Joc Pederson deal can’t fix Braves, but at least they’re still trying

Braves outfielder Joc Pederson smiles in the dugout in the first inning at Truist Park on Friday, July 16, 2021. (Hyosub Shin /
Braves outfielder Joc Pederson smiles in the dugout in the first inning at Truist Park on Friday, July 16, 2021. (Hyosub Shin /



First, you start from the practical high ground that there is no replacing Ronald Acuna. A real stretch there, huh? For the Braves, Acuna is like the one true Bond (Sean Connery), the indispensable sound (the blues) or the essential whiskey (scotch). Everything else is make-do.

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And then you step back and give the Braves and their plucky GM Alex Anthopoulos – first time I’ve deployed that adjective on management – their due. In the face of setbacks that would have made Patton surrender, they have chosen for the moment to press on.

Trading for Joc Pederson to play right field may not be the blockbuster kind of deal that shocks the 44-45 Braves to their senses. The transaction is on its face spackling, a quick and convenient repair. The guy is hitting .230 now, he has hit .230 for the previous six seasons and probably will hit .230 to the end. There is little room left on his baseball card for a big surprise.

But he is a signal flare, if a coolly burning one, that those in charge of the Braves are willing to give it at least a couple of more weeks before conceding anything. As the Braves return from the All-Star break, any new face they encounter in the clubhouse is encouraging, a breath of freshness for a season grown stale on the lee side of .500.

Now, as baseball picks over the bones of the Cubs, if Pederson could smuggle out old friend and closer Craig Kimbrel in his carpetbag, that would be of great benefit.

Honestly, after Acuna’s knee injury, I would have been tempted to fold my hand. To recognize that some seasons are just destined to be blighted from the beginning. Your best pitcher reinjured himself walking into the clubhouse. His most effective stand-in took himself out by hitting a bench. Your catcher’s thumb was the only thing out after a play at the plate. And your best player blew out a knee with no one else within 100 feet of him. Those are more than signs; those are multiple pianos falling on your head.

And Ian Anderson isn’t feeling so great, either.

To his credit, Anthopoulos is made of sterner stuff. He stepped out early here in trading season and did something – anything – to signal that the Braves remain interested in winning baseball’s softest division. Enough to ultimately matter? Doubtful. But at least a reminder to everyone else in uniform that they are still being paid, and it remains in their best interests to try really hard after coming back from break.

The best the Braves can hope to get back from this one deal is that they finally catch a break in 2021 and catch Pederson on the cusp of a hot streak. Maybe over the short haul he can supply something to this lineup and this dugout beyond plastic swords and a panda head. Pederson did hit 36 homers for the Dodgers in 2019, so, yes, some of that, please.

As much as any stubbornly sub-.500 team can, this one will fascinate over the next few weeks. Playing a stout schedule of opponents with a better resume than theirs (Tampa Bay, San Diego, the Mets), the Braves finally will declare what they are. As currently constructed, they are not world-beaters and will be hard-pressed to be Mets-beaters.

What an odd position this team is in. Not so bad as to hold a going-out-of-business sale before the trade deadline. Not good enough, given all the gut punches and depletions, to mortgage the future on a few truly substantial moves designed for a short-term surge.

Neither buyers nor sellers, they are more floaters right now. Maybe they can wring a little more from the players on hand. Maybe they can patch a few holes with another Pederson-level deal or two. Maybe some reinforcements are coming off the injured list if pitcher Huascar Ynoa and catcher Travis d’Arnaud can make August returns. A whole bunch of maybes. That is their current lot.

It is hard to imagine the Braves ever getting to the point this season where they’d just surrender and sell off any assets beyond the short-term kind, such as starters Charlie Morton or Drew Smyly. They didn’t spend so many seasons building to tear down now.

For time being, as the Pederson deal hints, they are at least value shoppers, willing to keep hope alive at the right price, unwilling yet to yield to their misfortune.

Bless their hearts.

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