For ready reference, the greatest case study of deadline dealing involved the Braves – and no, not the Len Barker deal, or even the Mark Teixiera one, or even the transforming Fred McGriff transaction. In 1987, Detroit was chasing the American League title and needed a starting pitcher. (Fancy that.) Braves GM Bobby Cox dispatched Doyle Alexander, who did exactly as the Tigers wanted: He went 9-0 over 11 starts, three of which were complete games. (Anybody remember those?) The Tigers won the East by two games over Toronto.
And now the cautionary part of our tale. Detroit lost the ALCS to Minnesota 4-1. Alexander, who turned 37 that September, was out of baseball by 1990. The pitcher Cox received for 2-1/4 seasons of Alexander helped the Braves to five World Series and had a major role in 13 of the 14 consecutive division titles. The Tigers wouldn’t play another postseason game until 2006, at which time the 39-year-old John Smoltz was garnishing his Hall of Fame resume by winning 16 games for the Braves. The Tigers won the division and lost the next two decades.
That’s an extreme example, yes, but it’s not the only one. Ask the Red Sox about trading Jeff Bagwell (future Hall of Famer) to Houston for Larry Andersen. Ask the Cubs about shipping Josh Donaldson (future MVP, albeit as a Blue Jay) to the A’s for Rich Harden. No, not every prospect graces Cooperstown, but the reality of 21st century baseball is that GMs have come to value assets above all, and there’s no greater asset than a good young player on a team-friendly contract.
As for the 2019 Braves: Alex Anthopoulos has to know his pitching probably isn’t good enough to win a World Series. (We say “probably” because weird things happen in October.) He also knows his young talent, which numbers Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies and Mike Soroka but also minor-leaguers Pache and Drew Waters and Ian Anderson, is better than just about any other team’s. It would be a punch in the gut for this season to fizzle. It could be a decade-long series of punches if Anthopoulos overreaches in trying to cure what ails his current staff.
If you're a Braves' fan, you're doubtless torn as to what your GM should do. The belief here is that Anthopoulos has a clear idea of how far he can go. He learned what to do, and also what not, with Toronto. (As noted yesterday, he was on the wrong side of a Noah Syndergaard trade there.) The belief is that he'll be aggressive — I now expect him to hook both a starter and a reliever, though the starter mightn't be one of the higher-profile guys — but that he'll also mix in some Hippocrates: First, do no harm.
If you’re an aging club with a lower-tier farm system — the Cubs of Theo Epstein fit that profile, FYI — you can go all in without reservation. If you’re the Braves, you can’t and shouldn’t. What if you get Syndergaard and make the playoffs but lose again in the NLDS? What if he hurts his arm and does little? What if Pache winds up winning rookie of the year for a club in your division? Anthopoulos can’t be afraid to make a deal, but he can’t blow up a farm system — the Teixeira trade blew up the Braves’ farm system — because his team has lost eight of 12.
The good news: Anthopoulos knows that better than anyone. He’s a smart guy. He’s a seasoned pro. The Braves are in a tricky spot, but they’re also in good hands.