The Braves bullpen is going through some changes this offseason. Darren O’Day went north to the Yankees, Mark Melancon went back west to the Padres (for $3 million guaranteed!), and as of today there’s absolutely no indication that Atlanta is interested in re-signing Shane Greene. Two of those three relievers have something in common: both were acquired at the trade deadline during the 2019 season. Add current Braves reliever Chris Martin to the mix and we have three trades worth looking back at as we inch closer to Opening Day of the 2021 regular season.
Analyzing or grading a trade made just two seasons ago probably isn’t going to mean much several years down the road, but given the significance of those three deals at the time they were made… it’s definitely worth a look.
Below is an outline of the three trades from 2019, in case anyone forgot. Given all three deals featured one player going back to Atlanta, I’ve only included the players the Braves sent in exchange:
Chris Martin deal with Texas: Kolby Allard, P
Mark Melancon deal with San Francisco: Tristan Beck, P / Dan Winkler, P
Shane Greene deal with Detroit: Joey Wentz, P / Travis Demeritte, OF
Now it’s important to remember just how bad the Braves bullpen was at the time of these trades. From Opening Day to July 31st of the 2019 season, Atlanta’s relief core finished dead last in reliever WAR with -0.5 fWAR. Despite a 6.5-game lead in the division and a 64-45 record at the time, the Braves had a terrible weakness that was in danger of ruining the team’s season. The offense?… fantastic, which was properly illustrated by a game-winning home run by then-third baseman Josh Donaldson to beat the Nationals on the last day of July. The starting rotation?… meh, not great, but there were obvious signs of improvement thanks to impressive performances from Mike Soroka, Julio Teheran and Max Fried.
But GM Alex Anthopoulos needed to do something with the ‘pen… and that he did.
During the second-half of 2019, the trio of Martin, Melancon and Greene combined to convert 12 saves (11 of which came from Melancon) for the Braves, log 63.1 innings and post a 3.98 ERA, all while striking out 9.7 batters per nine and walking just one per nine — a collective total of 0.6 WAR for that half-season alone.
The trio of new relievers helped… a lot. Atlanta’s bullpen went from last in the majors (pre-All-Star break)… to 9th in WAR (post-All Star break) as the reinforced Braves relief core was worth a collective 1.6 WAR during the final two months of the ’19 season. The transformation was complete, and a lot of the team’s success two years ago was due to the fact that Anthopoulos didn’t sit on his hands. He recognized a problem and fixed it.
But what about those five players above that Atlanta had to give up in those three trades? Allard, Wentz and Beck were all top-tier prospects at the time, as all three ranked within the top 20 of the Braves prospect rankings, according to FanGraphs 2019 report. And Winkler and Demeritte weren’t exactly top-tier, but both had real potential.
Did Anthopoulos make the right decision in trading ALL of that… for three relievers? Did Atlanta get enough in return from Melancon and Greene in 2019 and ’20, and will the team get more from Martin in the future, to justify the moves?
I believe the answer is… hell yeah!
Following an out-of-nowhere 2018 season in which the Braves surprised everyone and won the NL East, in 2019, the team’s position contention-wise was the same then as it is now; meaning, wins for the now were and are much more significant than wins in the future. Worrying about how good Joey Wentz, Kolby Allard or Tristan Beck will be years from now really isn’t worthwhile when you’re a team coming off a division title and just two years removed from an ugly rebuild, which is where Atlanta was in 2019. The winning momentum at the big league level needed to continue. And if that meant cashing in on several prospects that came from an area of surplus… so be it.
Granted, it’s still very early as far as official grades go. But so far, those three trades have paid huge dividends for the Braves, while costing them essentially nothing but maybe some solid pitching depth.
Don’t believe me?… just look at what those five (traded) players have been up to since Atlanta traded them away:
Travis Demeritte, OF: Following his trade to Detroit, Demeritte was immediately inserted into the Tigers lineup, where he actually held his own and hit .225 with 3 home runs in 2019’s final 48 games. However, 2020 was a totally different story. Demeritte hit just .172 and played in only 18 games for Detroit, giving him a whopping -0.4 WAR combined as a big leaguer since the trade. Ironically enough, he’s with the Braves this spring, attempting to earn a spot on the major league roster; although it’s more likely he’ll begin the 2021 season in Triple-A Gwinnett.
Joey Wentz, P: Following his move up north with Demeritte above, Wentz pitched very well with Detroit’s Double-A club in 2019, posting a 2.10 ERA across six starts. He really looked like a guy the Braves should’ve kept, except last March, Wentz required Tommy John surgery (an operation he’s still trying to come back from). The Tigers optioned Wentz to Triple-A Toledo on Friday as part of the team’s many spring cuts.
Tristan Beck, P: Headlining the Melancon deal, Beck went to the Giants organization and was assigned to their High-A club in 2019, where he maintained a 2.27 ERA in his six starts there to end the year. Beck was idle in 2020 and was a non-roster invitee for San Francisco this spring.
Dan Winkler, P: Along with Beck above, Winkler did well in his new home, making 12 relief appearances for the Giants Triple-A team and posting an 0.64 ERA in 2019. During the 2019-20 offseason, the Cubs signed Winkler to a one-year, $750K split-contract and the righty made the major league team that spring. He pitched well for Chicago in 2020, appearing in 18 games and finishing with a 2.95 ERA for a total of 0.2 WAR. Still with the Cubs, Winkler is currently struggling a bit in Spring Training. He has a 6.00 ERA in three appearances, heading into the past weekend.
Kolby Allard, P: The lone player exchanged by the Braves in the deal that landed Martin from the Rangers, Allard made one start for Texas’s Triple-A club before getting a call-up to the majors in 2019, where he performed respectively. In 9 starts during the second-half of ’19, Allard pitched to a 4.96 ERA (4.01 FIP) and finished with 1.2 WAR. Last season Texas used him out of both the bullpen and rotation, as he totaled 33.2 major league innings, though he struggled mightily with 5+ walks per nine and a 7.75 ERA. He’s expected to again pitch in the majors in 2021. Through two relief appearances this spring (entering this weekend), he’s pitched three scoreless innings.
In all, that’s a net total of 0.9 fWAR combined from the five players detailed above, with only three of those five spending any time in the majors thus far; and neither have done much there except for perhaps Allard (Demeritte: -0.4 WAR in the majors / Winkler: -0.1 WAR / Allard: 1.4 WAR). As shown above, the trio of Martin/Melancon/Greene combined for almost 70% of that (0.6 WAR) in just the last half of the 2019 season alone.
Of course, comparing WAR at this point is hardly an accurate way to grade those three trades, especially given all of them featured young prospects that will most likely add to their career WAR totals (while only Martin remains for Atlanta). But as I mentioned earlier, the Braves shouldn’t really concern themselves with that possibility. The 2019 bullpen was killing them!
In the end, I don’t see the outcome changing too much, and even five years from now, I believe those three trades will still be labeled as successful moves. Improving an area of your major league team from last-place to inside the top 10 in essentially half of a season is quite the accomplishment; and there’s no way that happens without acquiring Martin, Melancon, and Greene. Everything each of those three did during the 2020 season was simply a bonus, as is whatever Martin is able to do in 2021.
One of Beck, Wentz, or Allard may one day win a Cy Young, but you won’t see me blaming Anthopoulos. He fixed a problem that was bound to ruin the Braves season in 2019. Regardless of how those trades look a decade from now, you never fault a GM for something like that. Those deals were and are still worth it.
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