We are closing in on one month until the MLB’s trade deadline, which is about the time where things start to get real interesting. From here until July 31st, more and more teams are going to decide 2019 isn’t their year, raise the white flag, and start ponying up whatever they have that’s worth anything. The Braves are firmly in control of their division and have one of the most talented farm systems in all of baseball. They are poised to be significant players in the buyer’s market.
That part is known. What remains to be seen is where Alex Anthopoulos’ priorities will be leading up to the deadline. Will he be looking to acquire a front-end starter to lead the Braves inconsistent rotation, or will he focus on a closer to fix the issues in the ninth inning that have been ongoing. Both is also an option and completely fathomable, but which one do the Braves need more.
This was not the case a month ago, but there are more questions than answers in the Braves rotation. Mike Soroka is the only arm that can be consistently relied on at this moment, and even he could experience some rookie regression as this season goes on. Max Fried, who was nearly unhittable in April, has already suffered from some of those setbacks. Julio Teheran is the definition of an enigma; Folty and Gaus have been so bad that their next outings will be in AAA, and who knows what to expect from Dallas Keuchel as he shakes off the cobwebs.
The Braves rotation is not anywhere near World Series ready, and the numbers are there to back it up.
Atlanta currently sits 18th in the MLB in starter’s ERA (4.64) – two spots behind the Phillies (4.46) – whose rotation I consider to be in shambles. Among NL teams, they rank 11 out of 15 and easily have the highest ERA among division leaders. I’ve always said pitching wins championships, and I can’t remember a rotation this discombobulated making it through the trials of October. If Atlanta is trying to make a run, which they are, they have to find some stability in their rotation.
The most imaginable way for that to happen is via a trade. Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer, and Madison Bumgarner are a few starters that will be dangled in front of contenders over the next month. They would all be fantastic additions and should be attainable for the Braves without handing over the entire farm. However, a trade isn’t the only way Atlanta could find peace at the top of their rotation.
The Braves expect Dallas Keuchel to be a huge boost; they believe in Max Fried, and Mike Foltynewicz is a candidate for a resurgence in the second half if he can overcome the demons that have plagued him thus far. It would be gutsy, but Alex Anthopoulos could roll the dice with this group and bank on the pieces to fall in place by season’s end – much like he did with the offense this past offseason.
The same cannot be said for the bullpen. The Braves have squeezed out every bit of this makeshift unit, and it’s created a significant advantage for them over the last month or so. With that said, it would be short-sighted to believe this production can last the entire year and into the postseason.
Since the arrival of Anthony Swarzak, the Braves have the best bullpen in baseball and have found an excellent foundation to rely upon going forward. But they cannot afford to go on without adding a substantial upgrade in the ninth inning.
By now, we know Luke Jackson is not the permanent answer. Internal options are available, but Newk, Toussaint, Webb, and Swarzak shouldn’t be expected to be any better – especially come the postseason – when those last three outs become the hardest in a pitcher’s life.
Atlanta has developed a weapon in their pen, mostly because bullpens across the league have been egregious. That doesn’t mean they should not patch up the most glaring hole on their roster. The best teams, the ones that win championships, continue to better themselves, continue to be aggressive. The Braves have no excuse not to acquire a top-flight closer and turn their bullpen into one of the strongest in the MLB. While bringing in another starter would be nice, the lack of game-changing arms available may inflate prices, making them poor investments. The Braves should be considering adding to their rotation, but it should not take precedence over solidifying their bullpen.