Despite fans lighting their pitchforks and spitting on his name for the lack of action by the Braves this offseason, Alex Anthopoulos has emerged as a wizard with each calculated move dating back to November of last year. Because of that, the Braves have become an exponentially better team than the one that lost at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. Each addition has proved valuable, and perhaps even more importantly, were the moves he decided not to go through with. The Braves are legitimate World Series contenders for the first time in a while, and they have AA to thank for that
It didn’t take long for the Braves to make a big splash in free agency, inking Josh Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million contract. That deal upset some fans initially because of Donaldson’s injury history. It upset many more fans when the Braves held off on making any more significant moves the rest of the offseason, while the Phillies and Mets went on a spending spree.
Now, I’d be lying if I said the way Anthopoulos handled the bullpen was the correct decision. The pen was disastrous in 2018, and if it wasn’t for Luke Jackson and a couple of other unexpected saviors, the Braves might not be in first place today. However, what Alex Anthopoulos did know is that he could make bullpen adjustments on the fly throughout the season and probably find some arms cheap at the trade deadline if need be.
The Josh Donaldson signing, on the other hand, has turned into a slam dunk. Since June 11th, he’s arguably been the Braves best player, smashing a league-high 24 home runs which ties him with Mike Trout. He’s never been an average guy, but he draws a ton of walks, leading to a .379 OBP on the year – the second-best mark on the team behind only Freddie Freeman. Donaldson even has a significantly better bWAR (4.5) than Freeman (3.9). He will probably finish the season with 40+ homers, giving the Braves three players who could potentially surpass the 40 home-run mark. There is not a Braves’ fan with a head on his shoulders that isn’t fond of this deal in hindsight.
Signing Donaldson was the highlight of the offseason, but what probably does not get talked about enough is all the trades Anthopoulos passed on. People were begging for J.T. Realmuto, even if it cost Atlanta Mike Soroka and Austin Riley. We can all look at that now and laugh, as Soroka could be on his way to the Cy Young Award as a rookie. Austin Riley also showed glimpses of his incredible potential. The Phillies pulled the trigger on Realmuto, unloaded what was left of their uninspiring farm system, and still might not even make the playoffs.
You hate to see it.
A Mid-Season Upgrade
Because Anthopoulos didn’t “shop in any aisle” during the offseason, he saved some money for some tricks during the season. The first of those came on June 7th, when the Braves inked Dallas Keuchel to a one-year deal for about $13 million over the final four months or so. It became evident the rotation they began with was not going to be able to make it through the trials of October. With Mike Foltynewicz struggling so bad he had to be sent down to AAA Gwinnett, the Braves needed to add some experience, and they did in the form of a World Series champion and Cy Young Award winner. Keuchel has a 3.78 ERA in 13 starts this year and has only allowed more than three earned runs in three outings. He’s calm, cool, and collected every time he toes the rubber, which is exactly what the Braves will need come October.
A Trade Deadline for the Books
The Braves were quiet in the days leading up to the trade deadline, causing many fans to worry. While they did not bolster their starting pitching; they did focus on their most apparent need – the bullpen.
Chris Martin was acquired the night before the deadline for LHP Kolby Allard. Allard was a borderline top ten prospect in Atlanta’s system, but with so many young arms in front of him, it was doubtful he was ever going to be a piece of the team’s future. Like the other acquisitions, it took a few games for Martin to adjust, but he has not allowed a run and only surrendered two hits with five strikeouts in his last five innings.
At the time of the trade deadline, Shane Greene was viewed as the prized possession and the best reliever that swapped squads. He was an All-Star, boasted an ERA that was barely over one and was supposed to put an end to the Braves closing woes. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out like that. He surrendered seven earned runs – almost double the number of runs he allowed for the Tigers (4 in 38 innings) – in his first 4.1 innings with the Braves, leading to him being removed from the closer’s role. However, Greene has bounced back and pitched six straight scoreless innings while allowing only three baserunners as a set-up man.
Mark Melancon was traded for right before the bell rang. He only cost the Braves Tristan Beck and Dan Winkler, however, the kicker is Atlanta is on the hook for the remainder of the nearly $20 million left on his contract that runs through 2020. Because of Greene’s woes, Melancon has become the closer. And while it hasn’t been perfect, he looks like the best man for the job. His stuff is fantastic, and his FIP sits at 0.99 in his first month with the Braves. Melancon has allowed one earned run in his last five appearances, recording four saves and a win.
Atlanta’s bullpen has now gone from their most noticeable weakness to perhaps the most significant advantage they will hold over the rest of the National League. Nearly every team on the cusp of making the playoffs has a bullpen with holes in it – Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia all could use some more help in their pen. The only team that has seen any kind of consistency out of their relievers has been St. Louis. But Atlanta’s bullpen is beginning to find a groove, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a deeper group. Luke Jackson was closing games for this team a month ago; now he’s a middle reliever. Imagine how scary this unit will look if a healthy Darren O’Day can join them for the playoff push.
They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That statement could not be any more fitting for the Braves in August. The injury bug came and would not stop biting the Braves following the All-Star break. First, it was Nick Markakis, then Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley, Ender Inciarte, and finally Brian McCann, yet somehow the Braves keep on winning.
Alex Anthopoulos has been proactive in making the necessary adjustments to continue Atlanta’s success. He’s called up guys like Adam Duvall and Rafael Ortega, who have each played a role over this time. Meanwhile, he didn’t hesitate in sending down a struggling player like Johan Camargo. On top of that, he took advantage of the waiver wire, signing Adeiny Hechavarria, Billy Hamilton, and most recently Francisco Cervelli.
Hechavarria has been a menace for opponents, slashing .258/.361/.484/.845 in nine games with the Braves while playing stellar defense. Hamilton provided the game-winning hit in the 14th inning the other night against the Mets and has shown several times how he can be a weapon on the basepaths. And in his first game with the Braves, Cervelli had three hits with two doubles and three RBIs. All of these guys have helped keep the train rolling and give Anthopoulos and Snitker even more options when considering a potential playoff roster. These additions look even more critical when you think about how hot the Nationals have been.
Anthopoulos isn’t going to be the one begging for the spotlight or recognition, but I don’t see how he should not be considered for the Executive of the Year Award. Everything he has touched has turned to gold, taking a limited budget and making the most out of it. The Braves have reached the next level without risking any of their future, and nobody deserves more credit for that than Alex Anthopoulos.