It is no secret that the Atlanta Braves exceeded expectations in the first half. The offense was dynamic, the pitching was improved, and the team stayed in first place in the division for a large part of the early season. Still, fans were left wondering if the front office would improve the team leading up to the trade deadline.
First, the Braves were one of the teams rumored to be interested in Manny Machado. Then the team was linked to many relief pitchers that would help the bullpen. Then the annual Chris Archer rumors began swirling with Atlanta mentioned as a team in the mix. As player after player was sent to contenders, it began to appear that the Braves may do nothing of significance. Then a flurry of deals leading up to the July 31 trade deadline went down, each one making GM Alex Anthopoulos look more and more like one of the big winners of the mid-season trade action.
Alex Anthopoulos Pulls Off Impressive Moves at Trade Deadline
The Rotation Fix
The move to acquire SP Kevin Gausman and reliever Darren O’Day from the Baltimore Orioles is the big winner for Anthopoulos. O’Day is unfortunately out for the season and unable to help the bullpen in 2018, but Gausman is the big pickup for Atlanta.
There’s no denying the Braves rotation is much improved this season with the progress made by Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb. Still, with the struggles of Julio Teheran and a handful of injuries, Atlanta found itself in serious need of a capable starter. Enter Gausman, a 27-year old starter with back-to-back seasons of 30+ starts and at least 179 innings pitched entering 2018. His ERA may be a bit higher than desired, but he fits a need and is under team control through 2020.
The most impressive part of the deal is the fact that Atlanta did not surrender a single top prospect in the deal. C Brett Cumberland and INF Jean Carlos Encarnacion were the biggest names involved in the four-player package sent to Baltimore. That fact alone should be viewed as an impressive accomplishment in the deal for Gausman.
The Power Bat
Atlanta’s offense has been impressive for much of the season, but it should be noted that a couple of quiet stretches in July did bring some cause for concern. As other contenders in the National League improved, it forced the Braves to consider how to best improve the lineup. In the end, Atlanta acquired OF Adam Duvall from the Cincinnati Reds for three players.
It should be noted that Duvall has a less than impressive slash line of .205/.286/.399 this season, but he remains a legitimate power threat while playing solid defense in left field. That combination alone is not always an easy find. Duvall does have 15 home runs and 19 doubles this season, along with back-to-back 30 home run seasons already on his resume. He is also under team control through 2021.
Duvall may not be a plug-and-play difference-maker like Machado, but he does fit a need in Atlanta. The Braves can now utilize Duvall as part of a platoon against left-handed pitching with Duvall in LF, rookie Ronald Acuna Jr. in CF, and veteran mainstay Nick Markakis in RF.
Fans must also consider Atlanta’s cost to acquire the slugging Duvall. In return, the Braves sent pitchers Lucas Sims and Matt Wisler to the Reds, along with OF Preston Tucker. Both Sims and Wisler have struggled throughout their time in Atlanta, and a change of scenery could be beneficial. While Tucker does bring a bit of upside with his bat, he simply did not have a spot to play in Atlanta. In the end, the Braves surrendered three players, not in their future plans, to acquire a guy with 87 career home runs and contractual control beyond this season. That’s a big win.
The Bullpen Pieces
One of the biggest weaknesses for Atlanta all along was a hit-or-miss bullpen, and Anthopoulos did address that area as well. He also managed to do so without surrendering a single prospect. The Braves did this by acquiring relievers Jonny Venters and Brad Brach from the Tampa Bay Rays and Orioles for international slot money.
Now it is true that Venters and Brach are not top-tier relievers, but there is no denying both improve Atlanta’s bullpen. Venters is an LHP limiting left-handed batters to a .517 OPS this season, and Brach is a veteran reliever with a 3.16 career ERA. The ability to add both players without surrendering any prospects is also a shrewd, home run move for Anthopoulos.
Now, the big question is whether or not the moves made are enough to make Atlanta a serious contender for a big October run. That remains to be seen, but the moves made by Anthopoulos helped the current team get better while also protecting the future without giving up any top prospects. Regardless of the rest of the season, this trade deadline was a big win for Anthopoulos as he aced his first real test as Atlanta’s GM.
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