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Alex Anthopoulos discusses the addition of Collin McHugh, outfield situation

The Braves strengthened their bullpen Tuesday night with the addition of versatile right-hander Collin McHugh.

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MLB: World Series-Workouts Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

After announcing an eight-year extension for first baseman Matt Olson earlier on Tuesday, the Atlanta Braves stayed active with the addition of free agent reliever Collin McHugh on a two-year, $10 million deal that also includes a $6 million club option for a third season.

Braves president Alex Anthopoulos discussed the move with reporters Tuesday evening and said that the club was looking to add some right-handed bullpen depth and that McHugh’s versatility will fit nicely with the group they already have.

“We really wanted to add right-handed bullpen depth, obviously Collin can pitch in so many roles,” Anthopoulos said of McHugh. “He can be late-inning, obviously, he can pitch multiple innings as well. Especially with the way the rules are set up right now. If we are locked into 13 arms.”

That versatility was important to the Braves and Anthopoulos. He mentioned multiple times that McHugh could be a late-inning option, but could also pitch multiple innings and serve as an “opener” if needed. McHugh appeared in 37 games and made seven “starts” for the Rays in 2021. He posted a 1.55 ERA and a 2.12 FIP in 64 innings while putting up a tiny 4.9 percent walk rate and striking out an even 30 percent of batters faced.

“We just view him as a really good reliever that can pitch if you needed him to,” Anthopoulos said. “He can go three innings. We have been looking for late-inning relief help from the right side, but he can do other things. I just want to give Snit as many options as he needs. Guys are going to need days off and so on. Having that balance right, left for him to be able to get through lineups and days I think is critically important.”

Anthopoulos added that McHugh was highly recommended for his character and as a good teammate by bullpen coach Drew French as well as starter Charlie Morton, both of whom played with McHugh while in Houston.

Atlanta’s bullpen was shaky at times during the 2021 regular season but came together nicely down the stretch and in the postseason. Jesse Chavez and Chris Martin played key roles at times, but both departed as free agents this offseason, and both will likely start the 2021 season as Cubs.

“We wanted to add [to] the right side of the bullpen, no doubt about that,” Anthopoulos said. “Last year, Chavez did a nice job, Martin did a nice job. We were thin. So that was really a priority for us. Collin is as good as it gets. He’s from Atlanta and really wanted to be here.”

Are the Braves finished adding?

Despite two big moves today, Anthopoulos confirmed that the team isn’t finished adding and still has several holes on the roster that need to be filled.

“We still have stuff to do. I’m trying to move as fast as we can leading up to the first game,” Anthopoulos said. “I’d like to just try to set the roster and just fill some of these gaps so we can get going and get guys ready. Obviously the longer we wait, we have to get guys in game shape. That’s my other concern. With a certain amount of time, getting at-bats, getting innings, getting work. We are not going to force a deal, but there’s definitely a sense of urgency to try to get things done.”

Who plays center?

One area where the Braves are lacking is in the outfield. Atlanta was already short on true center field options and that was before they sent Cristian Pache to Oakland in the deal to acquire Olson. Adam Duvall started in center throughout the Braves’ postseason run and Anthopoulos confirmed that he was the likely candidate to start there on Opening Day.

“We see Adam Duvall being able to play center field. He did a nice job for us,” Anthopoulos said. “Guillermo Heredia obviously can play center field as well. When Ronald does come back we have talked to him.”

Former Braves great Andruw Jones recently said that Acuña. didn’t want to play center field in an interview with David O’Brien in The Athletic. However, Anthopoulos said Tuesday that he has spoken with Acuña about the situation and that the latter was willing to do whatever the team needed. Anthopoulos added that Acuña could be in center to start the 2023 season, depending on what other things happen.

“I think there was a time when Ronald preferred right field,” Anthopoulos said. “I talked to Ronald about it and that it would impact how we build the roster. If we are going to go out and sign guys beyond a year, how would you feel about center field and he said, I’ll do whatever you need. So Ronald is a candidate for everyday center field as well and he’s aware of it. I’ve personally spoken to him about it, but that’s going to depend on how things go and how guys like Michael Harris, how they come along. It helps me to be able to build the roster knowing that Ronald is prepared to be the everyday center fielder, whether that’s now, whether that’s 2023. For now, I don’t want to speak for Snit, but the thought is Duvall will be starting there and then we will just evaluate as things move forward. Knowing that we have Ronald long term that could fill that spot certainly helps when we’re looking at our options.”

Rounding out the bullpen

With the addition of McHugh, the back half of Atlanta’s bullpen is set. However, there are still several other guys who are in camp and competing for a spot. One of those is veteran Darren O’Day, who returned to the club on a minor league deal this offseason. Sean Newcomb is another another familiar name who is in camp and out of options.

“Darren O’Day is back, he’s on a minor league deal, but if Darren is capable and he shows what he’s been. Even before he got hurt New York, he was throwing the ball well. That’s another really good late-inning reliever from the right side,” Anthopoulos said. “Darren knows that he’s still got to make the team, but we are hopeful and so far he looks good. There’s tremendous upside. We know what he can do. Obviously, we got a lot of really quality arms. Sean Newcomb is out of options. He’s got tremendous stuff and when you are out of options, you get every opportunity to make the team.”

Kirby Yates update

The Braves signed veteran reliever Kirby Yates to a two-year deal back in November. Yates is currently working his way back from Tommy John surgery and Anthopoulos said that the team is hoping that he will be an option in August.

“We will see how it goes, but our thought was sometime in August he’d be back. We’ll see where he’s at around the All-Star break. Our view was always, if we get him back, he’s almost like hopefully a trade deadline guy that you have him sometime in August and hopefully we are contending. Hopefully we get to carry him through the end of the season and he can be a huge add for us.

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