The Braves made their first significant trade of the season today, acquiring relief pitcher Pierce Johnson from the Rockies in exchange for Victor Vodnik and Tanner Gordon. Now, for most baseball fans in Atlanta, these aren’t familiar names, but the more I look into this deal, the more I appreciate it.
For starters, the Braves gave up next to nothing. If you go down Atlanta’s top-30 prospect list, both Vodnik and Gordon will show up. According to MLB.com, Vodnik is the Braves 10th-best prospect in the system, and Gordon is ranked 26th. On the surface, that’s a ton to trade for a rental reliever with a 6.00 ERA, but there are a couple of things I want to say about that.
MLB.com doesn’t do a great job of evaluating prospects. FanGraphs, Baseball America, and even my own are generally much more accurate. I wouldn’t have had Vodnik close to that high, mostly because he projects as a reliever at the major-league level, if he ever makes it. The only prospect relievers that should be that high on any prospect lists should be guys that are slam dunks. Vodnik is far from that.
It’s also important to realize the Braves might have the worst farm system in baseball. Gordon wouldn’t be anywhere close to a top-30 prospect in another farm system, and Vodnik might not be either.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s focus on the prize of this deal for the Braves. Why the hell would they want a struggling relief pitcher with a 6.00 ERA?
The hope is that a change of scenery will do Pierce Johnson wonders. From 2020-2022, he posted a 3.39 ERA, 3.19 FIP, and 12.1 K/9. Then he signed a one-year deal with the Rockies, and he probably regrets that a little bit, given the nature of Coors Field. Johnson’s splits this season also suggest he could be a weapon in Atlanta, recording a 2.31 FIP and 2.71 xFIP while striking out nearly 40% of the batters he’s faced away from home.
There’s also something to be said about the type of pitcher Johnson is. He’s a power arm that lives in the high-90s with his heater, tossing a slider and curveball off of it. Johnson strikes out a ton of batters, and that’s something this bullpen could desperately use.
The Braves have had a ton of success finding value where not many other clubs are looking. Time and time again, these types of deals have worked out under Alex Anthopoulos. The cost was really very little, and in Johnson, they get a lottery ticket that could end up being a pivotal piece to the back end of this bullpen.
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