Braves should target pitchers over hitters for trades

Offense will come around, but pitching needs outside help

The Braves realistically will need starts from at least four different pitchers to make it to the World Series. They have four good options right now. The question is whether that will be the case when October comes because of age and other circumstances with their pitchers.

That was a concern when Spencer Strider was healthy. It’s an even bigger issue with Strider out for the season and more pitchers joining him on the injured list. President of baseball operations/general manager Alex Anthopoulos said he’s been more active than usual with trade calls this season. He should prioritize adding a pitcher over a bat.

It can be hard to predict what Anthopoulos will do, but I’m thinking that’s the direction he’ll go.

Everyone knows his team’s offense has been lackluster for weeks. But as the GM recently pointed out, the Braves have a lineup full of proven sluggers who are hitting balls hard. The offense showed signs of life in the days after Anthopoulos said that. I understand if you’re skeptical that it will last, but I’m counting on it.

I’m less confident that the pitching will hold up. It’s been fantastic so far. Lefties Chris Sale and Max Fried are candidates for the NL Cy Young award. Charlie Morton, 40, continues to defy time. Reynaldo Lopez’s transition from reliever to starter has gone so well that he’s even surprised himself.

Those performances (and the weak state of the National League) are why the Braves have remained squarely in wild-card contention despite their quiet bats. But, as Anthopoulos noted, the other part of the equation is how a team is playing when it makes it to October. That forecast is cloudy for the Braves because of the makeup of their starting pitching staff.

Sale, 35, is on pace to pitch more innings before the All-Star break than he’s pitched in the past four seasons. Fried’s history of blisters resurfaced just before the 2023 postseason. He already has pitched more innings this season. Morton’s second-half results in 2023 were significantly worse than the first half, and then he lasted only two innings vs. the Phillies in the division series. Lopez’s innings count (69-1/3) is his highest since 2019.

The precarious state of their pitching is why the Braves have given starters extra rest days. Lately that’s meant they effectively have forfeited games when the latest call-up is on the mound. That strategy has worked during the regular season. It won’t work in the postseason.

In October, the Braves will be in serious trouble if even one of their starters isn’t up to par. They need reinforcements. The internal options aren’t appetizing.

The best one, top pitching prospect AJ Smith-Shawver, has been on the IL since leaving his first start with an oblique injury. Smith-Shawver had three uneven stints with the Braves last season before the Phillies roughed him up during a garbage-time relief appearance in the division series. He’s fine as the fifth starter, but it’s a bad idea to count on him for important postseason innings should any of the top four falter.

The Braves can do better on the trade market. The White Sox and Marlins already are sellers. The Mets will be once franchise owner Steve Cohen decides to stop pretending. Plenty of teams will look to pluck good pitchers away from those teams. The Braves should join the bidding.

It was inevitable before the season that the White Sox would tear down the roster. They had a bad team on paper. It’s been worse in practice. The pending fire sale likely will include two intriguing pitchers, left-hander Garrett Crochet and right-hander Erick Fedde.

The White Sox moved Crochet from the bullpen this season with great success. He’s complied a 3.16 ERA with an MLB-high 116 strikeouts over 82-2/3 innings. The risks with Crochet are his lack of starting experience and injury history. He probably will need to limit his innings over the second half.

Fedde mostly was an ineffective starter for the Nationals from 2017-22. He’s rejuvenated his MLB career after pitching in Korea last season. Fedde has posted a 3.09 ERA in 15 starts for the White Sox. His $7.5 million salary makes him a bargain.

The Marlins and Mets also have good starters who could become available. Left-hander Jesús Luzardo is Miami’s top pitcher. His 5.00 ERA this season follows a 3.32 ERA in 2022 and 3.58 in 2023. Luis Severino’s 3.12 ERA for the Mets this season is in line with his career norms after he posted a 6.66 ERA in 2023.

Among those four pitchers, only Severino is eligible to become a free agent after this season. Crochet and Luzardo can’t reach free agency until after the 2026 season. Fedde is signed through 2025. Adding pitchers who aren’t short-term rentals could be attractive for the Braves. They have only three veteran starters under contract for 2025 — Strider, Sale and Lopez — and Strider’s return from elbow surgery won’t come until later in the season.

The Braves could use another reliable veteran starter for 2025. The young pitchers the Braves have cycled through the rotation so far haven’t proved to be up to the job. Huascar Ynoa and Ian Anderson seem to be long-ago options. Ynoa hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2022. Anderson has pitched only two-thirds of an inning in the minors during that time (he was scheduled to pitch a game Tuesday at the team’s spring training facility).

Injuries usually are a matter of luck. Injuries to pitchers are the way it goes. The Braves are mitigating the risk for their starters by easing their workloads. The hope is that they’ll be fresh and effective for October. If the plan works, then the Braves will be a tough out with Sale, Fried, Morton and Lopez as their starters.

If the plan doesn’t work, then the Braves will be in trouble in October. That’s why adding another reliable arm should be the focus for Anthopoulos. The Braves will get more offense from the players they have. They need outside reinforcements for their pitching.