Alex Anthopoulos on Braves’ deadline deals: ‘We needed a lot of players’

073020 Atlanta: Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos wears a mask as he enters the field at Truist Park before the team plays the Tampa Bay Rays in a MLB baseball game on Thursday, July 30, 2020 in Atlanta.    Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

073020 Atlanta: Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos wears a mask as he enters the field at Truist Park before the team plays the Tampa Bay Rays in a MLB baseball game on Thursday, July 30, 2020 in Atlanta. Curtis Compton

When we around here think of the trade deadline and immediate impact, we think of Fred McGriff showing up in 1993, the press box catching fire and the new man smashing three home runs in his first two games as a Brave. Alex Anthopoulos didn’t acquire a player of McGriff’s caliber at this trade deadline. The Braves’ general manager took the volume approach.

On July 16, the Braves added outfielder Joc Pederson and catcher Stephen Vogt. Two weeks later, Anthopoulos landed outfielders Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario, plus reliever Richard Rodriguez. The Braves are 6-2 in August, having climbed three games above .500, pulling a game ahead of the Mets and within a game of the first-place Phillies. Cause and effect: A recent acquisition has homered in six of the 10 post-deadline games and driven in a run in nine.

On Wednesday, Anthopoulos spoke to the AJC at length about the season, the deadline and what comes next, which the Braves hope will be a fourth consecutive National League East title.

Q: Had your team been eight games, as opposed to four, out of first place, would you have approached the deadline in the same way?

A: A big part of it is run differential. Ours has been one of the better run differentials in the division. (As of Wednesday, the Braves were at plus-66; every other team in the division was minus-something.) I understand we’ve had a 20-run game, but we’ve had some games when we’ve been blown out as well. Generally speaking, it balances out. A big part of it is that we’ve lost a lot of one-run games. That’s also reflected in the run differential. We made moves (this July) because the team was still good. Our decision-making was based solely on the division. Our emphasis is on that, and (the moves) have to be viewed through that lens.

Q: Is it fair to say your new guys have done as you’d hoped they do?

A: They’ve all helped out. They’ve all done a nice job. The biggest thing for us – and this is not to make excuses – but we’ve obviously had a lot of injuries and a lot of guys not available to us. We saw it those last few weeks (pre-deadline). The offense … we just didn’t have the length to the lineup. You’re going to have days where your elite players don’t get hits or don’t get on base. That’s going to happen, right? That’s where you want to have more options and more depth, to have other people who can contribute. We brought in a lot of position players. That was by design. We needed a lot of position players. We’ve basically lost what we projected to be our starting outfield. That in and of itself requires us to get multiple guys. Rodriguez has done a nice job in the bullpen. The other relievers have done a nice job as well. Once you have that depth, you don’t have to overuse guys in the bullpen. Snit (manager Brian Snitker) can give guys days (off) and has more options. So it’s been nice. It’s been a nice start for those guys. We hope they can keep it going.

Q: Was it frustrating to go more than half a season at or below .500?

A: It was all relative to the division. If the Mets had a 25-game lead in the division. … The fact that no one ran away with the division, our focus was always, “We just need to get right. We have to worry about ourselves.” Even if you’re at .500 or a game over or a game under, you’re trying to make the postseason. You need to be thinking about building momentum and consistently playing well. We were always singularly focused on ourselves, and we were allowed to do that because nobody was running away from us in the division. We were active at the trade deadline. We added a lot of players. We needed them. We were short these months going into it, and I give Snit, the coaches and the players a ton of credit for keeping us in the hunt and keeping us close and allowing us to be in a position, come trade deadline, to be able to add and still have an impact on potentially getting back to the playoffs.

Q: How important, for the sake of clubhouse morale, was it for you to add so many players?

A: That’s definitely a part of it. That last series going into the break where we played Miami – we lost (Ronald) Acuna on Saturday; (Ian) Anderson got hurt on Sunday. I was very concerned with what the mindset of the players was going to be during the break and coming out of the break. You’re losing one of your young starters, who’s done a fantastic job for you, and it was announced Acuna was out for the season. We were already challenged. We had lost a lot of players, and we’d been scuffling and grinding to try to stay in the race. We would have loved to make more deals sooner … The timing of the Pederson and the Vogt deals was important in my mind, just to show the (incumbent) players. We had an important stretch after the break, too. We’d talked about how important coming out of the All-Star break was going to be, facing all those clubs – San Diego, Tampa, the Mets for five, the Brewers. We didn’t want the conversation coming out of the break to be, “They’ve lost Anderson. They’ve lost Acuna. Are they just going to start trading players away?” That wasn’t the case. The timing of the Pederson and Vogt deals … we tried to accelerate those, tried to have them done right when we got back, as much for the mindset of the players and coaches. We were going to continue to push forward and try to win.

Q: In 2019, you said before the playoffs that you had a team capable of winning the World Series. Last year you entered the playoffs having remade your rotation. What do you foresee for October 2021?

A: I don’t look that far ahead. I look at 2019 and Game 4 (with St. Louis facing elimination). That was the game we had. We were four outs away – but (a couple of) broken bats and then (Yadier) Molina with what he did. It happens. That’s the reality of it. Then you look at 2020. Our rotation really came together at the end. Those last few weeks, Bryse Wilson had thrown the ball really well. Kyle Wright had been throwing well. Ian Anderson was throwing exceptionally well, and (Max) Fried had an unbelievable year. Our rotation really had been good going into the postseason, and the bullpen and the offense had been good. We were peaking at the right time, rotation-wise, with guys having really stepped up. For us right now, we cannot look beyond – I know it’s a cliche – that day’s game. We’re still trying to get in. We’ve seen in this division how things can change in a week or two. There’s still seven weeks left. You can go on hot and cold streaks, the Phillies being one example. They won eight in a row to take the division lead. From our standpoint, we really just worry about each series … The Mets are still there, and so are the Phillies. We’re just trying to win games. You have to get in before you start looking ahead.