The Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox hooked up for the first significant trade of the offseason late Thursday night. Atlanta acquired lefty reliever Aaron Bummer from the ChiSox for a five-player package: righty Michael Soroka, lefty Jared Shuster, infielders Nicky Lopez and Braden Shewmake, and minor-league righty Riley Gowens. Both teams have announced the trade.
Bummer, 30, had an unsightly 6.79 ERA in 58 1/3 innings in 2023, though he pitched to a 2.59 ERA from 2019-22, and his underlying numbers were very strong. The gap between Bummer's ERA and FIP (3.58) was the largest of any pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched in 2023. The Braves are betting on positive regression and Bummer returning to his pre-2023 form.
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Bummer does walk a few too many (13.5% vs. 8.6% MLB average), though he excels at missing bats and getting ground balls, and limiting weak contact as well. That's a very strong foundation. Bummer is affordable too. He's owed $5.5 million in 2024 with club options for 2025 ($7.25 million) and 2026 ($7.5 million). He's a long-term addition for the defending NL East champions.
The Braves now have two high-end lefty relievers in Bummer and A.J. Minter, plus 2021 postseason hero Tyler Matzek is expected to return from Tommy John surgery early in 2024, perhaps even in time for Opening Day. Quality lefty relievers are a must when you share a division with Jazz Chisholm Jr., Bryce Harper, Brandon Nimmo, and Kyle Schwarber, among others.
For the White Sox, this trade adds inventory and some upside. The 26-year-old Soroka is the biggest name, though injuries kept him off the mound in 2021 and 2022, and he had a 6.40 ERA in 32 1/3 big league innings in 2023. With a projected salary in the $3 million range,. He will be a free agent after 2024.
Shuster, 25, was the No. 25 pick in the 2020 draft. He made his MLB debut in 2023 and posted a 5.81 ERA in 52 2/3 innings with the Braves, and had a 5.01 ERA in 79 Triple-A innings. Shuster took a step back this season, though he's a recent first-round pick and has prospect pedigree. The White Sox are gambling they can get Shuster on track, and he'll be a rotation building block.
Like Soroka, the 28-year-old Lopez was a non-tender candidate with a projected salary in the $4 million range. He's not much of a hitter, though he is a gifted defender. Shewmake, 25, was the No. 21 pick in the 2021 draft. He had a rough season in Triple-A (.234/.299/.407), but like Lopez, he's a very good defender, and a candidate to replace Tim Anderson at shortstop.
Gowens was Atlanta's ninth-round pick in this past summer's draft. He allowed three runs in 15 2/3 innings in the low minors in his pro debut. The 24-year-old was drafted as a senior out of Illinois and he has premium fastball data and a promising slider. As the fifth piece in the trade, Gowens is a nice get as a potential quick-moving reliever.
For the Braves, they turned two non-tender candidates (Lopez and Soroka) and some non-essential depth (Shewmake and Shuster) into a potential impact lefty reliever at a time when they're all-in on winning the World Series. The trade also clears the way for Vaughn Grissom to be the primary backup middle infielder behind Ozzie Albies and Orlando Arcia next year.
Atlanta has been the most active team in the early days of the offseason, notably re-signing relievers Joe Jiménez and Pierce Johnson to multiyear contracts, and now adding Bummer in a trade. and that will continue to be the case, not that Soroka and Shuster were anything more than depth options heading into 2024.
The White Sox, meanwhile, turned one of their top trade chips into what amount to four rolls of the dice. Shuster and Shewmake could carve out long-term roles if they get on track, Gowens has a chance to help down the road, and Soroka could be a valuable trade chip at the deadline should he stay healthy and pitch well early next season.
This is the first significant move of the Chris Getz era for the White Sox. Getz was named senior vice president and general manager last month, replacing longtime general manager Rick Hahn. Chicago is expected to step back and rebuild after going 61-101 in 2023.