The Braves sent a clear message to the National League on Wednesday: They believe they can win the pennant. And their front office acted aggressively to give them their best chance.
As the trade deadline passed, the Braves acquired relievers Shane Greene, Chris Martin and Mark Melancon, turning their clear weakness into a potential strength. In doing so, they accelerated their timeline.
They’re striving for more than their first postseason series win since 2001. They are gunning for the Dodgers and the rest of the NL’s elite, aiming for a World Series berth. General manager Alex Anthopoulos showed a belief that his team, fresh off taking two of three in Philadelphia and Washington, is one of baseball’s elite.
The Braves are thinking big. Anthopoulos complemented the core with his most aggressive 24-hour span as the franchise’s headman. When the Braves finished their 5-4 victory over Washington, they began checking their phones and watching MLB Network on the clubhouse TVs, seeing Anthopoulos’ faith in them unfold through action.
“Everyone knows this team has a real good chance to win this thing,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “When you play well and get rewarded by your front office, it fires up everybody in your clubhouse.”
Indeed it did, with several players cheering and yelling. Even some relievers, at risk of being replaced, were smiling at the roundtable discussions on TV. For the first time in a long time, the Braves look like a true contender.
Not a rebuild based on promises of tomorrow. Not a financial flexibility flex. Not even a sweet story of an underdog securing a surprise postseason berth.
The Braves are a legitimate World Series threat, and they’ll hope this incoming trio pushes them over the hump.
“How much better (we are), that’s hard to say,” Anthopoulos said, noting games are decided on the field. “At a minimum, we made the bullpen a lot stronger.”
Greene was the most significant addition. The Tigers’ closer, controllable through 2020, has recorded 22 saves in 25 opportunities. The 30-year-old owns a 1.18 ERA with 43 strikeouts against 12 walks over 38 innings and will likely become the Braves’ primary ninth-inning man (though Anthopoulos said that decision is entirely up to manager Brian Snitker).
They acquired him for prospects Joey Wentz, a promising left-hander, and versatile Travis Demeritte. It was a cost the Braves happily paid, especially with other contenders, such as the Dodgers, vying for Greene. Neither player was among their most cherished stash of youngsters.
Melancon, a three-time All-Star, is another closing option and further bolstered the team’s late-inning options. The right-hander has a 3.50 ERA with 44 strikeouts and 16 walks in 46-1/3 frames (43 games).
He was acquired from the Giants for right-handed prospect Tristan Beck and displaced reliever Dan Winkler, who’s spent much of the season in Triple-A.
While Melancon is owed $14 million next season, the Braves absorbed the entirety of his money to acquire a formidable arm at a modest prospect cost. Between Melancon and Greene’s likely arbitration raise (he makes $4 million this season), the Braves could’ve assumed north of $20 million for their 2020 payroll Wednesday.
Melancon, 34, didn’t hesitate waiving his no-trade clause to join the Braves, according to Giants reporters who spoke with him after the deal.
Martin was the first domino to fall, acquired from Texas on Tuesday night for Kolby Allard. A control artist, the 33-year-old also has closing experience and has posted an absurd 43:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“I’ve seen some video on Chris Martin,” Freeman said. “I’m glad he’s on our team and not on another National League team and throwing 98 (mph). … Shane Greene has a 1.00 ERA, so anybody would take him.”
That trio, including veteran catcher John Ryan Murphy, acquired Wednesday from Arizona for cash considerations, represented one of the franchise’s more aggressive trade deadlines in recent memory. After months of debate and curiosity over how the franchise would handle July 31, when the dust settled, they were among MLB’s most active teams.
Yet they still didn’t relinquish their upper-tier prospects. They instead dipped into their rich depth. They will have to maneuver the 40-man roster, however, given it was full and Winkler was the only member to depart. The Braves designated Luiz Gohara for assignment Wednesday afternoon and will announce other moves Thursday.
While the Braves didn’t add a starter as they hoped, they made up for it by investing heavily in the bullpen. When Anthopoulos couldn’t nab that desired controllable starter, he pivoted to a bullpen do-over that’s transformed how the Braves should be viewed down the stretch.
In fact, the Braves were never close to adding a starter. Anthopoulos characterized those negotiations as “never even remotely close” but added they were talking more than just relievers.
“We were engaged on everything up until the end,” Anthopoulos said. “At the end of the day, where we thought there were deals that made sense for us, we felt like the bullpen made the most sense. We definitely tried for other areas, but we obviously couldn’t line up on a deal that made sense for our organization. We did for the bullpen.”
The recurring theme: The Braves had seen enough bases on balls the past two seasons. They addressed their walk issues in a drastic way, upgrading with a trio of plus-command pitchers, any of whom could close a game.
That can’t be understated. Anthopoulos saw how walks eroded the Braves a season ago, notably in the NLDS, and went hard to rectify a problem that’s plagued the Braves during their past two successful seasons.
“I know Alex’s heart,” said third baseman Josh Donaldson, who signed with the team in November, reuniting with the GM who acquired him in Toronto. “I’ve been with Alex before. I know what he believes in. I know if the team had a chance to do some damage in the postseason that he was going to do everything that he can.”
Since last winter, the Braves have added a plethora of veterans to their young mix. Donaldson, Brian McCann, Dallas Keuchel and the recent trio of righties. They’ve spent money and parted with prospects.
No more requests for patience and development. The Braves have a team capable of emerging as the best in baseball. They made it abundantly clear Wednesday, shifting all eyes to October.
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