After a long and sometimes excruciating period of no news, the Atlanta Braves bolstered their roster for the stretch run with the addition of four players before Friday’s trade deadline. The Braves added what they hope will be significant depth for their depleted outfield with the additions of Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario. The team also acquired Pirates closer Richard Rodriguez right before the 4 p.m. ET deadline in an effort to bolster a bullpen that has been inconsistent throughout the 2021 season.
Atlanta just completed what was tabbed as a crucial road trip with nine games against Philadelphia and New York. Atlanta completed the trip with a 5-4 record, splitting four against the Phillies while taking three of five against the Mets. The thinking was in many circles that the trip might set the course for Atlanta at the deadline, but that was not the case according to Braves President of Baseball Operations Alex Anthopoulos.
“I know there was a lot of talk about that, I didn’t necessarily agree with it,” Anthopoulos said. “We have 60 plus games left. What happens in one individual series, sure they’re all important. Of course, you’re playing the division opponents and so on. But I’ve seen teams lose leads in September. I’ve seen them lose leads with a week to go, two weeks to go. Coming out of the break, making the deal for Joc and Vogt, I think I did one of these at the time and I said pretty unequivocally, we’re looking to add. So there was no scenario that that was going to change in a 10-day period, two-week period.”
So selling was never really on the table and something that the team considered, which isn’t surprising. With everything that has gone wrong so far in 2021, the Braves are still just four games back.
“We just felt like we had a pretty good handle on our club and what the NL East was doing at the time,” Anthopoulos added. “Even if things hadn’t gone all that well, we still felt like we had a club that had a chance to win the division.”
Anthopoulos said that the team was focused on addressing the outfield situation at the deadline.
“We wanted to do what we could offensively, no doubt about that,” Anthopoulos said of the team’s deadline goals. “Our infield is set, d’Arnaud is coming back behind the plate. So outfield was the area to do something there.”
The Braves entered the season with an Opening Day outfield of Marcell Ozuna in left, Cristian Pache in center and Ronald Acuña Jr. in right. For various reasons, none of the three are on the active roster, and Pache looks like the only candidate that could return to the Braves in 2021 if needed. Guys like Guillermo Heredia and Abraham Almonte have done a valiant job of filling in but it was easy to see that the Braves were going to need reinforcements for the stretch run.
The bullpen has been a point of contention throughout the season, and that was also an area of focus. Anthopoulos said that there was a lot of competition for relievers on the market and that they have been trying to add someone for weeks now.
“We definitely wanted to try to get a reliever,” Anthopoulos said. “We’ve been trying for weeks, but I know these last three, four days, we’ve been trying to and were finally able to get a deal done today.”
Duvall made it to Atlanta in time and was in the Braves lineup for Friday’s series opener against the Milwaukee Brewers. He was non-tendered by the Braves this past offseason as the team was forced to reduce payroll due to the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, and Duvall was one of those hard decisions that the team was forced to make.
“We liked all those players we lost in free agency. We liked all of them,” Anthopoulos said of the decision to non-tender Duvall. “They were all good people in the clubhouse. They’re all productive players. The reality was that with the uncertainty going into 2021, we reduced payroll. As such, we had to make some decisions and cut good players loose and Adam is a good player. He arguably had his best year with us last year. The real appeal is that he doesn’t have to play against us now.”
Duvall signed with the Marlins and hit .229/.277/.478 with 22 home runs and 68 RBIs. He tormented his former team, however, hitting .368/.395/.842 with five homers and 17 RBIs in 12 games against Atlanta.
“We really like Adam, he is a great defender. He’s having a good year, great in the clubhouse, and we needed to improve our outfield depth,” Anthopoulos said. “He was available, and we were glad to be able to get him back.”
The Braves also acquired outfielder Eddie Rosario in what amounted to a salary dump by Cleveland. Rosario is still on the Injured List due to an abdominal injury but is close to being ready to go out on a rehab assignment. Rosario appeared in 78 games with Cleveland while hitting .254/.296/.389 with seven home runs.
“He’s been a really productive player for the Twins,” Anthopoulos said of Rosario. “He got off to a slow start with the Indians this year and was just starting to really play well before he got hurt.”
With the clock ticking closer to the 4 p.m. ET deadline, the Braves added slugger Jorge Soler in a deal with the Kansas City Royals. Soler got off to a terrible start in 2021 and that is reflected in his overall numbers. He has appeared in 94 games and is hitting just .192/.288/.370 with 13 home runs and an 81 wRC+. Soler has found his stride a bit of late, posting a .561 slugging percentage with seven home runs and a 131 wRC+ in July.
“He’s had a down year by his standards, but he finally got it going and he’s got tremendous power, especially against against left handers,” Anthopoulos said of Soler. “The numbers are outstanding, the power is real. He’s someone that we’d really like to use against left-handers.”
It remains to be seen how the Braves will deploy their new outfield depth, but Anthopoulos mentioned having the ability to set up some platoon situations multiple times. He emphasized how important it was to add depth without the ability of making a waiver trade. By adding extra bodies, they are more prepared should an outfielder go down with an injury.
“I think everything’s on on the table. We have the ability to platoon and so on,” Anthopoulos said when asked how the new pieces fit. “The other component is, you get past this date and you can’t add anymore unless it’s released guys or guys you claim on waivers, trade waivers are done. So there’s more emphasis on depth because you can’t go anywhere else.”
The final piece of the puzzle came just minutes before the 4 p.m. ET deadline according to Anthopoulos with the addition of Rodriguez to the bullpen. Rodriguez was the Pirates’ closer and put up a 2.82 ERA and a 2.58 FIP in 38 1/3 innings. Anthopoulos said that having closing experience was a plus but that he could pitch in a number of situations. Rodriguez is also under team control for two additional seasons beyond this one.
“There’s a lot of relievers that got moved and we talked to a lot of people,” Anthopoulos said of the reliever market. “I think when you’re adding bullpen arms, you’re trying to separate them. It’s not necessarily all that easy to do. We liked Rodriguez, clearly, and the fact that we have some control beyond the current year.”
It remains to be seen whether or not the Braves did enough to climb past the Phillies and the Mets, who both made significant moves at the trade deadline as well. However, they were able to address some of the issues with the roster without dipping too deep into their prospect capital. They will also presumably get back Travis d’Arnaud, Huascar Ynoa and Ian Anderson at some point in August.
“There’s no doubt we’ve had our challenges, that’s probably a nice way to say it, but at the same time, every club has,” Anthopoulos said. “The one thing is you get into the postseason, we’ve seen great teams lose early. I remember the Mariners team that won 116 games and got eliminated. The Cardinals won 83 games years ago and won the World Series. I think you have to worry about being able to get in first. We’ve seen Wild Card teams get to the World Series. You just don’t know once you get in. There’s no doubt we’ve had our challenges but everyone in the NL East has had their challenges and our focus is just keep grinding and keep trying to make the club better.”