April 15, 2024

NASHVILLE — The Atlanta Braves acquired outfielder Jarred Kelenic, left-hander Marco Gonzales and first baseman Evan White from the Seattle Mariners for right-handers Jackson Kowar and Cole Phillips on Sunday, kicking off the winter meetings with a money-dump deal by the Mariners that netted the Braves the high-upside outfielder.

The trade, which represents the second purge of veterans by the Mariners after they dealt third baseman Eugenio Suarez to Arizona earlier in the winter, will save Seattle a significant amount of future guaranteed money. While the Mariners included an unknown amount of cash in the deal, White and Gonzales are owed $29 million.

The Braves, in the market for a left fielder and rotation help, were willing to take on the money for the 24-year-old Kelenic, who has shown flashes of greatness and will slot into a lineup that this year slugged .501, the highest mark in Major League Baseball history. Kelenic batted .253/.327/.419 with 11 home runs and 49 RBIs in 105 games, missing a chunk of time after breaking his foot when he kicked a water cooler in frustration after a strikeout.

Kelenic was the last player remaining from the blockbuster 2018 trade that sent closer Edwin Diaz and second baseman Robinson Cano to the New York Mets. At one point a top-five prospect in baseball, Kelenic possesses massive power — he hit a 482-foot home run at Wrigley Field this year — but has struggled to make contact, striking out 132 times in 416 plate appearances in 2023. With just under two years of service time, Kelenic is not set to reach free agency until following the 2028 season.

Gonzales, 31, is coming off surgery to alleviate a nerve issue in his arm. A reliable innings-eater in prior seasons, he went 4-1 with a 5.22 ERA in 50 innings over 10 starts this year before the injury sidelined him and eventually led to the procedure. He will make $12 million in 2024 and has a $15 million option for 2025.

The Mariners signed White to a six-year, $24 million contract before his major league debut in 2020. White struggled in his rookie season while playing first base full time and lost the job to Ty France during 2021, hitting .165/.235/.308 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs over 84 games combined in his two major league seasons. Injuries have plagued him the past two seasons at Triple-A, and he is owed $15 million over the next two seasons, with a $2 million buyout in 2026 on the first of three options the Braves now hold.

Losing Gonzales, White and Suarez — who is making $11 million this season — takes the Mariners’ payroll into the $110 million range, well below their $137 million Opening Day payroll last season. Seattle, which won 88 games this year and finished a game shy of the postseason, could hit the trade market or free agent market to supplement an offense that also lost right fielder Teoscar Hernandez to free agency.

With their bounty of young, homegrown starting pitchers, the Mariners are an attractive trade partner for teams spooked by a free agent market in which back-end starting pitching costs at least $10 million a year.

“I want to thank Marco, JK and Evan for their contributions to the club,” Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said in a statement. “All three played key roles at different stages of our growth over the past several seasons. As we continue to work through this offseason with the 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.”

Phillips, 20, was taken by Atlanta in the second round of the 2022 draft after undergoing Tommy John surgery that April. He has yet to throw a pitch as a professional but is seen by scouts as a high-upside arm with a blazing fastball and good breaking ball.

Kowar, 27, was a first-round pick by Kansas City in 2018 and posted a 9.12 ERA in three seasons with the Royals, during which he struck out 75, walked 51 and allowed 15 home runs and an opponent slash line of .330/.424/.559 in 74 big league innings. He was traded to the Braves on Nov. 17 for right-hander Kyle Wright.

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