The Braves’ lack of deals at the deadline not hurting their chances

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Any way you slice it, the Braves provided very little excitement leading up to (and during) deadline day earlier this week. This past Sunday’s trade with the Orioles, resulting in the addition of lefty starter Tommy Milone — in exchange for two Players To Be Named Later — is all the team has to show for, after what wound up being a rather interesting couple of days. From a pure strength and weakness standpoint, the Braves probably didn’t get much better with the Milone acquisition. Best case scenario, the 33-year-old simply stays healthy and at least halfway maintains the 3.99 ERA he brought with him at the time of the trade (he’s already up to a 5.68 ERA after allowing seven runs in 2.1 innings during his Braves debut on Sunday). 

It’s pretty simple: the team had an obvious weakness to address. There were a few pitchers that could’ve helped. But GM Alex Anthopoulos wasn’t willing to pull the trigger and cash in any of his chips. Agree or disagree with the decision, but the Braves essentially sat this season’s trading period out. 

However, according to FanGraphs‘ updated ZiPS projections from Wednesday, Anthopoulos’ choice to stand pat earlier this week wasn’t such a terrible idea.

 

Before/After Trade Deadline

  • Win division (before): 76.5% 
  • Win division (after): 75.3%
  • Difference: -1.2%

  • Make playoffs (before): 98.2%
  • Make playoffs (after): 98.1%
  • Difference: -0.1%

  • Win World Series (before): 7.3%
  • Win World Series (after): 7.2%
  • Difference: -0.1%

MLB-wide, the Braves are part of a nine-team group that was able to exit Monday’s trade deadline with no more than a 0.1% change in their playoff odds. And despite doing barely anything to strengthen the rotation, the Braves still remain favorites in the NL East, projected to win the division by five games (as of September 2).

 

2020 Projected Standings (NL East)

TEAM RECORD DIVISION ODDS
Braves 36-24 75.3%
Phillies 31-29 19.2%
Marlins 27-33 2.8%
Mets 27-33 2.1%
Nationals 25-35 0.5%

Long story short, the Braves are sitting in a pretty solid spot… no matter what. In fact, as things stood before Wednesday’s slate of games, the Dodgers’ MLB-leading projection of 41 wins were the only NL team projected to outplay the Braves; and in the AL, only the Rays (39 wins), Yankees (37), and Athletics (37) stand in front. In case you’re not keeping count, right now — again, despite doing nothing to get better — the Braves are a top-five team in the majors.

Of course, this could also be looked at differently. You could just as easily make the point that given how close the Braves are to becoming the NL’s most dangerous team, or one of the top two or three clubs in the majors, perhaps they should’ve been more aggressive at the deadline and made the moves needed to put them over the top. Just imagine if Anthopoulos actually acquired Mike Clevinger from the Indians or Lance Lynn from the Rangers, or a combination of the two with a bonus of Mike Minor to really prop up the rotation. Two of those (Clevinger & Lynn) are legit frontline starters, and though Minor isn’t pitching as well as he did in 2019, he would most certainly move the needle in terms of lengthening the Braves’ starting rotation.

But evidently, Anthopoulos didn’t feel as if the cost to gain what’s needed to really move the needle for this season’s team was worth it. And judging by the minimal jump in playoff odds by some of MLB’s most active contenders, his decision to hold back was probably correct. Hell, the Padres (who again landed Clevinger, as well as catcher Aaron Nola) and White Sox (who got speedy centerfielder Jarrod Dyson) — two teams that own at least 95% odds at making the postseason — barely saw a jump in their World Series odds, improving a combined 1.3%.

Of course, another solid starter would’ve made a difference and probably added a few wins to the Braves projected win total this season. But according to Anthopoulos and the most recent projections, moving a prospect like Drew Waters or Ian Anderson — who would’ve most likely been a required headliner in an impactful trade — just wasn’t worth the gain, especially given how strong the Braves’ playoff odds are currently (and as we’ve seen time and time again, it’s all about making the postseason; everything after that is a total crapshoot).

So it’s understandable to be frustrated with the Braves’ lack of moves from an excitement standpoint. But in terms of the team’s inactivity earlier this week costing them a shot at the World Series… well, that’s a bit of a stretch.

 

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