NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Though they haven't shut the door on possibly trading for a controllable, front-line starting pitcher, the Braves came to this week's Winter Meetings with the sense they have already completed the heavy-lifting portion of the offseason.
"We're just kind of in a situation where if something good comes our way, we can be opportunistic," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. "If it doesn't, we saw [team vice chairman] John Schuerholz get the Hall of Fame nod. It's been a great Winter Meetings even if we do nothing."
The Braves have attempted to trade for Chris Sale at different points over the past three years and they obviously have done their due diligence this offseason by keeping tabs on what it might cost to acquire the ace of the White Sox, who can be controlled for each of the next three seasons at an average cost of $13 million per year.
While the White Sox are wise to at least explore what enhanced return they might get during a winter when the starting-pitching free-agent market is weak, they also don't have to trade Sale. Thus, it's understandable that they have said any return from the Braves would have to include Dansby Swanson, Atlanta's top prospect. And it's also understandable why the Braves have not shown any interest in moving their highly touted young shortstop who could prove to be one of their most valuable pieces for at least each of the next six seasons.
The Braves have also asked about the availability of two other controllable top starters -- Rays right-hander Chris Archer and A's right-hander Sonny Gray. The cost would not be as significant as the one required to acquire Sale. But for now, the cost for each still exceeds the comfort zone of Coppolella and Braves president of baseball operations John Hart, who have spent the past two years compiling an impressive prospect crop.
"When you meet the asking prices that are out there for these guys at this time, it's going to put a hole in your system," Coppolella said. "It's not going to be easy. They're not just going to hand these guys over to the Braves or any other team. We'll see. If the price meets what we're trying to do, I think we will strike. We're not afraid to make a deal. But we don't want to undo what we spent two years trying to do."
The Braves believe they have already significantly upgraded their rotation by acquiring Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia and R.A. Dickey this offseason. An acquisition of Sale, Archer or Gray would provide an even bigger boost, but it would do so at a heavy cost and at a time when this rebuilding club is not necessarily just one piece away from being a legitimate World Series contender.
"Does that one guy take us to where we now become the team to beat? I don't think so," Hart said. "Does it make us better and gives us a chance to be better? Absolutely, but at what price? Does it deviate so far from our plan that we have in place? To move that bulk and magnitude of young players to acquire [a top starter], I don't think it makes sense for us right now."
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.