The Braves made a blockbuster trade Monday, acquiring Sean Murphy from The Athletics. Murphy gives Atlanta the best catching tandem in baseball, but it came with at a high cost. Not only did the Braves ship away All-Star catcher William Contreras, but they also dealt a trio of talented starting pitchers to the Athletics in Kyle Muller, Freddy Tarnok, and Roybe Salinas. Two of those guys — Muller and Tarnok — were going to be competing for the final spot in the rotation entering 2023. With them now the newest members of the A’s, the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation is down to three main competitors.
My pick to begin 2023 as the team’s fifth starter is Ian Anderson. I think the Braves trading away Muller and Tarnok was a ringing endorsement in all three of these guys, but mostly Anderson. People are quick to forget just how dominant this man was during the Braves 2021 World Series run. In fact, he’s been as good as anyone in the history of the game in the playoffs, owning a 1.26 ERA over 35.2 innings.
2022 was a season to forget for Anderson. The Braves gave him plenty of chances, but eventually, it was time for him to build himself back up in AAA. Unfortunately, things didn’t go any better there. He continued to get rocked before suffering a season-ending arm injury. Still, I have a lot of faith that Anderson will return after a full offseason looking much more like the guy we saw in 2020-2021 than in 2022. He’s too talented not to figure it out, and if he does, the Braves might have the best rotation in all of baseball.
There’s no guarantee Anderson will figure it out, so the Braves must have at least one high-quality backup plan. Beyond that, at least one injury will inevitably strike the rotation at some point in the season. The Braves will need at least six starters — most likely more — meaning they have a lot of faith in what Bryce Elder can provide in his second season.
Elder made nine starts in 2022, posting a very respectable 3.17 ERA, ending the season on a tear. In his last five starts, he posted a 1.65 ERA and opponents only hit .181 against him. Elder also struck out over nine batters per nine innings. Now, the one thing I will say in order to temper expectations is all five starts came against the Marlins and Nationals, two of the worst offensive teams in baseball. But these are still major leaguers, and the pressure couldn’t have been any higher with the Braves attempting to catch the Mets in the race for the NL East. All signs point to Elder being major league ready. He’ll push Anderson for the fifth spot in the rotation, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he won.
It pains me to say it, but of the three guys on this list, Soroka is the one I’m least confident in. It’s not because I don’t believe he can one day be a major-league starter again, but I’m at the point where I have to see it before I believe it. By the time the 2023 season rolls around, it will be three years since Soroka has toed the rubber of a big league mound, and he struggled in AAA last season. It’s probably best if he begins next season in Gwinnett to work on his repertoire, which is just fine. As long as Soroka can stay healthy, he should eventually work his way back to the majors.
Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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