When the Braves entered the clubhouse after Wednesday’s 5-4 win in Washington, a number of players were frantically checking their phones. Both TVs were on MLB Network, where news just popped that the Braves were trading for their third reliever in the previous 24 hours.
“OK, Alex, I see you,” exclaimed one position player. There were smiles abound, even from the relievers who might’ve seen their jobs slip away. General manager Alex Anthopoulos had turned his faith into action.
The Braves acquired Shane Greene, Mark Melancon and Chris Martin before the trade deadline. They added a trio of veteran righties, each of whom has closing experience, to transform their bullpen – which had an ERA north of 6.00 in the second half – in a day’s time.
We invoke two prominent sentences from first baseman Freddie Freeman: “Everyone knows this team has a real good chance to win this thing. When you play well and get rewarded by your front office, it fires up everybody in your clubhouse.”
Despite the team’s division championship last season, there was an unwanted perception of the franchise, of chairman Terry McGuirk and ownership, that Anthopoulos was bound by their imposed financial limitations. “Shopping in any aisle” became a punchline. “Financial flexibility” became a recurring jest.
In many ways, it was justifiable. The Braves were a year ahead of schedule, but took a more conservative route in the offseason. Wednesday’s events should shake that stigma, at least for a while, because the Braves took advantage of the opportunity in front of them. We’ve seen the tangible results of financial flexibility.
They spent $36 million on Josh Donaldson and Dallas Keuchel without the risk of a long-term commitment. Both players, especially Donaldson, are crucial to this team’s success. The Braves will have the option, and funds, to re-sign either.
They assumed what’s likely over $20 million in future commitments Wednesday alone, absorbing Melancon’s $14 million salary in 2020 and accounting for Greene’s arbitration raise (he makes $4 million this season, his first All-Star campaign).
Those aren’t the moves of a team playing patiently. Consider how far this franchise has come since the previous regime resigned in disgrace. Whatever you think of ownership and the front office, what’s transpired over the past season-and-a-half, and specifically since the Donaldson signing, deserves praise.
It didn’t cost elite prospects. It didn’t require taking on a Robinson Cano contract. It required a shrewd GM and higher ups willing to loosen the purse strings. The Braves feel their core will compete for the National League pennant. They don’t need to publicly state it; these are the moves of a true contender.
While Greene’s below-the-surface numbers suggest a regression is near, I liked this move. He was the best closer available (Edwin Diaz’s and Felipe Vazquez’s prices were so ridiculous you can’t consider them truly available) and represents the team’s best ninth-inning man since…Craig Kimbrel.
It cost Joey Wentz, who many like but is expendable, and Travis Demeritte, who’d just rebuilt value this season. For months we heard the Tigers wanted top prospects for their All-Star. They ended up with a decent package, but the Braves should make this deal 10 out of 10 times, especially since it prevented Greene from landing in D.C. or Los Angeles.
Martin is the most intriguing move. He doesn’t have the name recognition or resume as others, but his recent tear is among the more impressive in baseball. The Braves needed guys who throw strikes. It sounds simple, but as we’ve seen, it’s not so easy in execution. They dealt Kolby Allard for him, another player who wasn’t going to fit the team long-term.
Braves and Giants fans seem happy with the Melancon move, a truly rare outcome. The Braves’ willingness to take on his contract is the most notable development here. Fourteen million is steep for a reliever, but Melancon’s experience and ground-ball profile theoretically makes him the ideal arm to set up for Greene over the next two seasons.
Oh yeah, that’s worth mentioning: The next two seasons. Greene and Melancon are controllable through 2020, an important stipulation in the Braves’ (and everyone else’s) thought process. Martin is a rental, but he’s also 33. If it’s a success and the Braves want him back, that won’t break the bank.
The Braves are being universally applauded for Wednesday. Many opine that the only team with a better deadline was Houston, which added Zack Greinke to its rotation at the expense of four prospects. ESPN’s Buster Olney noted the Braves were involved with Greinke, but Anthopoulos said the team never came close to acquiring a starter, so they were more than likely on the peripherals of those talks.
And if you can’t add a starter, just triple down on the bullpen. Adam Duvall and Ender Inciarte looking serviceable at the plate certainly eased the need to add another bat. Anthopoulos will never say the team target specific positions, always acknowledging they’re going to make the moves where cost, fit and value align, and in this case it worked out to several relievers.
While that’s probably true, there’s no way the Braves could’ve come out of this deadline without bullpen help. They could survive without another starter or bat. Now, their bullpen suddenly possesses a three-headed monster on the back end and players such as Luke Jackson, who were thrown into high-leverage spots out of necessity, can be shifted to the middle innings.
So the Braves and their front office deserve all their credit they’re getting. Vegas gives their team the fourth-best odds at a World Series title. That is a remarkable sway from even July 2017, when talk centered on what Jaime Garcia could bring back in a trade.
Even if it doesn’t work out, even if the Braves are trounced in the division series again, it won’t be because the team didn’t extend itself at the deadline. And however this campaign ends, the franchise will be in excellent position this winter, when it can find those final pieces.
At least now, if this unfolds as planned, a closer won’t be on their Christmas shopping list.
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