giancarlo Stanton, the home-run champion traded this week to the Yankees.

The Marlins’ advanced knowledge of the Cardinals’ farm system following the Stanton negotiations made it easier for the teams to advance quickly in discussions for one of the payroll-shedding Marlins’ other two outfielders, and St. Louis agreed to a deal Wednesday for Ozuna.

That leaves only Yelich from what had been a star-studded young Marlins outfield.

Meanwhile, Anthopoulos said the Braves had become more active in discussions Tuesday on the second day of the Winter Meetings, indicating that no deal was imminent, but things had moved forward. As is his policy, he didn’t discuss any specifics or say which player or players was involved.

“We’re not close to anything, but I feel like it’s more active today, more active discussions,” Anthopoulos said. “Let’s not create a stir among the fan base like we’re about to do something. But a day ago it was pretty dormant overall. I’d say today there’s some things we need to talk about a little bit more and get into. There’s things we have a chance to explore a little further. Whether that leads to anything, who knows. 

“But a day ago there wasn’t much, and today there’s at least some things for us to talk about.”

Yelich could be expected to cost considerably more than Ozuna in a trade, given Yelich’s five years of contractual control compared with Ozuna’s two. But the Braves, with one of the two or three best farm systems in baseball, could make a deal happen if they’re willing to give up a package of young players, including a few high-level prospects, likely including at least a couple of pitchers. 

That is, unless the Marlins decide to keep Yelich or at least wait until later in the offseason to make that decision. Those who cover the Marlins said Wednesday they could see the team waiting till January to deal Yelich, but the general consensus was that he would be dealt, not kept.

While Anthopoulos said Monday he planned to take a “measured, cautious approach” in trading young players during his first year as Braves GM, he also said that improving the Braves’ defense was an offseason priority. And the speedy Yelich would definitely do that in either left field or right field, setting up a potential stellar Braves outfield of two-time Gold Glove center fielder Ender Inciarte flanked by super prospect Ronald Acuna and Yelich.

Yelich won a Gold Glove Award as a left fielder in his first full season in 2014 and played 155 games in center field in 2017.

Acuna, who turns 20 this month, was Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year and the Arizona Fall League MVP, and he’s expected to compete for a starting job in the spring. The Braves would have to move their veteran corner outfielders, Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp, to open spots for Acuna and Yelich. Trading Markakis seems doable, but the Braves might have to eat all or most of the remaining $36 million they owe Kemp over the next two years.

Yelich, who turned 26 this month, is entering the fourth season of a seven-year, $49.57 million contract that pays him $7 million in 2018, $9.75 million in 2019, $12.5 million in 2020 and $14 million in 2021 with a $15 million team option in 2022 and $1.25 million buyout.

A left-handed hitter, Yelich has a .290 average with 59 home runs, a .369 OBP and .800 OPS in just over 2,800 plate appearances through his first 4 1/2 seasons. 

He’s hit 30 or more doubles in each of his four full seasons, had 39 homers and 179 RBIs over the past two seasons while playing 311 games, and won a Silver Slugger Award in 2016 after hitting .298 with 21 homers and an .859 OPS. He was 19th in the National League MVP balloting that year.

The California native was a first-round draft pick in 2010 out of Westlake High School in Thousand Oaks, a Los Angeles suburb.