If Alex Anthopoulos were to keep his organization’s stockpile of prospect in a warehouse, the sign on the front door would read “Handle With Care.”
After inheriting one of the game’s best farm systems when he took over Atlanta’s baseball operations department this past offseason, Anthopoulos quickly downplayed his wheeling-and-dealing reputation, preaching patience and downplaying the need to make a splash for splashes’ sake. Other than a financially motivated blockbuster with his former organization to make Atlanta a player in this winter’s free-agent class, that has held true. Even as the team jumped out as a surprise contender with well-documented needs, the Braves held on to their prospects.
With two days remaining before the non-waiver trade deadline, that stockpile remains intact.
The Braves made two quiet bullpen additions at the expense of only international bonus pool funds sent to Tampa Bay and Baltimore in exchange for former All-Stars Jonny Venters and Brad Brach, low-risk maneuvers addressing a well-documented need. Though Venters will be hard-pressed to recapture his elite status from his first stint in Atlanta, he’s holding left-handed hitters to a .241 weighted on-base average. He steps into a relief corps that owned the worst numbers against lefties among the remaining contenders. Brach is an experienced right-hander who could use a change of scenery outside the American League East.
“We needed to add some bullpen,” Anthopoulos said. “We had talked about Brach on and off for a while. Look, he’s not having the year he’s had in the past. We think there’s some upside there. There’s been some bad luck. If you look, batting average on balls in play and things like that are a little high. There could be some things with his mix that we looked at. There could be some tweaks there.”
The moves raise the question: Has the 22-24 slide, relinquishing the division’s top spot, altered the front office’s trade-deadline calculus?
The Phillies have the pitching and the division lead, but the Braves still own a 40-run advantage in run differential. The Nationals are a sub-.500 team that could become surprise sellers. The NL East is there for the taking. But has this two-month slide — featuring an 8-13 record in July — made the front office more wary about matching the shock waves around the league, about becoming overly aggressive when the best days are still ahead? The moves are piling up. Manny Machado, Brad Hand, Zach Britton, J.A. Happ, Asdrubal Cabrera, Mike Moustakas, Joakim Soria and Jeurys Familia are all off the board.
The Braves’ reported focus on players with club control still makes the most sense; if the team continues to falter, the acquired piece(s) can help in 2019 and beyond. Rentals like Venters and Brach can help, but they also skirt the risk of losing a future building block who is already in the system. Will the front office’s patience prevail for the next couple of days?