Sometimes it’s just fun to look back at “what ifs” from past offseasons. Fans (including myself and many other writers) frequently think they know best, but more often than not, Alex Anthopoulos has pulled the right strings and kept the Braves in a position to win championships now and in the future.
A few offseasons ago, everybody was willing to move Mike Soroka and more for JT Realmuto. Of course, Soroka has dealt with injury issues since then, but it wouldn’t have been wise to move him for a player the Braves likely would have never been able to retain. But in this article, I want to focus on two of the Braves’ primary targets two offseasons ago that almost everybody wanted to land in Atlanta. Thankfully, Anthopoulos was wise enough to pass on both, and because of that, the Braves will remain one of the favorites to win the National League for quite some time.
The first was a starter that hailed from Braves Country — a three-time World Series champion with the Giants linked to Atlanta for quite some time. Admittedly, I was one of the many Braves fans that thought it would be a brilliant idea to sign him. Although — in my defense — I never would have handed him the contract that he eventually inked with the Diamondbacks. Still, the Braves would have regretted handing Madison Bumgarner any type of multi-year contract based on his performances over the last two seasons.
In 2020, Bumgarner dealt with some injury concerns, but when he was on the mound, it was tough to watch. He surrendered 13 homers in just nine starts and ended the season with a 6.48 ERA. Beyond the surface-level numbers, though, his lost velocity and advanced numbers were even more discouraging. Bumgarner lost three miles on his fastball and over four miles on his slider, which resulted in him giving up extremely hard hits. His barrel rate%, xBA, xSLG, xwOBA, and xERA were all ranked in the bottom 1% of the league. That’s abysmal, but at least an optimistic Diamondbacks fan could blame it on the small sample size and injury concerns.
They won’t have that excuse this season, and early on, the results aren’t promising. Bumgarner has made three starts, allowing 22 hits, 8 walks, and 17 earned runs in just 22.1 innings, resulting in an unsightly 11.20 ERA. If there’s one promising sign, his velocity is slightly up from last season. However, it still doesn’t look good for the three-time World Champion, and it looks even worse for the Diamondbacks, who owe Bumgarner $19 million this season, $23 million in 2022 and 2023, and $14 million in 2024. Talk about dodging a bullet.
The Braves avoided another misstep by letting a fan favorite walk that very same offseason. Josh Donaldson had a remarkable 2019. He was able to stay healthy for the first time in years and recorded 37 homers with a .900 OPS while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at the hot corner. Everyone in Atlanta wanted him back, including Alex Anthopoulos, who has a fantastic relationship with The Bringer of Rain. However, the Twins were willing to offer $100 million — a price AA balked at, and it’s a blessing that they did.
Donaldson hasn’t been able to stay healthy with his new team. He only played in 28 games last season and never got going, hitting just .222 with six homers, and was even left off the Twins postseason roster. 2021 is off to a similar start, too. After just one game, he was placed on the 10-day IL with a hamstring injury. He just returned to the lineup, but I would be willing to bet it’s not the only injury he will suffer this year, which is unfortunate because — even at 35-years-old — he is one of the best third basemen in the game when healthy.
Like the Diamondbacks, the Twins are still on the hook for a lot of money when it comes to Donaldson. He’s owed $21 million from 2021-2023 and has a $16 million club option for 2024 with an $8 million buyout.
Alex Anthopoulos has certainly had some misses during his tenure as the Braves general manager, but just like the game of golf — it’s not about how great your good shots are, but about how bad your poor ones turn out. Thus far, Anthopoulos has hit more often than he’s missed, but when he misses, it is typically small, like signing Cole Hamels last season. Sure, he provided nothing for $18 million because of injury, but he didn’t hurt the long-term outlook of the club. Had Anthopoulos handed out a multi-year contract to Bumgarner or Donaldson, the Braves championship window would have shut much sooner than it ever needed to.
Photo: Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire
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