Best thing about trade deadline for Braves is Dodgers didn’t close gap

Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos.   “Curtis Compton /”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos. “Curtis Compton /”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The Braves didn’t acquire a starting pitcher before Tuesday’s MLB trade deadline. They’re banking on the pending returns of lefty Max Fried and right-hander Kyle Wright to boost the rotation. General manager Alex Anthopoulos made the roster better on the edges by adding two solid bullpen arms and a glove-first bench player.

But maybe the best thing that happened for the Braves on deadline day is that the Dodgers didn’t make a major move. They are the top challengers to the Braves in the National League. They just aren’t as mighty as in recent years because their pitching isn’t as deep. The Dodgers tried to fix that problem by acquiring Lance Lynn (White Sox) and Ryan Yarbrough (Royals).

Those are two solid pitchers. Justin Verlander is much better. The Dodgers lost on a bid for him to the Astros. Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez was the next-best starter available on Tuesday. The Dodgers reportedly had a deal in place for Rodriguez, but he invoked his right to block the trade.

The Braves should send Rodriguez a gift basket. The Dodgers really could have used him because injuries have hurt their rotation. All five projected Dodgers starters for this season have spent at least a month on the injured list.

Walker Buehler and Dustin May are out for the year. Clayton Kershaw has been on the IL since June 26. He’s been good when healthy. But Tony Gonsolin and Julio Urias, sure things for the past four seasons, have been spotty. Rookie Bobby Miller is still figuring things out.

There’s a chance two or three of those pitchers find their form. Until that happens, the Dodgers are a notch below the Braves. Atlanta could have widened the gap by acquiring one of the good starters who changed teams. The Mets sent away two of the best, Verlander and Max Scherzer. The Braves inquired about Verlander but look at the price and it’s easy to see why they didn’t pay it.

The Astros surrendered two highly rated prospects for Verlander. They also are on the hook to pay $39 million of Verlander’s salary through 2025. That’s a substantial bounty of money and promising young players for a pitcher who’ll be 42 years old in 2025. Verlander missed more than a month this season with shoulder issues.

I don’t blame Anthopoulos if he declined to offer a similar package for Verlander. But there were some decent starters to be had for less. The Dodgers gave up one good prospect to get Lynn and less than that for Yarbrough. The Orioles included two mid-level prospects in a trade with the Cardinals for right-hander Jack Flaherty.

Anthopoulos confirmed that he was looking for a starter. But he said the positive reports on Fried and Wright returning to form lessened the urgency to make a deal.

“The bar was higher for us to add,” Anthopoulos said. “We would have done it if we could find an impact starter.”

The lack of a major move doesn’t change the season trajectory for the Braves. They’re running away with the NL East and are marching to the NL pennant with a team that’s been significantly better than the rest of the NL. The Braves improved their depth by trading for utility infielder Nicky Lopez and relievers Brad Hand and Pierce Johnson.

Lopez is a good defender who’s played shortstop, second and third. Hand is another good lefty option in the bullpen with A.J. Minter and Dylan Lee. Johnson, acquired last week, is a high-strikeout right-hander.

The Braves already had a strong bullpen, but Anthopoulos has emphasized adding a surplus of arms for the postseason after the team got caught short in years past.

“You’d rather overbook a little bit and realize that it’ll probably work itself out,” he said.

The Braves have the luxury of making small moves because they are lapping their NL East rivals. There’s a long list of teams still in contention for one of the three wild-card berths. None of them made trades that put them on Atlanta’s level.

Also, the Scherzer and Verlander deals are win-win for the Braves. They won’t have to face those pitches again this season, and both landed with AL teams. If the Braves see them in the World Series, then so be it.

Atlanta’s farm system isn’t as deep after Anthopoulos traded top prospects and young major leaguers to acquire Matt Olsen before last season and Sean Murphy in December. The GM said the Braves still have young talent that other teams are interested in acquiring.

“We had the players to get everybody, and it’s just a matter of are we willing to do it,” he said. “You’re always going to be managing the short term and the long term. You know that you have a chance this year, but I also know that we want to be good in ‘24 and ‘25 and ‘26.”

Anthopoulos has always struck the right balance between making moves to contend now while not stymying long-term team building. The Braves are the NL’s best team this year. The Dodgers tried to close the gap with trades, but they’re still second-best.

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