‘In Alex We Trust,’ we rank best moves of Anthopoulos’ Braves tenure

Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos talks on the phone during spring training workouts at CoolToday Park, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos talks on the phone during spring training workouts at CoolToday Park, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

It has become a rallying cry for Braves supporters over the past seven years.

“In Alex We Trust.”

The phrase refers to Braves president of baseball operations and general manager Alex Anthopoulos and the moves he has made since joining the organization in 2017. He has built a perennial winner, including six straight National League East titles, and a World Series championship. Move after move has paid big dividends.

In light of his latest strokes of success – obtaining starting pitcher Chris Sale and Reynaldo Lopez – we thought we would look back at some of the best moves. While we were at it, we figured, why not rank them.

There were other moves that have worked out and a few that did not. For these purposes, we combined some common moves.

Here is our list:

1. Rebuilding outfield equals World Series

On opening day of 2021, the Braves starting outfield was Marcell Ozuna, Cristian Pache and Ronald Acuña Jr. On July 10, Acuña tore the ACL in his right knee and was lost for the season. The Braves were 44-45 and in third place in the National League East. Ozuna was away from the team because of domestic-violence charges. On July 15, the Braves acquired Joc Pederson from the Cubs (for prospect Bryce Ball). At the trade deadline, 15 days later, they acquired Jorge Soler from the Royals (for Kasey Kalich), Eddie Rosario from the Guardians (for Pablo Sandoval) and Adam Duvall, again, from the Marlins (for Alex Jackson). The Braves finished with 88 wins and won the division title. And they went on to win the World Series. Pederson was the heart of the team. Rosario was the NLCS MVP. Duvall hit two home runs in the World Series. Soler was the World Series MVP. So, those moves worked out.

2. Locking up young players to long-term deals

Recognizing young talent is one thing. Securing them to long-term, team-friendly deals is another. Anthopoulos did just that with the young core of the team. On April 2, 2019, Acuña agreed to an eight-year contract worth $100 million. At the time, the deal was the largest for any player with less than one year of major league service. On April 11, 2019, Ozzie Albies signed a seven-year, $35 million extension. On Aug. 1, 2022, Austin Riley signed a 10-year contract extension, worth $212 million. The deal was the largest in team history, exceeding the length and total of the deal Matt Olson signed before the 2022 season. On Oct. 10, 2022, Spencer Strider agreed to a six-year, $75M extension and was a Cy Young Award candidate last season.

3. Trading for Orlando Arcia

It seemed like just a blip on the radar. On April 6, 2021, the Braves acquired Arcia from the Brewers in exchange for pitchers Patrick Weigel and Chad Sobotka. The infielder was assigned to Triple-A. He would return to the majors and was part of the 2021 World Series championship team in a reserve role. He signed a two-year, $3 million contract that winter and remained in a reserve role for two seasons. And then the move really paid off. Arcia won the starting shortstop job over highly touted prospects Vaughn Grissom and Braden Shewmake out of spring training in 2023. He signed a three-year, $7.3 million contract on opening day. He only went to become an All-Star that season. He has locked down the position for the foreseeable future. Weigel is playing in the Mexican League, and Sobotka retired in 2022 after a stint in the Atlantic League.

4. Trading for Matt Olson

The Braves’ drawn out negotiations with free-agent first baseman Freddie Freeman were at an impasse. They could not come to an agreement with their All-Star first baseman and the face of the franchise coming off the World Series victory. Surely, they wouldn’t let Freeman walk. And then Anthopoulos pulled the trigger on a blockbuster move. On March 14, 2022, the Braves acquired Olson from the A’s in exchange for Cristian Pache, Shea Langeliers, Joey Estes, and Ryan Cusick. The next day, he signed an eight-year, $168 million contract extension. Freeman would sign with the Dodgers. Olson went on to become an All-Star and set franchise records for home runs (54) and RBIs (139), leading the major leagues in both categories.

5. Signing of Charlie Morton – again and again and again

On Nov. 24, 2020, the Braves signed Morton to a one-year, $15 million deal after the Rays declined his option, also at $15 million. The 37-year-old right-hander went to post a 14-6 record, leading the National League with 33 starts. He pitched Game 1 of the World Series against the Astros, working more than two innings with a broken leg after getting hit by a comebacker. On Sept. 6, 2021, he signed a one-year, $20 million extension and went 9-6 the following season. On Sept. 30, 2022, he signed another one-year, $20 million extension and went 14-12 the following season. Let’s run it back. He had the option year picked up on his contract for another $20 million and is 3-1 through eight starts this season.

6. Signing of Travis d’Arnaud

After six seasons with the Mets, the catcher was designated for assignment April 28, 2019. He finished out the season with the Dodgers and Rays. Career over? Not so fast. He signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Braves that winter. He had a breakout season, hitting .321 and winning the Silver Slugger award. He made the All-Star team as a reserve the next season, along with fellow Braves catcher William Contreras. He was destined for a backup role in 2023 when the Braves traded for Sean Murphy from the A’s. He accepted the role, and the Braves counted on him as an offensive and defensive stalwart. On July 18, 2023, d’Arnaud and the Braves agreed to another contract extension worth $8 million for this season, with an option for $8 million next season. With Murphy injured all season, d’Arnaud has anchored the catcher position.

7. Sticking with Marcell Ozuna

Ozuna was great for the Braves when he signed a one-year, $18 million contract Jan. 21, 2020. He went on to hit .338 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs in the shortened season. He was rewarded with a four-year, $64 million deal Feb. 5, 2021. Near the end of the 2021 World Series season, he was put on administrative leave because of domestic-violence charges. In August of the following season, he was arrested for driving under the influence. All this came before an absolutely dreadful start to the 2023 season. Ozuna was hitting .085 in May. Fans were calling for the team to move on from Ozuna. The Braves stayed the course with the clubhouse favorite. He finished last season with a .274 average with 40 home runs and 100 RBIs. This season, Ozuna has been an anchor of the offense. While others have struggled, Ozuna leads the league with 12 home runs and 41 RBIs.

8. Signing and not re-signing Josh Donaldson

The Braves needed a third baseman, and Anthopoulos reached into his Rolodex and called Donaldson, who was with him with the Blue Jays. On Nov. 26, 2018, he signed a one-year, $23 million contract despite a history of injuries for the former AL MVP. That season Donaldson batted .259 with 37 home runs and 94 RBIs and was named Comeback Player of the Year. The drumbeat was loud for the Braves to re-sign Donaldson. They passed, clearing the way for a young third baseman named Austin Riley. Donaldson signed a four-year, $92 million contract with the Twins in the offseason. Donaldson mostly struggled with the Twins, then Yankees and Brewers before retiring in March.

9. Offseason moves to acquire Chris Sale and Reynaldo Lopez

On Dec. 30, 2023, looking to bolster the pitching staff, the Braves acquired Sale from the Red Sox for highly touted prospect Vaughn Grissom. They also received $17 million in the deal to cover the left-hander’s salary. Sale, who would turn 35 before the season, was a seven-time All-Star who won a World Series with Boston in 2018. Sale was one of baseball’s better starting pitchers but in recent seasons, injuries plagued him, which made the deal risky. He had pitched 150 innings in the previous three seasons. On Jan. 4, Sale signed a two-year, $38 million contract, with an option year. And how has the risky move paid off? Sale is 6-1 with a 2.54 ERA in eight starts. On Nov. 20, 2023, Lopez signed a three-year, $26 million contract. It was thought he would be an added piece to the Braves bullpen, where he had spent much of his career with the White Sox, and the Angels and Guardians last season. Not so fast. Anthopoulos saw Lopez as a starter. He is 2-1 in seven starts with a 1.34 ERA, second lowest in baseball.

10. Signing Tyler Matzek

On Aug. 14, 2019, the Braves purchased the contract of Matzek, who was all but out of baseball and pitching for the Texas AirHogs of the American Association. Matzek has been a solid part of the Braves bullpen despite injuries, including Tommy John surgery in 2022. On Nov. 18, 2022, he signed a two-year, $3.1 million contract extension with an option for 2025. In Game 6 of the 2021 NLCS against the Dodgers, Matzek picked up the win with two perfect innings and four strikeouts. Matzek pitched in Game 6 of the World Series.

-Staff writers Gabriel Burns, Justin Toscano and Chris Vivlamore contributed to this report.