• Exclusives

    Braves Dealing? All Eyes on Anthopoulos As Trade Deadline Nears

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – Ponder if you will what must be going through the mind of one Alex Anthopoulos at this moment.

    Rewind to November, when the new Atlanta Braves general manager began surveying the landscape of the franchise he had just joined, gazing at promising young talent as far as the eye could see. He had inherited one of baseball’s most-stacked farm systems, with a promising wave of transitional talent having just or poised to break above the surface and into the starting lineup at SunTrust Park.

    One would think – amid the preparation for the upcoming Winter Meetings in December – Anthopoulos fretted little about July. After all, there would be a half-season in the books by then, and countless hours watching play, talking to and of, and otherwise analyzing all these assets suddenly at his disposal.

    But in any idle moments where his mind skipped ahead eight months, did he ever suspect these Braves would arrive at the second week of July, one week shy of the All-Star break, in a virtual tie for first place in the National League East, one of four NL squads with 50 victories, one that finds them at an accelerated crossroads?

    Yeah, not a chance.

    For all the bullishness and the “we expect to win” mentality every executive must pontificate in the early days of spring, the fact remains these Braves have surpassed even the most glass-three-quarters-full optimist’s hopes and dreams. And for all the fun that winning unleashes – and after four seasons that contained more than their fair share of baseball nuclear winter, this organization and its fanbase deserve this – it also brings to bear a very fundamental question:

    What does Anthopoulos do across the next three weeks?

    There are two vastly different camps that have emerged in Braves Country, each defending their premise with a stubbornness that illustrates, if nothing else, how deeply fans care about this franchise:

    One camp says to seize on this moment from the baseball heavens, that for all the promise of tomorrow and the depth of the minor-league system and the feeling this organization will contend well into the next decade, every chance to win is uniquely precious. All it takes is one opportunity to get into the postseason party, especially in an NL that is so wide open with no clear-cut favorite. The Braves have to put the hammer down and do what it takes to ensure they play into October, thus giving them a shot to ride that wave to the most improbable outcome of all.

    The other camp says this season is house money, like an extra helping of mashed potatoes and gravy, an unexpected opening of a window that will remain that way for years to come. The key to ensuring Atlanta stays in the mix well into the 2020s is to protect the tremendous depth of young and impactful talent, knowing the free-agent class this winter coupled with the amount of money coming off the books gives the Braves a shot at virtually anybody in baseball, be it through free agency or the trade market.

    This team is not good enough, as constituted, to win the World Series this season. There is no guarantee any series of moves would be enough to deliver a series victory over the three-header monster lording over the American League. But don’t you owe it to your players, your staff, your organization and your fans, to do everything in your power to take a shot that never is guaranteed to be there in autumns to come, regardless of price or impact down the road?

    Truth lies on both sides, if we’re being honest. The sheer fact it’s July 9 and I’m writing about the Braves potentially making moves that could vault them from surprising division leader to pennant favorite tells you everything you need to know about the vast madness that baseball is capable of unleashing in any one particular season. It also tells you winning never is guaranteed, no matter what prospect rankings and fantasy projections foretell.

    The rental market valuation will drop the closer we get to the July 31 trade deadline, but there are difference-making rentals available. One Manny Machado, inserted into the lineup in Los Angeles or Milwaukee or Philadelphia or Atlanta or Arizona or Chicago, makes that franchise the odds-on NL favorite instantaneously. But at what price for, perhaps, only 60 or 70 days of service before the riches of free agency beckon?

    Is it worth giving up four prospects, at least two and perhaps three of the premium variety? In essence, in a 4-for-1 trade, you’re dealing up to 24 years of control for what you consider potential impact pieces for your team into the middle of the next decade, for an eight-week rental that may or may not get you past the wild-card game?

    What won’t dissipate is the price for controllable talent. It’s one thing to say, “go get J.T. Realmuto or Brad Hand?” It’s another thing altogether when you consider the years of control at friendly salary. The cost of those deals is going to hurt in a big way. Is the control beyond 2018 moving forward worth the cost in prospect capital?

    One has to think, between Thanksgiving dinner plans and learning how many Peachtrees thoroughfares exist in Atlanta and where the Braves minor-league affiliates call home, that Anthopoulos never pondered these questions. Had July crossed his mind at the time, certainly his thoughts would’ve center on which veterans would be trade candidates and which prospects had earned a two-month audition to show what they can do at the major-league level, for a team likely fighting to reach .500.

    But the landscape, the expectations and yes, the immediate opportunity for his new employer, has changed vastly from those cool November days. Things are much warmer now, and Alex Anthopoulos sits squarely in a white-hot spotlight brighter than the Georgia summer sun.

    What he does in the next 22 days will resonate far beyond this October.

    —30—

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.

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