The MLB trade deadline is still months away, but it is never too early to talk about how the Braves can improve.
This team has holes, and if they want to compete come October, Alex Anthopoulos must fill them. So this begins a weekly series where I will cover one player the Braves could potentially target before the trade deadline.
First, we need to lay out some ground rules for this exercise. Theoretically, any team can trade with any other. However, some commonalities are much more probable than others.
- Rebuild: Teams that know they won’t compete will trade their desirable players for prospects to move along their rebuild process.
- Upgrade: Teams that feel they will compete will trade their prospects for players that can help the club now.
- Salary dump: A team in a tight spot financially will trade a contract they no longer want to pay for. Depending on the scenario, they could include prospects or major league players with the contract to complete the trade.
Who should the Atlanta Braves target?
Currently, the Atlanta Braves are 25th in the MLB in preventing runs.
Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Charlie Morton, and Ian Anderson look fantastic on paper. But, the final spot in the rotation is a glaring question mark, and that assumes those four all stay healthy. However, just because the Braves need a fifth starter doesn’t mean they have to acquire a back-end-of-the-rotation-caliber pitcher. They could make a move for a top-tier starter and shift the rotation down.
Could you imagine if Charlie Morton was the 5th best starting pitcher on the team? To be fair, Huascar Ynoa has been fantastic to date. If he continues to break out, the Braves have five solid rotational pieces and can end the Drew Smyly experiment. However, Ynoa’s underlying statistics are worrisome, and after last season, I’m not in the mood to roll the dice with a shoddy rotation.
The Atlanta Braves are in upgrade mode here. The team needs to capitalize on its competitive window. Ideally, they will line up in a trade with a club amid — or about to start — a rebuild.
In this scenario, that team is the Baltimore Orioles. With a bunch of money coming off the books after 2021, they are in a position to break it up and rebuild quickly. What better way to do that than target a trade partner with a decent amount of prospect capital?
John Means to Atlanta just makes too much sense.
Means is under team control until 2025, which is ideal for Atlanta financially. He is not a Cy Young threat just yet, but he can be a solid mid-rotation option with front-end potential. To add to his desirability, he may not cost as much as some other marquee names.
What are Means’ numbers like?
Means had a shaky start to his career, but since the beginning of 2019, he has pitched to a 131 ERA+, which is 31% better than league-average at preventing runs. He strikes out almost eight batters per nine innings compared to just two walks.
This year, Means has already accumulated 1.7 WAR, which would put him at the top of the Braves rotation. Looking at his 2020, it may be puzzling why the Braves would want him, but his underlying metrics show he was extremely unlucky. His expected earned run average (xERA) was only 3.02 despite posting a league-average ERA of 4.53.
This year, Means has taken it to another level, showing flashes of being a top-of-the-rotation talent. Currently, he sits no lower than the top 28% in xERA, expected batting average against (xBA), expected weighted on-base average against (xwOBA), and average exit velocity. Odds are he won’t sustain his silly ERA+ of 246, but the advanced metrics show this is no fluke.
What this could do for Atlanta
With Means in the mix, it would take a lot of pressure off the rotation, and an injury would not be so devastating. Adding him should also help keep the bullpen fresh. When the trade deadline comes, if the Orioles are in the bottom half of their division, Means is undoubtedly someone Anthopoulos should consider. Who knows, maybe AA can work some magic and pry away a piece from their top-five bullpen too. Means is the type of arm you target, even if you already have a solid rotation on paper.
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