Atlanta — It wasn’t quite the splash that some were wanting, but Alex Anthopoulos and the Atlanta Braves feel that they added depth to the bullpen and the bench with the additions of relievers Pierce Johnson, Brad Hand and utility man Nicky Lopez.
“Every Trade Deadline, it’s [an] opportunity to impact the current season and even long-term,” Anthopoulos told reporters following Tuesday’s Trade Deadline. “I think we talked about this before. We got Iglesias last year, it was definitely for ‘22, but also knowing we had him for another three years beyond that. So you just don’t know what’s going to present itself. All 30 teams were engaged in talking and we went through so many different scenarios and so many deals and you just don’t know what you’re going to come away with.”
“We knew we wanted to get someone established for that bench role in Lopez. We knew we wanted to do some things in the bullpen. Getting Pierce Johnson was just a little earlier and then having a third left-hander. Dylan Lee’s going to be starting a rehab assignment real soon. A.J. [Minter]’s already back. Just having a third option out of the bullpen from the left side to just give Snit another option. Look, the next two months and even into three, you just don’t know with health and performance and things like that, Even in the post-season, we’ve had a lot of guys go down. So, after today, we can’t do anything else, really and you’re just trying to insulate yourself.”
This Deadline was different as compared to some of the ones Anthopoulos has handled during his Braves’ tenure. For one, the Braves currently have the best record in the majors and have a roster that is stacked thanks to a young core. They have navigated a strong start despite a number of injuries to starters Max Fried and Kyle Wright, as well as a number of bullpen arms that are all expected to return at some point during the stretch run.
“That’s the biggest thing. You’re sitting there a lot of times you’re working through, okay, if this guy comes back in August and this guy comes back in September and we have so many 40-man [roster] spots and how’s it gonna work,” Anthopoulos said. “We have guys on the 60-day IL and rehabs and position players can go on rehab for 20 days and guys that pitch can go on rehab for 30 days. Who has options, who doesn’t? But between all that, something’s probably going to happen. So, you’d rather overbook a little bit and realize that it’ll probably work itself out and if you’re in a jam and you have a good problem, then that’s a great position to be in.”
The Braves were rumored to be on the hunt for a starting pitcher to help supplant the rotation. Anthopoulos said that they did check in on starters, but the expected returns of Fried and Wright set the bar high for what they were looking for.
“There was a lot of stuff that was out there. We definitely checked in on some starters, no doubt about it,” Anthopoulos said. “What made it a little more challenging for us is, and I’m checking with the training staff all the time, and trying to get a sense of how confident are they guys come back and that when they do come back, how effective they’ll be. How likely it would be a return to their previous level of play. Our staff is very encouraged and very optimistic on Kyle Wright, on Dylan Lee, on Chavez. They’re pretty confident. Knowing that there’s a high, likelihood those guys are going to be back soon and at the level that they were prior, it made the bar higher for us.”
“We would have done it if we could find an impact starter and then just dealt with six starters when Kyle came back and just made the adjustments,” Anthopoulos added. “So having too many good players isn’t a problem, but the bar was high.”
The Braves have made two notable trades the past two offseasons that largely cleaned out a lot of their upper level prospects. However, Anthopoulos said that wasn’t really a factor with this Deadline.
“Kind of similar to past years, we had the players to get everybody, and it’s just a matter of we were willing to do it,” Anthopoulos said. “Obviously, we were only willing to do a few things, but it’s the same thing. You’re always going to be managing the short-term and the long-term. You know that you have a chance this year, but I also know that we want to be good in ‘24 and ‘25 and ‘26. So, we could have sent young talent out the door that we believe would have impacted years going forward.”
“I remember my first year, Max Fried’s name came up in 2018,” Anthopoulos added. “Max Fried wasn’t Max Fried at that time. It would have been easy to do. Kyle Wright’s name has come up and Harris in the past and so on. Strider’s name came up in 2021. It’s just one of those things that at the time, we don’t know if these guys are going to impact us, but if we’re correct in some of our evaluations, maybe they impact the ‘24 Braves and the ‘25 Braves.”
So at the end of the day, the Braves are banking on their depth that they have worked hard to accumulate. Anthopoulos said that he thought there were fewer players available overall, probably due to the expanded playoffs and with so many teams in contention. The Braves are in good shape now and will be in even better shape if they can get everyone healthy. Time will tell if they did enough.