Anthopoulos trades set up Braves for another NL East title run

Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

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Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Alex Anthopoulos added four players before Friday’s trade deadline who make the Braves better this season and won’t add much to the payroll beyond it. The general manger sent away three major leaguers who were giving the Braves little, and three minor leaguers who aren’t among their top prospects. The net result is the Braves are fortified to make a run at their fourth consecutive National League East title.

Anthopoulos traded for four players before Friday’s deadline: closer Richard Rodriguez and outfielders Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler. The Braves acquired outfielder Joc Pederson two weeks ago. If you compare those Braves moves to deals made by big-spending teams, you will be disappointed. I understand if Braves supporters don’t like it, but it’s just the way it is.

Placed in the proper context, there’s a lot to like about the trades. The Braves are trying to finish stronger than the Mets and Phillies in the NL East. They needed outfielders with more offensive punch because of attrition. They needed a quality reliever because their current corps isn’t deep enough.

Anthopoulos got them all of that.

Said Anthopoulos: “Finding that superstar, everyday player right now was not available for us as far a deal that we thought make sense. ... Sure, you’d like to have the everyday player, but if it’s platoons and it makes the club better, then that’s what we are going to look to do.”

The trades should lift the Braves after this once seemed like a lost season. Ronald Acuna’s season-ending knee injury was deflating. Outfielder Marcell Ozuna’s arrest on domestic-violence charges left the Braves without one of their better hitters. They’ve used sub-replacement level catchers with Travis d’Arnaud on the injured list. The starting pitching rotation rarely has been whole.

Anthopoulos said d’Arnaud is a couple of weeks from returning from the injured list. Right-handers Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa are staring rehab assignments and should rejoin the rotation soon. No internal help was coming for the outfield and bullpen, so Anthopoulos plucked players from other rosters.

Pederson, Duvall, Rosario, Rodriguez and Soler are good acquisitions for the Braves under the circumstances. To get them, Anthopoulos sent away catcher Alex Jackson, pinch hitter Pablo Sandoval, right-hander Bryse Wilson and three minor leaguers. The Braves traded away underperforming major league players for better ones, which is the goal so far as the roster is concerned.

The Braves are still in the East race despite lots of bad injury luck. It wasn’t going to stay that way without outside help.

The Braves just played four games against the Phillies and five against the Mets and managed to improve their standing by only one-half game. The Mets entered the weekend leading by 3-1/2 games over the Phillies and four over the Braves. Soon, New York’s good pitching will get even better when injured starters Jacob deGrom and Carlos Carrasco join the rotation.

The Mets and Phillies also made significant trades Friday. New York added shortstop Javier Baez and starting pitcher Trevor Williams. Philadelphia acquired right-handers Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy.

“I expected all three of us to add to their club and get better,” Anthopoulos said. “We have to worry about ourselves and just start playing well. We haven’t gone on a streak really the entire year. ... Adding this depth and being able to score some more runs, with the way the rotation is throwing the ball, hopefully we can get going.”

The Braves have been average at the plate despite missing three of their best hitters for most of the season. The new outfielders plus d’Arnaud should give them a better chance of scoring runs consistently.

Duvall immediately moves Abraham Almonte down the depth chart. Rosario also will be a better option when he recovers from an abdominal injury (Anthopoulos said he should be ready in two weeks). Soler has struggled at the plate since hitting an AL-leading 48 homers for the Royals in 2019 but lately has shown signs of improvement.

Duvall had two of his best MLB seasons for the Braves in 2019 and 2020. He signed with the Marlins for $5 million this season and was hitting .229 with 22 home runs, including five against the Braves. Duvall has never gotten on base much, but he gives the Braves pop.

Rosario was playing left field and hitting in the middle of the order for Cleveland. He also doesn’t get on-base often, but can provide some extra-base power. Rosario’s defensive metrics have declined with age. I doubt he’ll be a major liability in the field for the Braves.

Braves manager Brian Snitker will have to mix and match his newest outfielders. Pederson and Duvall are much more effective against right-handed pitchers. Soler and Rosario do better against lefties. The upshot is that Snitker has better options for his lineup and off the bench.

The Braves didn’t need long-term answers in the outfield. Acuna will be back next season. Center fielder Christian Pache was overmatched in the majors this season and is scuffling at Triple-A Gwinnett now. But there’s no reason to give up on a top prospect with little experience above Double-A. Assuming Ozuna is gone for good, the Braves can fill the other outfield positions in the offseason, or they can move Austin Riley there and go get a third baseman.

Rodriguez, 31, may not be a short-term addition. His contract is under team control through 2023. Rodriguez has the kind of drama-free profile you want for a reliever: lots of swing-and-misses, few walks. For his career Rodriguez has 221 strikeouts against 55 walks over 202 innings with a 3.30 ERA.

It was unlikely the Braves were going to make trades that would make them serious threats to win the pennant after they came close in 2020. They need Acuna and Ozuna in the lineup for that. The best they could hope for is to fill enough holes to give them a chance to win the East, which is the only realistic path to the postseason.

“I think you have to worry about being able to get in first,” Anthopoulos said.

The Braves haven’t been able to do better than a break-even record all season, so there was no reason to believe they’d get in without outside help. Anthopoulos went and got them some. Now it’s up to the players.