Standing pat was a palatable option for the Braves before last weekend. A veteran starting pitcher would help, but it’s not a necessity. Then Adam Duvall suffered a season-ending wrist injury. Now the outfield is the most pressing issue for the Braves, same as last July. Duvall was having one of his worst seasons at the plate, but he’s a solid defender, which makes him more valuable than Marcell Ozuna and Eddie Rosario.
The good news for the Braves is that an outfielder probably won’t cost as much on the trade market as a starting pitcher. The Dodgers, Cardinals, Brewers and Phillies will look for rotation help. The Padres probably are the only other NL contender that has a major need for an outfielder. The Padres and Cardinals are said to be in the running to acquire Nationals superstar Juan Soto, who reportedly turned down a $440 million contract extension.
(As for the Dodgers, they don’t really need Soto. They have superstar Mookie Betts in right field. Then again, the Dodgers didn’t really need a shortstop or starting pitcher at last year’s deadline and went out and got two of the best, Trea Turner and Max Scherzer. It’s good to be the Dodgers.)
It’s unlikely the Braves will join the chase for Soto. That requires a prospect bounty that they don’t have, or multiple good young major leaguers that they’d rather keep. Anthopoulos plausibly can put together an attractive package for two outfielders on the block for rebuilding teams, Ian Happ (Cubs) and Andrew Benintendi (Royals).
Happ, 27, is a switch-hitter and solid left fielder who also can play in the infield. He’s making a lot more consistent contact this season, and that’s the kind of hitter the strikeout-happy Braves need. Happ is making $6.85 million and can expect to make about $10 million in 2023, his final season under contract before reaching free agency. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that “everyone wants” Happ, and if that’s the case, the Cubs may find a deal for Happ among the contenders that’s much better than any the Braves can offer.
Benintendi is a more accomplished player than Happ but might be a more realistic target for the Braves because he’s eligible for free agency after this season. Benintendi is a very good left fielder. After three years of so-so production at the plate, he’s hitting .322 with a .390 on-base percentage for the Royals. Benintendi’s salary is $8.5 million.
Ideally, the Braves wouldn’t be looking for an answer in the outfield even with Duvall on the injured list. Rosario is under contract through next season, and the Braves are on the hook to pay Ozuna through 2024. One or the other should be manning left field long term, with Harris in center and Ronald Acuña in right. Rosario and Ozuna aren’t producing now, though, so the Braves need another credible option for left field to make another run at the pennant.
That’s a relatively minor problem for the Braves compared with last July. Then they had more losses than wins and all kinds of issues in the outfield. Acuña was out for the season, Ozuna was on administrative leave per MLB’s domestic violence policy and the Braves had no reliable center fielder. Anthopoulos fixed those issues by trading for four outfielders, including Duvall and Rosario, and we know how that turned out.
The Braves aren’t as desperate before this trade deadline, but they do have needs. Anthopoulos will try to meet them while having fewer good prospects to dangle in deals than his NL rivals.