With all of these signings and trades lately featuring several players that would have certainly helped the Braves this upcoming season, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to remain positive about the team’s outlook. Nolan Arenado, Joc Pederson and Eddie Rosario were just a few names recently taken off the board that Atlanta had every reason to be in on. With only a few of power-bat options left on the free agent market (Marcell Ozuna, Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig), to go with a group of possible trade candidates that’s more than likely out of the Braves price-range prospect-wise (such as Matt Chapman and Kris Bryant), the potential for a big splash looks more doubtful as each day passes.
Although this is only Year 4 for GM Alex Anthopoulos, his interest in making deals during the latter-half of the offseason has become rather notable, highlighted by his signing of Ozuna last January. It’s not just Anthopoulos that has benefited from these types of signings — the Braves as a collective regime have been doing this for a while… and perhaps even later into the offseason than Anthopoulos. Even Dallas Keuchel coming on board in June after a strange offseason was a big splash.
With tomorrow being February 1st, here are the top deals made after January 31 from the last decade (2011-20). I’ve limited these signings/trades to only those that were completed after January 31 but before Opening Day of each season (no trade-deadline deals here):
Anibal Sanchez, RHP
March 16, 2018
Coming off the final year of the franchise’s rebuild from 2017, the Braves took a flier on veteran righty Anibal Sanchez, signing him to a minor league deal in mid March leading up to the 2018 season. Sanchez had just been cut by the Twins and was just months removed from posting his second-straight below-replacement season with the Tigers (he posted a 6.14 ERA in Detroit from 2016-17). Sanchez made the newly-hired Anthopoulos look like a genius, as he tallied 136.2 innings and ended the year with a 2.83 ERA and 3.1 WAR.
Aaron Harang, RHP
March 24, 2014
It’s funny to look back now, but in the spring of 2014 Braves fans were generally excited about a starting staff headlined by a trio of Mike Minor, Ervin Santana and Gavin Floyd (granted, the second guy in that group was worth the hype). With 36-year-old Freddy Garcia having thrown his final pitch as a big league pitcher for the Braves the season prior, in late March of ’14 Atlanta signed another 36-year-old in Aaron Harang, and to be honest, at the time simply no one was excited about that. However, Harang proceeded to pitch like he was in his 20s, and after 204.1 innings his ERA/FIP stood identical at 3.57 apiece. His 2.2 WAR that season was his most WAR in 7 years. Too bad then-GM Frank Wren was fired almost exactly 6 months after that signing.
Josh Tomlin, RHP
March 21, 2019
Looking to perhaps go two for two with veteran pitchers coming off poor performances, Anthopoulos signed then-34-year-old Josh Tomlin to a minor league contract during Spring Training two years ago. At the time, two major arms in the Braves rotation were set to start the 2019 season on the IL (Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman), and the young Mike Soroka was still dealing with shoulder problems. Although he wound up only starting one game that year, Tomlin was tough as nails as a multi-inning reliever for Atlanta in ’19, tallying 79.1 innings in 50 appearances out of the bullpen while pitching to a 3.74 ERA overall. He wasn’t as impressive last season, but over the last two year’s combined he’s been worth 1.6 WAR across 119 frames. Say what you will about Tomlin, but he has been a nice investment.
Ervin Santana, RHP
February 12, 2014
My favorite late-in-the-offseason deal by Wren (more because of what it wound up netting the Braves in the future), Ervin Santana entered the 2014 offseason looking for a $100-million contract after punching out 200+ batters with the Royals in ’13 (a pretty fair demand at the time). With Santana fielding offers as long as four years in length and $50 million in value, the Braves swooped in with a one-year offer at $14.1 million. The Dominican was durable as ever that season, making 31 starts and pitching to a 3.95 ERA across 196 innings on his way to a 1.4-WAR campaign. And Santana didn’t just contribute value on the field. Since his pact was just a one-year gig, Atlanta received a compensatory pick after the ’14 season following his declining of the team’s qualifying offer and his signing with the Twins the following winter. The Braves used that comp pick (no. 28 overall) to select Mike Soroka in the 2015 MLB Draft, who of course finished second in the ’19 NL Cy Young and currently holds the title of staff ace. Nicely done. #SmellBaseball
Brandon Phillips, 2B
February 12, 2017
Trading for a star player about to enter the final year of his contract can oftentimes be a rewarding move, and that’s exactly what GM John Coppolella did back in February of 2017 by sending two pitchers to the Reds. At the time, Phillips had been one of the best second basemen in the game over the last decade, and with Sean Rodriguez out for the season with a shoulder injury — the Braves needed help. At 35-years-old, Phillips was respectable at the keystone position for Atlanta in ’17, playing in 120 games and hitting .291 (96 OPS+) with 11 home runs and 10 stolen bases. You could say his 1 WAR was a bit of a disappointment, but given Cincinnati paid all but $1 million of Phillip’s salary while with the Braves that season, it was about as good a deal Coppy could make (especially with Ozzie Albies on his way). Phillips is still one of my favorite short-term Braves.
While the five moves above have been the most notable and impactful, in terms of post-January 31st offseason deals during the offseason, the last decade has featured even more smaller additions that wound up helping the Braves throughout the season, which gives me hope that there’s still something Anthopoulos can do.
Maybe another player like Matt Joyce from two years ago, or a Jeff Francoeur-type from back in 2016, or hell, even a reliever like Peter Moylan, who John Hart and the Braves picked up in March of 2015. The name(s) doesn’t necessarily have to be big for it to result in a successful deal. We’ll see what happens and if Anthopoulos can pull it off this offseason, though he sure is cutting it close. If the list of players we’ve looked at today are any indication, perhaps there will be some news to celebrate soon.