The Braves have acquired right-hander Ben Heller from the Rays in exchange for international bonus pool space and optioned him to Triple-A Gwinnett, per a team announcement. Outfielder Nick Solak was designated for assignment in a corresponding roster move.
Heller, 31, was just designated for assignment by the Rays last week. Signed to a minor league deal in the winter, he had his contract selected in late May but was optioned back to the minors before getting into a game. In 18 games at the Triple-A level for the year, he’s logged 27 1/3 innings with a 3.95 ERA, 26% strikeout rate, 6.1% walk rate and 49.4% ground ball rate.
He has a bit of major league experience, getting into 31 games with the Yankees from 2016 to 2020 with a 2.59 ERA in that time. Unfortunately, he then spent much of 2021 and 2022 injured before landing with the Rays this year. Tampa frequently cycles pitchers on and off their roster throughout the season but it seems that Heller drew enough interest from clubs around the league that Tampa will get a little bit of extra money to spend on international amateurs.
For Atlanta, they’ve dealt with some challenges to their pitching staff, especially with starters Max Fried and Kyle Wright on the injured list and facing significant absences. They also have relievers Dylan Lee and Michael Tonkin on the IL, alongside Tyler Matzek who underwent Tommy John surgery last year. They will add Heller to their Triple-A club and have a bit of extra depth on hand for when they need a fresh arm. Heller is in his final option year and will be out of options next year. He has over three years of service time and will be eligible for arbitration this winter.
In addition to giving up a bit of bonus pool money, the club is also risking losing Solak. The 28-year-old once seemed like a potential building block for the Rangers when he debuted in 2019 and hit .293/.393/.491 in his first 33 games. He had always hit well in the minors and there was little reason to doubt he would continue to do so. Unfortunately, he slashed just .246/.317/.354 from 2020 to 2022. He was also pushed off second base both due to his subpar work there and the club signing Marcus Semien. He’s since spent more time in left field, which put more pressure on his bat to provide value.
In November, the club finally decided to cut bait and flipped Solak to the Reds for cash. He lasted on the Reds’ roster through the winter but was designated for assignment at the end of Spring Training. He then went to the Mariners in another cash deal but got the DFA treatment again just 10 days later. A couple of waiver claims then took him to the White Sox and Braves in the middle of April. Solak hit .272/.364/.444 for a 106 wRC+ in 173 plate appearances for Gwinnett. He struck out in just 15.6% of his plate appearances while walking at a 9.8% rate.
Now Solak has been given the DFA treatment yet again and might soon find himself in a sixth organization in less than a year. Despite the struggles at the major league level, he continues to hit in the minors. He’s in his final option year so some club could put in a claim and stash him in the minors. He’s been limited to left field this year but perhaps some club would give him another chance at the keystone. If he were to clear waivers, he would stick with the Braves since he has less than three years of service time and does not have a previous outright.