In the second year of his reign as the GM of the Braves, Alex Anthopoulos showed the world why he is highly regarded in baseball circles, turning Atlanta from World Series hopefuls into legitimate contenders without making the flashy move that could have prevented such progress. Despite all the acquisitions made within the NL East, Anthopoulos ignored the noise and went about his business rather quietly in the offseason. That led to a grumbling fan base and experts everywhere counting the Braves out before the season began – even though they ran away with the division just months ago. Luckily, AA knew better and made the absolute most of the limited funds at his disposal. Everything he has touched has turned to gold, and what he has stayed away from, no longer looks so attractive. There are some phenomenal GMs around the league, but nobody deserves the Executive of the Year award more than Alex Anthopoulos.
Anthopoulos was very active early in free agency, signing Brian McCann to a one-year contract, and followed it quickly by acquiring Josh Donaldson. McCann isn’t an All-Star any longer, but he was brought in for $2 million and has provided fantastic value – both on the field and in the clubhouse. He has his highest batting average since he was an All-Star back in 2013 – when he was with Atlanta – and also has 12 dingers in only 83 games.
Not much has to be said about Donaldson. The only worry about him was his health, and he’s remained healthy the entire year. Because of that, Donaldson has a 5.6 bWAR, 37 homers, 33 doubles, and 99 walks – all while playing a Gold Glove-caliber third base. He’s been the best free-agent acquisition in the National League, and that isn’t up for debate.
The early action in free agency resulted in an antsy fan base that wanted more. However, Anthopoulos held off on making any more significant acquisitions. He brought back Nick Markakis on a one-year deal with a second-year club option, which many were unhappy about; however, you’d be hardpressed to find a better bargain. Even at 35 years old, Markakis has done nothing but rack up doubles like he always has, and he’s only making $4 million in 2019. Saving that extra change in the offseason allowed Anthopoulos some wiggle room to make the necessary adjustments as the season transpired.
Extending Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies
Yes, the Executive of the Year award is usually focused more on the moves that made the team better this season, but how can you ignore Anthopoulos locking up two future superstars for the foreseeable future.
Ronald Acuña, who many consider the heir to Mike Trout as the games best player, is now signed through 2028 at pennies compared to what he is worth. In just his second year, he smashed 41 homers and nearly became the fifth member of the 40/40 club, finishing three steals shy. The Braves will have the best bargain in baseball for the next nine seasons.
Make that the two best bargains in baseball. Somehow, Anthopoulos was able to convince Ozzie Albies to sign an extension for $35 million, running through 2026. In fact, in 2026, he will only be making $4 million. That deal looked a whole lot more reasonable before Albies broke out this season. He’s hitting a hair under .300 with 24 homers, a league-leading 43 doubles and has scored 100 runs. These two deals alone will keep the Braves competitive for the next decade.
The Acquisition of Dallas Keuchel
This might have been Anthopoulos’ best move of the entire year. Through the first two months, the Braves had two glaring problems – their starting rotation and the bullpen. Conveniently, there were two pretty spectacular options on the market, and Anthopoulos had the money to go either way. He chose to stabilize the revolving door of starting pitchers the Braves were sending out each week by signing Dallas Keuchel over Craig Kimbrel.
Keuchel has come as advertised, turning into the Braves ace and will start Game 1 of the NLDS. In his last eight starts, he is 5-2 with a 2.06 ERA. His acquisition has Atlanta infinitely more prepared for a deep playoff run.
Meanwhile, it turns out the regression Kimbrel experienced at the end of last year was not a fluke after all. He deserved a multi-year deal for all he has done in his career and received one from the Cubs, but Chicago will be the first ones to tell you they may have been hoodwinked. Kimbrel is 0-4 with a 6.53 ERA for the Cubs, surrendering nine home runs and 12 walks in just 20.2 innings. His FIP sits at a gaudy 8.01, and Chicago has been eliminated from playoff contention. Oh, and the Cubs owe him $32 million over the next two seasons. Imagine how different, not only this year, but the next couple of years would be had the Braves backed up the Brinks truck for Kimbrel.
The Trades to Improve the Bullpen
The one thing I repeatedly scolded Anthopoulos for was not addressing the bullpen in the offseason. Frankly, it didn’t make much sense, and if it wasn’t for saviors like Luke Jackson and Anthony Swarzak (who Alex Anthopoulos did acquire), the Braves might not have won the NL East. But AA made it his priority at the deadline, and now the bullpen is a weapon heading into the postseason.
If there is one of these moves the Braves might look on with regret, it was the trade of Kolby Allard to the Rangers for Chris Martin. Allard has been lights out since being called up for Texas and seen increased velocity. Perhaps that is a sign of the Braves having a problem developing pitchers. If he turns into a quality major league starter, Atlanta will have lost the trade. However, Martin has been a monumental boost to the bullpen. In his last thirteen outings, he has a 1.42 ERA with fifteen strikeouts.
Shane Greene has also been a gem for the Braves. Joey Wentz was a fine prospect, but Atlanta had to patch up there bullpen to be viewed as legit contenders. Greene’s now a lights-out set up man with a 1.53 ERA in his last 18 appearances. Atlanta has him under contract for next year as well along with Mark Melancon, who has become the team’s closer and has yet to blow a save opportunity. The combination of these three arms completely changed the outlook of the Braves bullpen and gives them possibly the most complete pitching staff in the National League.
The Little Guys
The hoarding of positional players that could potentially play a role in Atlanta began right before the season when the Braves signed Matt Joyce. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but now Joyce is a starter amid a career-year, setting career-highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS. His presence was the primary reason why Atlanta did not miss a beat when Nick Markakis was out of the lineup for nearly two months.
Markakis’ injury was only one of a wave that hit the Braves after the All-Star break. Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley, Brian McCann, and Ender Inciarte all hit the IL, and Anthopoulos never hesitated to add reinforcements. He brought in Adeiny Hechavarria, Francisco Cervelli, and Billy Hamilton – all who have helped the Braves run away with the NL East at some point. It would have been easy for Atlanta to stumble with injuries piling up and the red-hot Nationals trying to chase them down, but the proactiveness of Anthopoulos kept this team engaged, and despite their missing stars, they remained the hottest team in baseball. And these acquisitions won’t just play a factor In the regular season either – Hechavarria, Cervelli, and Joyce will all be featured on the postseason roster and could help this team win its first playoff series in nearly two decades.