We are one week away from the trade deadline, but Alex Anthopoulos and the Atlanta Braves got a head start on shoring up their bullpen. The Braves acquired reliever Pierce Johnson from the Colorado Rockies Monday in exchange for minor league pitchers Tanner Gordon and Victor Vodnik. They also acquired left-hander Taylor Hearn in exchange for cash from the Texas Rangers.
Atlanta’s bullpen has suffered numerous injuries, most notably to A.J Minter, Dylan Lee and Jesse Chavez. All three are expected back, but Anthopoulos is hoping that the two new additions will provide some depth and some added flexibility.
“Pierce Johnson is someone we asked Colorado about I believe just before the All-Star break,” Anthopoulos said. “We like the power arm from the right side, his ability to spin the ball, the swing and miss, and we just think it’ll be a good complement to our bullpen. Taylor Hearn is a guy that again can provide length for us. So we do have the roster flexibility going forward, but he’ll join the team tomorrow. But again, we like the fact that he’s got great stuff from the left side, but also can provide length and the fact that he has options as well just gives us a lot of roster flexibility going forward. We feel like we’ve improved the ball club.”
Johnson’s surface numbers aren’t great. A 6.00 ERA and 4.57 FIP in 39 innings. Look deeper though and you will see a 2.31 FIP and a 2.72 xFIP away from Coors Field. While he is carrying a 13.3% walk rate, he has a 30.9% strikeout rate, which was something that caught the front office’s eye.
“When you get to this time of year, you’re thin slicing quite a bit,” Anthopoulos said when asked about Johnson’s home and road splits. “It’s just kind of the reality of it. I know that the numbers on the surface right now aren’t great, but he’s still getting a lot of swing and miss. And look, there’s no doubt, Coors Field, all that stuff. We think there’s upside there for him to improve and obviously we’re optimistic that he’ll do well for us.”
Johnson is an expiring contract and cost the Braves a pair of young arms in Gordon and Vodnik. However, that is just the price of doing business.
“t’s always tough to part with your young guys. We like both guys,” Anthopoulos said of Gordon and Vodnik. “Gordon started some games down there for us and Vodnik has got a great arm. He was in discussion this offseason to be added to the 40. We obviously elected not to do that. It would have been a discussion again to add him to the 40 in the winter. I think with just some of the ads right now we’re pretty jammed up on the 40 as is. But again, you’re going to have to give up talent right? That’s what scouting and development are for. Scouts and the development staff put you in a position to be able to acquire guys.”
Hearn hasn’t found much success at the big league level as his 5.11 ERA and 4.45 FIP in 92 career appearance will attest. However, he is left-handed, has a big arm and has options which adds some much needed flexibility to Atlanta’s bullpen.
“He’s got a great arm. He’s got a power arm, he’s got great stuff,” Anthopoulos said of Hearn. “We really don’t have a lot of optionable bullpen guys right now, especially from the left side. We really don’t have any to be candid with you. Luetge’s the only guy we’ve been carrying from the left side the last little while. We’ll see if we can get him in the strike zone a little bit more, but the fact that he’s got big stuff and he does have some experience starting, It’s just a nice piece for us to take a shot on.”
Hearn has made 25 starts in his career, including two this year in Triple A for the Rangers. He will join the roster for Tuesday’s game in Boston, but could go to Gwinnett when A.J. Minter is ready to return from the injured list. With Dylan Lee still seemingly weeks away, Hearn could provide the Braves some additional cover.
Anthopoulos of course wouldn’t disclose any additional moves that the Braves might make before the deadline. He pointed out that the front office is always looking to improve the club and this is one time of the year where all teams are engaged. He also didn’t rule out a deal that would impact the club long term and pointed to last year’s acquisition of Raisel Iglesias as an example.
“You know that there’s certain times a year where teams are engaged and they’re active in trade. This is one of those times,” Anthopoulos said. “So there could be a deal that impacts you long term that makes sense right now. When we got Iglesias last year, a part of the appeal was that he had three years remaining on his deal and we knew we’d have him going forward. Then there’s other times where guys are slated to be a free agent. The trade deadline is next week, we still have a week or so and like anything, you just always take the time to explore things. To be able to predict, it’s so hard to do because we’re not going to force any trades. I do think this is a time of year clearly where all 30 teams are engaged and it’s an opportunity to either improve your roster short term or long term.”