• Trade Deadline

    BRAVES AT THE DEADLINE: Anthopoulos must make the right move

    By Bud L. Ellis


    ATLANTA – And to think, just four months ago we all assumed this week would be about getting some type of return for Brandon McCarthy and Nick Markakis.

    Unless you’ve been hiding on another planet since March – and if you have, pull up a chair because you’re truly not gonna believe this – you realize the preconceived notion of the 2018 Atlanta Braves has transformed greatly thanks to the team winning 54 times in the season’s first 98 games. At least a year ahead of the expected opening of its contention window, Atlanta sits in a very enviable and yet difficult spot as the hours tick toward Tuesday’s trade deadline.

    We could spend the next 40 paragraphs discussing the craziness that has transpired with this franchise since last summer, when Atlanta’s midsummer moves included releasing Bartolo Colon and Eric O’Flaherty, and dealing Jaime Garcia and Anthony Recker to Minnesota for a little-known prospect named Huascar Ynoa (who incidentally today was promoted to High-A Florida and is considered by many as an intriguing pitching prospect).

    Imagine that, another young impact arm in the Braves system, a system that despite the sanctions imposed by Major League Baseball in the wake of Coppygate still bursts as the seams with talent that could make waves in the majors for years to come.

    “Could” is the key word, and therein lies the rub as general manager Alex Anthopoulos surveys the madness of a market that one person described to me today as quiet for now, but “would not surprise me if it becomes frantic in the next three-to-four days.”

    The Braves, among several other teams, deserve credit for that madness. The National League was to be a victory lap for the Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers in 2018, with Arizona and Colorado and Milwaukee fighting for the two wild-card spots. Alas, the standings are chaos, with 10 teams sitting within five games of a playoff spot.

    Alas, the Nationals are not among them.

    How to sort through this unexpected landscape, especially with a team contending a year ahead of schedule and a fanbase starving for a postseason game and a system overflowing with players who could impact your future in a good way (or bad, if you deal the wrong ones)? This is when general managers make their money.

    I’m on record in this space in saying I don’t expect an earth-shaking move to come in the next seven days. It would not be prudent to deviate from a plan that has caused so much pain in order to chase a short-term gain – as sweet as October baseball would be – at the risk of negating what many expect to be a long-standing swing at championships extending into the next decade.

    Again, back to my conversation today. I was reminded of two names.

    “Stephen Strasburg.”

    “Matt Harvey.”

    Strasburg blitzed through the league in 2012 as a 23-year-old, winning 15 games with a 3.16 ERA, but was shut down after 159 1/3 innings to protect his arm. The Nationals did as the Nationals do, flopping in the NL Division Series. Six seasons later, Washington has won as many playoff series as you and I combined, and woke up today six games out of a playoff spot.

    Harvey led a young, talented Mets rotation to the 2015 NL pennant, then famously refused to yield to manager Terry Collins after eight innings of a must-win Game 5 of the World Series. He gave up a walk and a double leading off the ninth before being yanked, the Royals won in extra innings to capture the championship, and today the Mets are a dumpster fire while Harvey pitches every fifth day for Cincinnati.

    One, an organization decision based on belief opportunities would present themselves without fail for years to come. The other, a manager who was convinced to change his mind with good intentions and perhaps lost the only shot that franchise will have at the brass ring for years to come.

    Both are cautionary tales of counting on a future that may not arrive. And so, as the clock ticks toward the deadline, Anthopoulos and his charges won’t sleep much. That’s life in a major-league front office in the days before the deadline, but the challenges facing this Braves regime as July crawls to a close are equally unique, daunting and exciting.

    For his part, Anthopoulos is not shying away from the task at hand. On SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio Monday morning, he stated the Braves are able to make the moves they need to make, provided it’s right for the organization for 2018 and beyond. It’s comforting to know this front office won’t empty the farm system for one run at a ring, but at the same time one wonders just how far they should push.

    After all, the right move – not the biggest move, and not just for the biggest name, but the right move – could vault Atlanta alongside the Dodgers as NL favorites. There is a three-headed beast in the American League, four if the Brad Hand deal stabilizes Cleveland’s bullpen, so many think the Senior Circuit is playing for runner-up honors. But the fact is you can’t win the World Series until you get there, and the Braves are in the mix of NL teams who could find themselves getting the chance to win seven games (or eight, depending on if they are in the wild-card game) in October to reach the big stage.

    But at what cost? What will it take? And remember, for all the folks on Twitter begging the Braves to get “this guy” or “that guy” or “those guys,” it takes two to tango. Some of the proposed moves by basement GMs border on absurd. At the same time, Atlanta could offer the moon and sun in any one deal and still have a top-10 system. That’s the result of four years of misery and all the work that’s transpired to rebuild this once-proud franchise.

    Sorting out the varying possibilities and the potential impacts, good and bad, always are part of the recipe of July for front offices. For the one residing at the confluence of Interstates 75 and 285 on Atlanta’s northwest flank, figuring out the straightest path through the winding madness could yield an amplifying boost for the next three months while not negating the opportunity to contend for the foreseeable future.

    After today, I have backed off my earlier stance of the Braves not doing anything, for what it’s worth. Call it intuition, call it a feeling, call it a guess. But the closer we get to 4 p.m. ET on July 31, the more I think Anthopoulos and the Braves will strike.


    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.

    Zack Greinke in a Braves uniform?

    The Atlanta Braves are coming out of the All-Star break sporting a 46-39 record, 4 games out of first place in the NL East. An acceptable start, yes—but not the level of success that leads to a World Series championship.

    That’s where the trade deadline comes in.

    In a complete reversal from last year, pitching has become the Braves’ biggest weakness in 2012. Between the loss of Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery, the inexplicable struggles of the formerly dominate Johnny Venters and a plethora of other issues, Atlanta’s need to add more pitching is as palpable as it’s been in recent weeks.

    But given the improvements we’ve seen thus far on the Braves’ offensive side of the game, mending the issues on the mound could easily turn this team from a fringe wild card challenger to a legitimate NL pennant contender. That will be Frank Wren’s goal leading up to the deadline.

    Luckily for Wren, the coming weeks will provide him with a fantastic opportunity to add a quality arm or two to the mix for the playoff push. With an above average roster already in the fold and Chipper set to enter the final months of his career, there’s little reason to believe Wren and Co. won’t be aggressive as July 31 approaches.

    Venters’ rough year notwithstanding, the true problem with the Braves’ pitching staff stems from the rotation, so one has to think that a starting pitcher will be at the top of Wren’s shopping list. Between the struggles of Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran and Mike Minor and the loss of Beachy, it would be difficult for Atlanta to compete in the postseason without adding depth to this beleaguered pitching staff.

    Obviously, there are innumerable possibilities for Atlanta when it comes to trade scenarios. With 15-20 potential partners and dozens of conceivable assets to choose from, there’s no way to accurately predict what the team will look like when July comes to an close.

    However, there are a few particularly enticing possibilities for the Braves to consider—none more alluring than Zack Greinke.

    The Milwaukee Brewers are having a horribly disappointing season, but Greinke has been one of the team’s few bright spots. With a 9-3 record and a 3.32 ERA, the former 6th overall pick would be a huge boost to the Braves’ staff if he could be acquired for the right price.

    Between him, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens (assuming he continues to pitch well) and veteran newcomer Ben Sheets, the Braves could trot out a fairly strong five-man rotation heading into the postseason (if they make it that far). Sheets will make his Braves debut on Sunday, and while the Braves are optimistic about the former NL All-Star, it’s hard to imagine he’ll erase the need for a trade.

    Of course, acquiring a top-end starter comes down to meeting the seller’s asking price. There’s no doubt that Brewers’ GM, Doug Melvin, is going to want a lot in return for Zack Greinke, and the potential bidding war that could ensue (the Angels have already been linked to Greinke) will only drive up the price.

    But to get a lot you have to give a lot, and Atlanta has a lot to offer. This isn’t to say that anyone in their system is “expendable” by any means, but they have enough young talent to part with a promising asset or two and not horribly sacrifice the future.

    Melvin is going to probably want an MLB-ready arm as part of the package, and that may come down to either Delgado or Minor. Again, losing either would hurt, but it would be far from the end of the world. But by giving up one of those two—both with the potential to blossom and be long-term fixtures wherever they end up—the rest of the package may not be so difficult for Wren to put together.

    At the end of the day, if Melvin asked for Delgado or Minor along with a second-tier prospect, it’s hard to imagine Wren will be able to say no. This goes without saying, but all this is pure speculation, as we have no idea what the Milwaukee GM is thinking. But it sure feels like a possible scenario.

    Another reason Greinke makes sense is his childhood ties to the organization. Growing up in Orlando, Florida, back before the Rays or Marlins existed, he supported the Braves in his youth.

    He’s made it clear in the past that he would like to play for the Braves, and if the Braves are willing to ante up this winter, a long-term deal could easily be in the cards.

    True, it would be expensive to bring him back on a multi-year basis, perhaps even in neighborhood of $20 million per season. But he’s also the kind of asset the Braves will desperately need 1-3 years down the road, and there’s little reason to believe they’ll be able to acquire a comparable player for a better price. With Tim Hudson likely only having another good couple of campaigns in the tank, Atlanta is going to need a strong, reliable veteran presence to lead the way for their new wave of pitching talent, which is coming along slower than most anticipated.

    Some may say that money should be saved to give Hanson a new contract, but with the notoriously hard-to-bargain-with Scott Boras as his agent, there’s absolutely no way Wren can afford to sit around and wait for those negotiations to happen before bolstering his rotation in other ways.

    There are other options to consider, Francisco Liriano, Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster being three of them, but the ability to re-sign and count on Greinke for years to come puts him above the rest.

    The Braves aren’t the kind of team that likes to make surrender a lot for rentals, and that hasn’t changed. But with the desperate need for a quick fix, it only makes sense to go after the guy who could have a long-term impact with the organization.

    Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

    Andrew Hirsh is a freelance sportswriter. Follow him on Twitter: @andrewhirsh