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Trades make Braves good enough to win NL East

Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos didn’t sell the farm (or even significant pieces of it) at the non-waiver trade deadline, but he also didn’t surrender the season. He didn’t execute any blockbuster moves, but made Braves just a little bit better, which may be just enough to win the NL East. 

“We talked about what would you like to have, and I think he hit all the boxes: bullpen depth, starting pitcher, bat off the bench,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said, and he wasn’t just flattering his boss. 

The Braves acquired right-hander Kevin Gausman for a reliable rotation piece. They added Adam Duvall for right-handed power. Lefty Jonny Venters and right-hander Brad Brach are respectable arms for their beleaguered bullpen. 

Crucially, Anthopoulos did all of this without sacrificing any of his top prospects. As noted previously, that should have been his guiding principle. But the major league team is pretty good now. Standing pat may have been defensible for Anthopoulos, but selling would have been a bad look. 

At some point the Braves must transition from building via the farm system to building a major league contender. Their surprising play this season means that time is now and so, say, trading Nick Markakis for more prospects would have signaled more wait-and-see. 

Anthopoulos split the difference by making smart, small moves for the major league club while keeping the best prospects in the pipeline. He said he was “reluctant” to move the organization’s top prospects, but open to it. 

“But the bar for us to clear to do that is really high, and that player needs to check a lot of boxes,” he said. 

With no palatable big trades available, Anthopoulos made moves on the margins to improve a team that was a half-game behind the Phillies at the deadline. The Braves aren’t a clear favorite in the division but, with the reinforcements, they can win it. 

Can’t say the same for the Nationals, who were 5-1/2 games behind back at the deadline. They didn’t blow up the roster as reports indicated they might — they reportedly were willing to trade superstar talent Bryce Harper — but didn’t add any significant pieces while sending solid reliever Brandon Kintzler to the Cubs. 

The Nationals, winners of four of the past six East titles, don’t look they’ll add another this year. 

“They are the team to beat until someone beats them,” Anthopoulos said. “There’s enough talent there (looking) from the outside in. They have the ability to go off and win a ton of games at any time.” 

The Phillies, like the Braves, got a bit better. They acquired Asdrubal Cabera, who has more offensive value than Duvall but comes with more injury risk. Catcher Wilson Ramos is a good bat, but may not be healthy until September. Lefty specialist Aaron Loup probably is better than the comeback version of Venters, but not by much. 

The Braves may not win the East. The wild-card race is so crowded that it’s hard to figure. But the Braves have a real chance, and when’s the last time we could say that? 

The Braves haven’t been in the division race this late since 2014, when they were 1-1/2 games behind the Nationals on July 31 (they led the division on July 18). That’s the year the Braves lost 16 of 20 games to begin September and faded out of the playoff race, costing GM Frank Wren his job. 

The Braves were nine games back in the East on July 31, 2015, one week after they traded Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson to the Mets for two minor-league pitchers. I was with the Braves in St. Louis when that deal went down, and it miffed the players. They felt as if the front office gave up just as they started playing decent baseball and with Freddie Freeman soon to return from the disabled list. 

The Braves collapsed down the stretch in 2015, were awful to begin 2016 and never really got good again until this year. Unlike his predecessor in 2015, Anthopoulos didn’t punt on the season at the deadline. 

In fairness, that 2015 team really wasn’t going anywhere. This Braves team, fortified at the trade deadline without sacrificing the future, might yet go somewhere.

“We’ll see at the end of September, I guess,” Anthopoulos said.

This should be fun.

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