Alex Anthopoulos ticked every box. He bought a starting pitcher, a home-run hitter and bullpen help. His Braves are better today than they were a week ago. It would be no great shock if they won the National League East, a prize that, as recently as last weekend, seemed to be slipping out of reach.
But the acquisition of assets wasn’t the biggest thing the Braves’ general manager got right at this trade deadline. More important was the protection of assets. Nothing the club did this July will compromise the seasons to come. It’s unlikely Matt Wisler or Lucas Sims will win the Cy Young for the Reds. Even if one does, the opportunity would never have presented itself here. They had their auditions, neither passing. They became, as former team president John Hart put it, currency.
The Braves capped a six-day span that saw them make four trades with Tuesday’s move for starter Kevin Gausman. He’s 27. He was the fourth overall pick in the 2012 MLB draft, behind Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton, ahead of Max Fried, Addison Russell, Corey Seager and Michael Wacha. Six years on, Gausman hasn’t met his potential. He eats innings, yes. He strikes guys out. (He also walks guys.) He has a career ERA of 4.22. If you still believe in won-lost records, his is 39-51.
There are those in Baltimore who believe he’ll be the next Jake Arrieta, who did nothing as an Oriole but who, after being dealt to the Cubs, won a Cy Young. That’s probably fanciful. Even so, Gausman should give the Braves the thing they need most at the moment, meaning innings from a starting pitcher.
(Aside: Gausman had his best season in 2016, posting a 4.1 WAR. The past two seasons have gone less well. The Orioles’ pitching coach these two years has been Roger McDowell, of whom you’ve heard. He’s not the best with younger pitchers.)
It was no coincidence that the Braves’ regression began after Mike Soroka and Brandon McCarthy were placed on the disabled list in late June. There’s a chance neither will return this season. No team can lose 40 percent of a rotation and not feel it. Gausman fills part of that gap.
No, he’s not as good as Chris Archer, but here’s what the Pirates shed for a guy who has become better known for having a great contract than working great games – 24-year-old pitcher Tyler Glasnow and 23-year-old outfielder Austin Meadows (of Loganville’s Grayson High), both of whom had been among baseball’s top 10 prospects not long ago.
Here’s what the Braves exported for Gausman and the reliever Darren O’Day (who’s on the 60-day DL) – third baseman Juan Carlos Encarnacion, their No. 14 prospect as adjudged by MLB Pipeline; catcher Brett Cumberland, their No. 30 prospect, plus pitchers Bruce Zimmerman and Evan Phillips, neither of whom is ranked.
The happy totals: To land Gausman and O’Day, the big bopper Adam Duvall and the relievers Jonny Venters and Brad Brach, the Braves sacrificed not a single top 10 prospect. Anthopoulous toed the fine line between doing too little and doing too much.
The GM did right by the 2018, who needed and expected his help, and also by the Braves of 2019 and beyond. There’s no huge get among the newcomers, but Anthopoulos found four guys who should help meet this team’s needs. He did this in exchange for two top 30 prospects; two lesser prospects; a few international signing slots; two pitchers who’d never have been more than long relievers here, and Preston Tucker, at best a fourth outfielder. That’s savvy shopping.
Two and a half weeks ago, Anthopoulos told this correspondent: “I’d say 90 percent of the players that are actively available right now are rental players that we’d have for two to three months. Certainly not ideal for us, especially since it’s going to require trading away young talent; we’re likely not going to be taking anything away from the big-league team. That’s certainly not the model that we want to pursue. That said, we also want to take advantage of having a good season in 2018.”
Then: “We would prefer not to go after rentals unless the acquisition cost just makes so much sense for us. There’s a lot of pain that has gone into putting together this young talent. We’re not ready to throw that all away just because of one season. That said, I do think we owe it to the players and the fan base and the organization to make this team better, one way or another.”
It was never going to be easy to balance the here and now against tomorrow, but Anthopoulos did it. (The two biggest names acquired, Duvall and Gausman, are under team control through 2021 and 2020, respectively.) In his first deadline as Braves GM, Alex Anthopoulos aced the audition.