With Trades, Atlanta Braves Strive to Catch Mets and Phillies
It was the ripple before the typhoon, the start of the craziest exchange meet in baseball history in late July. On July 15, the last day of the All-Star break, Alex Anthopoulos, general manager of the Atlanta Braves, offered the Chicago Cubs hope for outfielder Joc Pederson. By month’s end, 158 players – including some of baseball’s biggest names – had been traded and all 30 teams had taken at least one step.
Anthopoulos wasn’t trying to boost the industry, of course. He was trying to send a message to his team, whose dazzling outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. had just finished his season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Anthopoulos didn’t want the lull of the All-Star break to be a permanent state of mind.
“I felt it was important to show the players, ‘Oh, okay, we’re going to keep trying,'” Anthopoulos said over the phone over the weekend. “I haven’t told anyone about it; nobody told me about it. It was just something my instinct was very keen to do. It was very important to me that we came back from the break and have a deal in place. “
It was also a signal to the Mets that Atlanta, which has won the National Eastern League in each of the past three seasons, has no plans to concede. At the end of July, Atlanta also traded to wide receiver Stephen Vogt (of Arizona), outfielder Adam Duvall (of Miami), Eddie Rosario (of Cleveland) and Jorge Soler (of Kansas City) and reliever Richard Rodriguez (of Pittsburgh). ).
Individually, none of those players fit the sizzle of the deadline headlines: Max Scherzer and Trea Turner at the Dodgers, Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo at the Yankees, Craig Kimbrel at the White Sox, Kris Bryant at the Giants, Javy Baez at the Mets.
Collectively, however, Atlanta’s transportation made the NL East a lot more intriguing. The Mets led the division for over 12 weeks, but throughout, the Braves and Philadelphia Phillies lingered closely. At the start of Monday’s games, the Mets led Philadelphia by three and a half and Atlanta by four.
The Mets have already ruled out their ace, Jacob deGrom, for August due to new inflammation in his forearm. They have the worst record of baseball’s six division chiefs (55-49 through Sunday) and dropped out of the home playoffs to Atlanta and the Cincinnati Reds before heading to Miami for a three-game streak starting in Monday.
As a result, Atlanta, with a losing record, still has a shot at catching the Mets for a division title.
“The Mets have been in the top spot all year, pretty much, but no one has really walked away,” Anthopoulos said. “If someone had walked away, or if we were 20 games under .500, then you consider it highly, highly unlikely. But with the way things turned out, we stand a chance. “
When Anthopoulos has a chance, he goes for it. In his first five years as general manager, with the Toronto Blue Jays, his teams never made it to the playoffs. Then, after the 2014 season, he continued a trade for Oakland star third baseman Josh Donaldson, who was widely viewed as unavailable. But Anthopoulos isn’t ruling out potential acquisitions, however wacky they may be, and he got his man with a four-player package.
“It’s easy to say no to everything, and I get it – 99% of the time things will be a ‘no’ and they can’t be done,” he said. “But there is nothing wrong with at least having the thought process of: How can we? And if you do that and you still can’t find a solution, fine. But at least you made an effort to see if there was a way to find it.
This is a useful lesson far beyond the world of sport: Show me a yes. The path to this answer might not be worth taking. But it never hurts to know how to get there.
The deal with Donaldson was a triumph for the Blue Jays: he immediately won the American League’s MVP award and led Toronto to its Premier League title in 22 years. It was the first of six consecutive division crowns for the Anthopoulos teams, as he followed it with two as an assistant with the Dodgers and three with Atlanta.
A seventh might seem unlikely after losing Acuña, who is arguably one of the majors’ top five players. Anthopoulos failed to land a star in Acuña’s class, but he had to try something.
“You can’t replace Ronald Acuña, but I don’t think you can have the mindset of:
You lose a player and shut him down for the season, ”Anthopoulos said. “You have all these other players and people in the organization and the fan base. You keep trying, and you keep going.
“I remember in Toronto when we lost Marcus Stroman in spring training. He was going to be a really important starter for us. I heard the news and got in my car, went for a walk by the water for about 30 or 45 minutes, came back, turned the page and said, “ OK, there are opportunities for other guys. You just try to find a way.
Duvall, who played for Atlanta from 2018 to 2020, has 69 RBIs, tied for fourth in the National League until Sunday, as well as 22 home runs. Soler slammed 48 home runs in 2019 to set a Royals franchise record. Rosario was a stable and productive left fielder on three Minnesota playoff teams.
All three have struggled to reach base this season, as Pederson did with the Cubs, and Rosario is on the injured list with a tense slant. But without Acuña – and former all-star outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who left in late May as baseball investigates domestic violence charges – the Braves have at least worked out options with a recent record of success.
There are other signs of optimism: The infielder (Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley) has accumulated 82 homers. Receiver Travis d’Arnaud and starter Huascar Ynoa are on an injury rehabilitation mission, and Ian Anderson (shoulder) is getting closer. The pen is solid and the rotation has been solid.
The Phillies acquired starter Kyle Gibson and reliever Ian Kennedy on the deadline, but their pitch still looks too thin to make a serious charge; they now take the unusual step of converting their closest, Ranger Suarez, on leaving. The Braves (52-54) haven’t gone over 0.500 all season, but they were the only team in the division with a positive points differential (+49) until Sunday, and the Mets left them hanging out.
Now the Braves are better – at least a little bit – than they were when Acuña fell. The Mets will not find them until the end of September, during the last series of the season. Their goal is to make sure these games don’t matter.
For the moment the race for the pennants is on, because Atlanta refused to go down quietly.
“I was there when you came out in August and September, and it’s no fun,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s not fun for the organization, it’s not fun for the fans. We are in it. We were in by the deadline. I just don’t think you can take these things for granted.
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