With the trade deadline less than two weeks away, it’s time to start evaluating all of the Braves options, which may not be many in this shortened season. I wrote yesterday about how they match up well as trade partners with the Cleveland Indians because Cleveland has loads of controllable starting pitching (the Braves’ most significant need), and Atlanta has plenty of talented young outfielders (the Indians’ most significant need). I also wrote on how Alex Anthopoulos is willing to trade one of his top prospects, but it has to be for the “right guy.” All of this suggests the Braves will be as active as possible leading up to the trade deadline, but just how aggressive should they be at pulling the trigger?
Like every deal in any sport, it’s all about the risk/reward. So far, Alex Anthopoulos has held off on making the blockbuster trade, despite being in the conversation for some of baseball’s biggest stars. In 2017, the Braves were rumored to be interested in Christian Yelich, but the Marlins demanded Ronald Acuña in return. Anthopoulos wisely passed, but that Yelich guy has been pretty good for the Brewers the last few seasons. Anthopoulos was also deep into talks for J.T. Realmuto but again balked on the asking price. And just this past year, rumors were flying around about the Braves having interest in Kris Bryant, but still, there was no fire despite all the smoke.
Anthopoulos hasn’t been shy at the trade deadline, though. Two years ago, he dealt some lesser prospects for Kevin Gausman and Adam Duvall in separate deals. Neither has been enough to put the Braves over the hump, but Gausman was fantastic for Atlanta down the stretch in 2018, and Duvall has turned into a starting outfielder in his third season with the Braves.
Just last year, Anthopoulos was extremely active at the trade deadline, completing three deals for three relievers. It cost the Braves three pitching prospects, and hindsight 20/20, Anthopoulos might want a couple of those guys back, considering how Atlanta’s young arms have performed this season. However, Melancon and Greene have been outstanding in 2020, and the Braves would be helpless without them.
So if you’re hoping for the Braves to complete a blockbuster deal that lands them another top-of-the-rotation arm that can be a #2 to Max Fried, don’t hold your breath. Anthopoulos has shown a hesitancy to deal top prospects, and the few clubs that will be selling their superstars at the trade deadline probably will want even more in return, considering they won’t be able to scout prospects since there is no minor-league season. However, there is one thing that favors the possibility of this being the year Anthopoulos finally pulls the trigger on a blockbuster trade.
In the past, it’s always felt like the Braves had a reasonable backup plan to the players they were going after. Acuña could end up being just as good as Yelich; Austin Riley and Johan Camargo could provide similar production to Bryant, etc. This year, though, it’s obvious the Braves need controllable starting pitching desperately. They can’t keep wasting years in the prime of their window to compete for championships, hoping that some of their younger arms pop.
The Braves have a championship-caliber offense when healthy, their bullpen is elite, Max Fried and Mike Soroka are fantastic, but the rest of their rotation has been hot garbage, leading to Josh Tomlin and Robbie Erlin making starts. They are one proven controllable starter away from being World Series contenders for the next five seasons. That’s what Alex Anthopoulos is talking about when he mentions “the right guy.” Still, it’s much easier to pinpoint particular candidates that would fit perfectly in the rotation than to complete a trade, especially in a shortened season, with an expanded playoff format, and no minor league season.
So, let’s say the “right guy” isn’t available. Now, what? I don’t imagine Anthopoulos will throw in the towel completely; he probably will make at least one trade before the deadline. But how aggressive should he be going after one-year rentals or average major league starters… the answer is not very.
When you look at the Braves, they most likely aren’t just an average starter away from winning a championship. Max Fried has been electric, but he’s yet to start a postseason game. Who knows if this kind of success is sustainable for the rest of the season, let alone into the playoffs. And after him, the Braves are best letting their bullpen pitch the rest of the games. Adding a mediocre starter isn’t going to increase their chances of defeating the Dodgers in the playoffs, at least not substantially. And if you don’t think the Braves are one piece away from winning a championship, then dealing good prospects for a one-year rental is a terrible idea, especially with an expanded playoff format that has the feeling of a crapshoot.
Alex Anthopoulos is a busy GM. He’s shown that over the years with many tiny transactions that have turned out be very impactful in the Braves quest for back-to-back NL East titles. However, given the circumstances of this weird 2020 season and the Braves current roster, a quiet trade deadline for Atlanta might suit them best for the future. If the right deal for the “right guy” comes along that helps the Braves for years to come, then great — pull the trigger. But going all-in for 2020 would not be a wise decision, and I don’t think it’s something Anthopoulos is considering.