Braves: Grading Alex Anthopoulos’ tenure as the GM

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A little less than three years ago in November of 2017, the Braves named 40-year-old Alex Anthopoulos their general manager. He took over a team that was coming out of a rebuild and in his first season, he pulled enough strings to turn them into NL East champions.

The Braves followed that up with 97 wins and another division title in 2019, proving to be among the class of the National League, along with the loaded Los Angeles Dodgers. However, the problem has never been reaching the playoffs under Alex Anthopoulos; it’s winning once they get there. That may be the case again in 2020.

The Braves are once again comfortably in first place. Unless something crazy happens over the final 24 games, they will make the postseason for the third consecutive season. However, following a lackluster trade deadline that failed to address the starting rotation, it’s difficult to imagine them making much noise once they get there.

I’ve been an avid supporter of Alex Anthopoulos throughout his tenure, but his failure to properly address the rotation this offseason and at the trade deadline is deserving of some criticism. The Braves aren’t going to have Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Ronald Acuña, and Ozzie Albies locked up for pennies forever, and it seems they are once again wasting a year of Freddie Freeman’s prime. Financially, they aren’t going to be in a better position to compete than now, and if they can’t get it done again in 2020, some of the blame has to rest on the shoulders of Alex Anthopoulos.

 

The Good

 

Anthopoulos has done many fantastic things. Most notably, his signing of Josh Donaldson was a slam dunk and made the Braves legitimate World Series contenders. Had Atlanta not gotten beaten up right around playoff time last season, they had a shot at winning it all. However, the best decision regarding The Bringer of Rain might have actually been resisting the pressure from the fans and letting him walk in free agency. Donaldson has already suffered multiple injuries with the Twins in year one of a four-year deal with a fifth-year club option, and he will be 35 next season. That could turn out to be one of the worst contracts in the majors, and Anthopoulos was able to replace his production with another one-year deal.

Like Donaldson before him, Ozuna has been a slam dunk in his first season with the Braves, smashing 12 HRs and 31 RBIs to the tune of a .301 batting average thus far. That will leave Anthopoulos with another difficult decision at season’s end, but you have to trust him to make the right move after what he did this past offseason.

Anthopoulos has also made a litany of tiny transactions that have paid substantial dividends, leading to back-to-back division titles. In 2018, he signed Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Flaherty, and Luke Jackson, who all played a critical role in winning the NL East. On top of that, he acquired relievers Brad Brach and Jonny Venters for essentially nothing. Without those minor additions, the Braves probably don’t exit their rebuild as quickly as they did.

2019 was more of the same. Anthopoulos signed Josh Tomlin, Jerry Blevins, and Matt Joyce in the month leading up to the season. He then acquired Anthony Swarzak for nothing in April to help Atlanta’s abysmal bullpen right the ship until he was able to bring in more reinforcements at the trade deadline. He dealt for Chris Martin, Mark Melancon, and Shane Greene last July, and those trades are still paying off today, as that trio has combined for over 2.0 WAR in just 36 games this season.

 

The Bad

 

However, while Anthopoulos has made a boatload of wonderful transactions to get the Braves back into contention, he’s also made a few blunders that have made it challenging for them to win their first World Series title since 1995.

In 2019, it was his lack of additions to the entire pitching staff, but the bullpen in particular. The Braves had one of the worst relief cores in the majors the season prior, and Anthopoulos completely neglected it in the offseason, which forced him to deal several prospects at the trade deadline for bullpen help. As I said above, those trades have turned out to be beneficial, but they didn’t need to happen if he had taken the initiative during the offseason.

Anthopoulos has also failed to give the Braves enough rotation help to compete in the postseason in back-to-back seasons. Last year, he tried to put a band-aid on it with Dallas Keuchel. That did not work out too well, and it cost Atlanta a pretty penny. This season, he went a similar route, signing Cole Hamels, and he’s yet to even appear for the Braves in 2020.

Now, these aren’t the worst signings ever. Keuchel was okay for the most part in 2019, but at least Anthopoulos didn’t strike a multi-year deal for Craig Kimbrel like most of the fan base was begging for. Hamels may not ever pitch for the Braves, but it’s no coincidence that Max Fried is thriving with him as his mentor. It is also only a one-year pact, so it won’t impact the Braves past this season — like Madison Bumgarner’s contract will hurt the Diamondbacks. So while the Keuchel and Hamels signings have been underwhelming, things could be much worse.

Finally, there’s Anthopoulos’ lack of action at this year’s trade deadline. The Braves seem to be a rotation piece away from being considered one of the favorites to win the World Series. Atlanta’s an offensive juggernaut, and their bullpen might be the best in the majors. However, I can’t remember a team with so little starting pitching ever winning a World Series, yet Anthopoulos refused to pull the trigger on any deal, outside of a small trade for Tommy Milone, who isn’t much of an upgrade at all. However, it’s difficult to judge him too harshly for his lack of action at the deadline without knowing what teams were asking for in return.

We’ve seen teams ask for Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuña, Mike Soroka, and Max Fried in the past. Luckily, Anthopoulos balked on all of those deals, giving the Braves one of the best young cores for years to come. This year, Drew Waters, Ian Anderson, and Cristian Pache were the topic of discussion. In a few years, we could be thanking Anthopoulos for not pulling the trigger again. I still think there had to be a better option than Tommy Milone available, but I can’t fault him too much for not making a blockbuster trade for Mike Clevinger or Lance Lynn.

The last issue I have with Anthopoulos is how he has handled the Braves’ young talent. Atlanta’s pitching prospects have experienced their fair share of bumps in 2019 and 2020, but pulling them up and down from Gwinnett to Atlanta is doing them no favors. Pretty much every young pitcher needs time to develop in the majors; it’s part of the process. Demoting arms like Kyle Wright after just four starts in favor of Robbie Erlin is unacceptable and has undoubtedly prevented development. The same statement also rings true for Cristian Pache, who should have been starting over Ender Inciarte for weeks at this point

The Grade

 

Going through the pros and cons of Alex Anthopoulos’ reign, it’s clear that the good far outweighs the bad. He’s made a ton of valuable free agent signings and avoided the type of contracts that force teams into complete rebuilds. However, his failure to put together a better rotation this past offseason was a major gaffe. With a C-grade being average, I’d say Anthopoulos has been just above average and give him a B-

 

B-

 

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