Former Braves GM Schuerholz calls Anthopoulos’ outfield trades ‘a grand slam’

Former Braves general manager John Schuerholz leaves Truist Park on Monday as he joined the team for its trip to Houston for the first two games of the World Series. (Photo by Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Former Braves general manager John Schuerholz leaves Truist Park on Monday as he joined the team for its trip to Houston for the first two games of the World Series. (Photo by Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

John Schuerholz earned a spot in baseball’s Hall of Fame with decades of accomplishment as a general manager, including assembling the Braves teams that reached the World Series five times in the 1990s. But even he seems dazzled by the four trades Alex Anthopoulos, the Braves’ current GM, made in July to rebuild a decimated outfield and save a season.

“That’s a remarkable repair for a general manager to make,” Schuerholz said this week in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s just remarkable.”

Anthopoulos’ acquisitions of Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler and Joc Pederson in separate deals transformed an outfield reeling from the losses of Ronald Acuna to injury, Marcell Ozuna to domestic-violence charges and Cristian Pache (the opening-day center fielder, remember?) to underperformance. General managers know that not all trades, no matter how well-considered, will work out as hoped. But all four of those did.

“That’s a grand slam,” Schuerholz said. “That’s what that is.

“And that doesn’t come by happenstance. It comes by preparation. It comes by continual conversation. It comes by asking (the advice of) the people in your organization whose judgment you rely upon.”

During the postseason, the four outfielders acquired in July have accounted for nine of the Braves’ 15 home runs (60%) and 28 of their 47 RBIs (also 60%). Their impact was on full display in Game 1 of the World Series: Soler and Duvall hit home runs and drove in two runs each, while Rosario had two hits and Pederson one. Even after going 0-for-4 in World Series Game 2, Rosario is hitting .426 (20-for-47) for the postseason.

The Braves likely wouldn’t have won the NL East, likely wouldn’t have reached the playoffs, let alone the World Series, without the trades – all of them.

Asked if, in his 26 years as a GM with the Braves and the Kansas City Royals, he ever dealt with anything similar to having to rebuild a contending team’s entire outfield in-season, Schuerholz said: “I don’t think I ever faced a circumstance like that.”

But he can appreciate, better than most, the magnitude of the maneuvering that had to happen for Anthopoulos to complete the four trades, three of them in the hours or minutes leading to the trade deadline.

“You have to get all your quote-unquote ‘ducks in a row’ – what players you’re seeking to acquire, how all of those line up, how far can you go (in terms of what you’ll give up in the deals),” said Schuerholz, who at age 81 holds the title of Braves vice chairman emeritus. “What is your level of willingness before you have to back away (from an attempted trade)? And what is the level of willingness of the other side to get going and get something done? That’s what Alex worked through, all of that.

“He’s a very thorough guy, and he’s a sharp guy. He’s in tune with the industry, in tune with our team and especially in tune with the individual players on our team.”

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Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos, left, and manager Brian Snitker celebrate at Truist Park after their team clinched the National League Championship Series on Saturday to advance to the World Series. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos, left, and manager Brian Snitker celebrate at Truist Park after their team clinched the National League Championship Series on Saturday to advance to the World Series.  (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos, left, and manager Brian Snitker celebrate at Truist Park after their team clinched the National League Championship Series on Saturday to advance to the World Series. (Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the trades, considering how much the Braves have gained from them over the past three months, is how little they gave up in return for the outfielders. The only player they relinquished off the major-league roster was one they were about to release anyway (Pablo Sandoval). They didn’t relinquish any of the organization’s top prospects.

“It was more likely, from the perspective of the teams that had those players, a salary dump,” Schuerholz said. “But what Alex saw, I believe, is talent that maybe was latent ... but that he believed (could thrive) in our circumstance based on what we needed to do, which was get more offense, especially with those two big guys we lost.

“We didn’t have Acuna, we didn’t have Ozuna, and we ended up with a heck of a lot of really good outfielders to replace those guys.”

The Braves acquired Pederson from the Chicago Cubs for first-base prospect Bryce Ball on July 15, five days after Acuna’s season-ending knee injury. On July 30, the day of the trade deadline, they got Duvall from Miami for catching prospect Alex Jackson, Soler from Kansas City for relief-pitcher prospect Kasey Kalich and Rosario, who was on the injured list at the time, from Cleveland for Sandoval. Cleveland immediately released Sandoval, having accepted him in the deal only to offset a bit of Rosario’s remaining salary, and also sent some cash to the Braves in the deal.

In all, the Braves took on less than $8 million in prorated 2021 salaries to add the four outfielders, plus responsibility for buyouts of $3 million and $2.5 million in Duvall’s and Pederson’s contracts, respectively, if mutual options aren’t exercised for 2022.

Completing the trades required persistence on the part of Anthopoulos and his staff, but there obviously weren’t a lot of other teams, if any, bidding for the players at the time. Otherwise, the Braves wouldn’t have been able to get them for the modest price they paid.

Only one of the four outfielders – Duvall, who was among the NL leaders in RBIs for Miami – was having a particularly good season with his previous team. Pederson was hitting .230 with 11 homers in 73 games for the Cubs, Soler .192 with 13 homers in 94 games for Kansas City and Rosario .254 with seven homers in 78 games for Cleveland.

After the trades, Duvall continued to drive in runs and hit for power, finishing first in the league in RBIs and second in homers, while Soler started to look more like the player who had 48 homers and 117 RBIs in 2019 and Rosario more like the guy who had 32 homers and 109 RBIs in 2019. And Pederson validated his “Joctober” nickname early this postseason.

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Braves Vice Chairman Emeritus John Schuerholz (left) and Chairman Terry McGuirk (right) watch the team practice at American Family Field in Milwaukee on Oct. 7, preparing for the opening game of the National League Division Series against the Brewers. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Braves Vice Chairman Emeritus John Schuerholz (left) and Chairman  Terry McGuirk (right) watch the team practice at American Family Field in Milwaukee on Oct. 7, preparing for the opening game of the National League Division Series against the Brewers. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
Braves Vice Chairman Emeritus John Schuerholz (left) and Chairman Terry McGuirk (right) watch the team practice at American Family Field in Milwaukee on Oct. 7, preparing for the opening game of the National League Division Series against the Brewers. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The best single trade-deadline deal in Braves history probably remains the July 1993 acquisition of slugging first baseman Fred McGriff by Schuerholz, the team’s general manager from October 1990 until October 2007 and then its president until March 2016.

Schuerholz acquired McGriff from the payroll-slashing San Diego Padres for three minor leaguers, none of whom were among the Braves’ most prized prospects at the time. McGriff hit .310 with 19 homers and 55 RBIs in the remaining 68 games of the 1993 season. The 104-win Braves needed every bit of the spark he provided as they finished one game ahead of 103-win San Francisco in the NL West.

The Braves didn’t reach the World Series that year, losing in the NLCS, but McGriff was a key part of the team that won the World Series in 1995.

“(McGriff) was the guy that everybody said, ‘Wow, how in the world did you get this guy?’” Schuerholz recalled.

Sort of the same thing everybody is saying now, plural, about the outfielders Anthopoulos acquired.