If Anthopoulos wants trade for Yelich or Realmuto, it can happen

I know most Braves fans out there have heard the rumors, and plenty of you are waiting pensively, hoping that general manager Alex Anthopoulos can pull off a trade to land one or even both young Marlins standouts, outfielder Christian Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto. I hear ya.

Christian Yelich has a Gold Glove award and a Silver Slugger award on his resume and comes with up to five years of control on an affordable contract for any team that gets him. (AP file photo)

For those skeptics or cynics who doubt it can be done, who’ve grown numb to the idea of the Braves acquiring anything other than prospects in trades because of the fact that’s almost exclusively how they operated for these past three years, just keep a couple of things in mind:

1. They are past the prospect-acquisition phase of the organizational rebuild, and 2. Anthopoulos is known for making bold deals and never shied from trading prospects in the right deal.

And no one is more aware of that latter point than the Marlins, with whom Anthopoulos engineered a 12-player blockbuster trade in November 2012 when he was Toronto’s general manager. It took all of one week for that mammoth talent swap to go from inception to fruition, and that trade started with the Blue Jays pursuing just one Marlin – pitcher Josh Johnson – then expanded rapidly.

The Blue Jays ended up getting five Marlins – Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, John Buck, Emilio Bonifacio – and sending Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria, Yunel Escobar, Jake Marisnick, Anthony Desclafani, Jeff Mathis and Justin Nicolino to Miami. It was the largest trade in Blue Jays history and signaled the start of a new era in Toronto baseball, building to the Blue Jays’ 2015 ALCS appearance.

Most of the Marlins’ officials involved in doing that blockbuster deal have since moved on, but not GM Michael Hill, who was their GM then and remains so today. Anthopoulos worked out that massive trade quickly with Hill and then-Marlins president Larry Beinfest after going to their hotel suite at the GM meetings to ask about the availability of Johnson.

It took even less time for Anthopoulos and his former Dodgers front-office colleagues to pull off a far more complicated trade last month, when Anthopoulos found a way to rid the Braves of Matt Kemp and fill two offseason needs via a five-player trade that sent Kemp to L.A. for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (who was immediately DFA’d and released, a prerequisite for him to waive his no-trade clause), right-hander Brandon McCarthy, lefty Scott Kazmir, infielder Charlie Culberson and $4.5 million from the Dodgers.

The overall payroll swap in that deal was equal over a two-year span. The Braves added plenty to their 2018 payroll, but gave themselves more flexibility for 2019, when they expect to put together a contending team and will have money to dip in an impressive free-agent class if they choose to.

It was about as creative a salary dump for both teams as anyone in baseball could recall, and the details were worked out in only a few days.

J.T. Realmuto is considered one of the best all-around catchers in the game already and has three years of arbitration before free agency. (AP photo)

So don’t for a second question whether Anthopoulos can find a way to make a deal work if he’s determined to do it. Even if that means moving young talent.

Hechavarria, Marisnick and Nicolino were among the Blue Jays’ best young talent at the time of that 12-player deal. Reyes spent 2 ½ seasons with Toronto before he was traded to the Rockies midway through the 2015 season in the deal that brought Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins to the Blue Jays.

Buck was with the Blue Jays for only four weeks before Anthopoulos traded him to the Mets in the deal for then-reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey, along with his personal catcher Josh Thole and Mike Nickea. The Blue Jays gave up three prospects in that deal, including Travis D’Arnaud, Wuilmer Becerra and a guy you may have heard of, Noah Syndergaard.

OK, so that trade didn’t work out so well for the Jays, but at the time Dickey seemed capable of being the big missing piece for Toronto’s rotation. You try to win more trades than you lose, but you don't win them all. No one does.

It actually was four months before that November 2012 dozen-player trade with the Marlins when Anthopoulos first showed he would pull the trigger on an extremely bold and risky deal if he liked the proposal.

It was 1½ weeks before the July 2012 trade deadline, and he got J.A. Happ and two other pitchers, Brandon Lyon and David Carpenter, from the Astros for pitchers Francisco Cordero, outfielder Ben Francisco and five prospects: catcher Carlos Perez and pitchers Asher Wojciechowski, Joe Musgrove, David Rollins and Kevin Comer. Repeat, he traded five prospects in one deal.

That’s why, even after he said upon taking over Braves baseball operations in November that he would not come in and do anything “crazy” early on and reiterating that last month when he explained how he wanted to get a better handle on exactly what the Braves had with their young players and prospects before making major moves involving them, it wouldn’t surprise me if Anthopoulos pulls off a deal for Yelich or Realmuto.

Probably not both, as there would presumably be no way to avoid giving up multiple top prospects in a deal to land both of those Marlins, and I don't see him trading 4-5 top prospects this soon on the job in ATL. But trade for one of them? Yes, I can see it. I'm not predicting it, but it won't surprise me.

The players the Marlins have asked for or will continue to ask for are likely a cut above most of the prospects – exception, Syndergaard; but even he wasn’t that highly rated at the time – that Anthopoulos traded with the Blue Jays, but asking for and getting are two different things.

I’m sure the Marlins asked for Braves super prospect Ronald Acuna and might still be asking, but he’s not going anywhere. Anthopoulos didn’t need to get the lay of the land to know that Acuna is as close to untouchable as a prospect can possibly be.

I also can’t see him trading lefty Luiz Gohara, who impressed everyone with his stuff and composure after starting the season in high-A ball, rocketing through the Braves system and joining the major league rotation in September. If he can stay on top of the weight issue, get in better shape, the sky is the limit for Gohara, from what I've seen.

Or second baseman Ozzie Albies, who pretty well erased mine and anybody else’s questions about how the undersized dynamo would be able to bounce back from the unusual broken elbow he sustained the previous September in a Double-A playoff game and whether he’d be able to make adjustments or handle early struggles once he got to the majors. Albies is for real and figures to be a middle-infield fixture.

But beyond those three and presumably Dansby Swanson -- just can't give up on a guy like him after one full season -- I’m not so sure that any Braves prospects are entirely off-limits or that I wouldn’t consider using a top pitching prospect or two, and maybe a young outfield prospect not named Acuna, to get Yelich, who already has a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award and who is just entering his prime with five years of contractual control.

I’d also trade any catching prospect – the Braves have a few now -- if the deal with the Marlins was for Realmuto, one of the best all-around catchers in the game and still three arbitration years from free agency.

John Coppolella and the Braves built a farm system that still ranks among the top two or three in baseball – and first in terms of pitching prospects – despite losing a dozen young prospects in the scandal that got “Coppy” banned for life from baseball.

Anthopoulos has proved multiple times that he can be creative and make a deal work, and he’s also shown that he’s not married to prospects, even though he’s made it clear he isn’t going to blow up the Braves' farm system before he’s had time to get a closer look himself and a good handle on what that system has.

But when you’ve got a system as loaded with prospects as the Braves have, and a GM as creative and bold as they have now, it’s entirely conceivable that a deal could happen to get a young, proven hitter or two to help ease some of the offensive load on Freddie Freeman and help the Braves become a contender in the next couple of years. And the Marlins have a couple of them available.

• I'll close with this classic (and a fan-made video) from R.E.M., since it was Michael Stipe's birthday on Thursday.

When I was young and full of grace

And spirited a rattlesnake

When I was young and fever fell

My spirit I will not tell

You're on your honor not to tell

I believe in coyotes and time as an abstract

Explain the change the difference between

What you want and what you need there's the key

Your adventure for today what do you do

Between the horns of the day?

I believe my shirt is wearing thin

And change is what I believe in

When I was young and give and take

And foolish said my fool awake

When I was young and fever fell

My spirit, I will not tell

You're on your honor, on your honor

Trust in your calling, make sure your calling's true

Think of others, the others think of you

Silly rule golden words make, practice, practice makes perfect,

Perfect is a fault, and fault lines change

I believe my humor's wearing thin

And change is what I believe in

I believe my shirt is wearing thin

And change is what I believe in

I was young and full of grace

As spirited a rattlesnake

When I was young and fever fell

My spirit, I will not tell

You're on your honor, on your honor

I believe in example

I believe my throat hurts

Example is the checker to the key

I believe my humor's wearing thin

And I believe the poles are shifting

I believe my shirt is wearing thin

And change is what I believe in

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

David O'Brien
David O'Brien
David O'Brien covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for more than a decade.