Braves trade Michael Soroka, four others to White Sox for reliever Aaron Bummer

Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Aaron Bummer (39) in the seventh inning of a baseball game Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Aaron Bummer (39) in the seventh inning of a baseball game Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos can be unpredictable – in the best way. He is known for his creativity. He can work wonders and provide solutions you never saw coming.

This was the case on Thursday night, when the Braves agreed to a trade in which they dealt pitcher Michael Soroka, infielder Nicky Lopez, pitcher Jared Shuster, infielder Braden Shewmake and pitcher Riley Gowens (a minor-league righty) to the Chicago White Sox for lefty reliever Aaron Bummer. The Braves acquired a bullpen piece while trading players who probably weren’t going to play large roles for them next season and beyond.

At the general managers’ meetings last week, Anthopoulos said this, in part, when asked if he’d like to add to his bullpen, even after re-signing Pierce Johnson and Joe Jiménez: “Right now, I wouldn’t rule anything out, just because there’s a lot of ways to make your team better. And if the right deal is a reliever or a position player or a starter, we’ll be open to anything.”

Since debuting in 2017 for the White Sox, Bummer has a 3.84 ERA over 272 innings. In 2023, he posted a 6.79 ERA over 61 relief appearances. But he gets a ton of ground balls and has attractive strikeout numbers: His career ground-ball rate is 66.8% (far above league average) and he has a 31% strikeout rate over the last four seasons.

Bummer will make $5.5 million in 2024, and has club options for 2025 ($7.25 million) and 2026 ($7.5 million) on his contract.

The Braves have 37 players on their 40-man roster, which leaves room for future additions this winter.

Yes, it seems the Braves gave up a lot – because fans know the names and the stories.

This officially ends Soroka’s tenure in Atlanta. It’s a sad conclusion to a once-promising situation. Soroka, who tore his Achilles tendon twice, made it back to the majors, but hasn’t yet recovered his pre-injury form. Fans badly wanted Soroka to succeed here.

Lopez, a trade-deadline acquisition, fit right into the picture. He loved playing for the Braves. He once said they made baseball fun again. He served his role. He was willing to do anything. He enjoyed playing for a contender.

Shuster was the Braves’ first-round pick in 2020. He had a wonderful spring training before debuting this year.

So yes, on the surface, it may seem like Atlanta overpaid for a decent reliever. But this one might make more sense when considering that the Braves might have been leaning toward non-tendering Soroka and Lopez by Friday’s deadline. If this were the case, then why not get something for them instead of nothing?

Braves starting pitcher Michael Soroka delivers on Tuesday, Sep. 5, 2023, in Atlanta. Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

Soroka was out of options, which meant the Braves had to ask themselves whether he could make the opening-day rotation and keep his spot. Otherwise, they couldn’t justify tendering him a contract and using a roster spot on him.

Did the Braves see enough from Soroka last season to believe he could hold a rotation spot in 2024?

“That’s too early to tell,” Anthopoulos said at the GM meetings. “His performance in Gwinnett was good. Obviously, his performance at the big-league level was up and down, he got hurt at the end. But if you look at his performance in Gwinnett, he performed well, he had some really good outings there. I think just more time removed from the injuries – he’s finally getting a chance to pitch a full season – can only bode well for him.”

MLB Trade Rumors, which projects arbitration salaries, predicted Lopez would make $3.9 million next season. Lopez is a great defender who also hit well when called upon last season. But the price might have been too steep for a utility infielder who doesn’t play a ton because the regulars play daily.

Lopez’s inclusion in the trade isn’t surprising. Anthopoulos didn’t publicly commit to using him in the same role next season when asked about it at the GM meetings.

“He did a great job for us,” Anthopoulos said. “We brought him in, he did a phenomenal job. I know he enjoyed being here, we enjoyed him being here. Beyond that, we’ll see how things go.”

Atlanta Braves' Nicky Lopez stretches during warmups before the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

It’s unlikely the other players the Braves sent to Chicago would have played a major role in Atlanta’s future.

Shuster debuted in 2023 and posted a 5.81 ERA over 11 starts in the majors. The concerning part here: While Shuster has time to develop, he didn’t display a ton of swing and miss. He struck out more than three batters in only three of his big-league starts, and had six starts with two or fewer punchouts.

Vaughn Grissom overtook Shewmake on the depth chart. Shewmake is a capable defensive shortstop, but hasn’t hit enough to put himself in contention for the Braves’ major-league roster. He likely wouldn’t have been a factor for this club.

Gowens is 24 years old. He allowed two earned runs over 15 2/3 innings between rookie ball and Low A this year, but wasn’t going to be part of the fold anytime soon.

Back to Bummer. He gives the Braves another left-handed option out of the bullpen. The Braves also have A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek and Dylan Lee.

Bummer’s 2023 ERA could be concerning, but his Fielding Independent Pitching – which measures a pitcher by taking out his defense’s performance to create a number similar to ERA – was 3.58, which means his ERA could’ve been lower had he experienced more luck on balls in play. His FIP figures from the last six seasons, in order: 2.40, 3.41, 1.80, 2.96, 3.19, 3.58.

Bummer throws a sinker that averages 94 mph. His sweeper and cutter are his other two main pitches, and both have traditionally produced good swing and miss. In 2023, Bummer’s 29.2% strikeout rate ranked in the 87th percentile in the sport, according to Baseball Savant.

His ground-ball rates have also been high. Last season, his 60.1% ground-ball rate ranked in the 97th percentile.

Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Aaron Bummer delivers during a baseball game against the New York Yankees Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

The Braves’ bullpen now includes Minter, Bummer, Raisel Iglesias, Pierce Johnson and Joe Jiménez. Lefties Matzek (Tommy John surgery rehab) and Lee (left shoulder cleanup procedure) are expected to be ready for spring training. Nick Anderson and Daysbel Hernandez could also be in the mix.

But there will always be the human element to any transaction. And this time, it might hit hard for fans.

In 2018, Soroka debuted. He became an All-Star the next year. He was one of baseball’s best young starting pitchers. He looked like the future for the Braves.

Then came the injuries.

In 2020, he ruptured his Achilles tendon. In 2021, he re-tore the ligament. He needed three procedures. He missed almost three full years before returning to a big-league mound this May.

He couldn’t quite recapture his old self before September, when his season ended because of right forearm inflammation. Now, he will try to do it with another team.

Thursday became the latest example in why it’s so difficult to know what Anthopoulos is planning to do. No one saw this coming, but it made sense nonetheless.