In retrospect, perhaps Alex Anthopoulos and the Atlanta Braves should have been more aggressive in pursuing another starting pitcher this past off-season.
That said, such pursuits are often fool’s errands, requiring the expenditure of great resources — whether prospects or cash — with no guarantees of future results.
Witness the 5 top free-agent starters from last Winter:
- Carlos Rodon (Yankees; 6 years, $162 million). Hasn’t yet pitched this year.
- Jacob deGrom (Rangers; 5 years, $185 million). Just 30 innings so far.
- Justin Verlander (Mets; 2 years, $86.7 million + vesting option). 12 innings.
- Kodai Senga (Mets; 5 years, $75 million w/opt out). 4.14 ERA, 1.514 WHIP.
- Chris Bassitt (Jays; 3 years, $63 million). 4.28 ERA, 1.225 WHIP.
(Okay, maybe Bassitt has gotten a little better since his 2023 opener (*sigh*). You also may recall that the pickins’ got slim very quickly after these pitchers).
So ya wanna be a baseball executive? Good luck with that.
But now the reality of the Braves starting pitching perils is hitting the team like a well-intended fastball. So what can/should/will Alex Anthopoulos do?
Atlanta Braves Problem 1: Time
There is no good time to lose two frontline starters, but coming in the first two months of the season … that’s the worst (just ask the Mets).
With the exception of a very few teams, everybody still believes they have a shot at the playoffs. Even some of the cellar-dwellers (St. Louis, the White Sox) are operating under the belief that they can make a run and ‘get back in this thing’.
Some other clubs (Cincy, Detroit among them) likely believe they are on the rise and — like Baltimore, last season — would prefer to hold their cards as they are building for the future.
Almost universally (Oakland being the glaring exception), all clubs would like to convey to their fans a sense of hope and promise for as long as they can into a season. Selling assets early on doesn’t contribute to that kind of message.
Thus, the “trade season” doesn’t emerge until after the All-Star break; a fact that puts teams on their own to fix problems internally until that point… and likely extending out for nearly the full 11½ weeks until the August 1 trade deadline.
So short of a total panic (that would be unexpected, to say the least)… don’t expect a trade anytime soon.
Atlanta Braves Problem 2: Time
No, that’s not a typo. There’s yet another “time” problem involved here.
There’s the fact that the Braves will have to wait for both Max Fried and Kyle Wright to heal. The figure of “2 months” has been thrown around, but that’s a generic guess that may be right or wrong (the guess here is that it’s optimistic) for either pitcher.
It’s hard to know what you need if you can’t know what you’ll need. It’s easy to speculate that both Fried and Wright will be available for the October playoffs, but what if there’s any other setback? Atlanta is truly at the point where any other bad news for either player will almost certainly end their season.
Waiting in the wings are Dylan Dodd, Jared Shuster, and Michael Soroka — all representing a luxury of depth, albeit still raw — but it’s difficult to place the fate of a team with World Series aspirations into the hands of these kids.
Even Soroka, with his experience, is clearly being treated with the utmost care. It’s patently obvious that Atlanta wants to make absolutely certain that he is 100% whole and ready for the majors before he’s called up.
After all, his last MLB pitch came on August 3rd, 2020.
So with all that… yes: the Braves are definitely going to have to explore the starting pitching market, come late July.
Atlanta Braves Problem 3: The Inventory
What follows is a way-too-early guess at which starters might be available via trade before the August 1st trade deadline.
The trick may come down to whether Atlanta believes Fried and/or Wright will be available for October. If so, they could get away with an “innings eater” type of arm. If so, they probably need some more quality.
It will be difficult to get a quality pitcher. Part of the reason involves the state of the Braves’ farm system. The other part involves the lack of products on the shelves.
So here’s a couple of possibilities.
Assumption: the San Francisco Giants will continue to slide downward as the season marches on. That should allow them to move at least a couple of their starters to new teams. In fact, they might become the single best source of starters this Summer.
Anthony DeSclafani is one: 33 years old; right-hander. Signed through 2024 at $12 million per season. 33K in 45IP, 0.933 WHIP, 2.80 ERA.
The Giants could certainly choose to keep DeSclafani around (he’s also been with the club since the 2021 season started) since he’s healthy and providing cost-effective performance.
Alex Cobb is another. He will turn 36 in October and is signed through the end of the year, though with a $10 million option ($2m buyout). He’s getting $9 million this year.
This year, Cobb has posted a 1.70 ERA over 47.2 innings, with a 1.24 WHIP. He’s cheap for that kind of performance, but the Giants prefer to cash in those numbers and try to get younger next Winter.
Who else then? There are some definite barriers here: Eduardo Rodriguez is throwing great for the Tigers, but he’s inked to a 5 year deal and the Tigers are almost certainly going to try and build their staff around him.
Kyle Freeland is likewise doing very well for the Rockies, but he’s also on a 5 year deal.
Josiah Gray (Nationals)? Nope… he’s still a minimum-salary guy and one of the bright spots for a Nats club that is trying to re-invent itself.
Old friend Drew Smyly? He could be available if the Cubs slide downward, but that might be a tough sell despite his 3.05 ERA (he’s really been better than that), given his 4.48 rate from 2021 with the Braves that generally left a salty taste with fans.
As you trace down the list of the qualified starters — i.e., the ones you’d want for sheer durability reasons — there’s truly only a precious few throwing well enough for teams likely to be deadline sellers. In fact, you rapidly get to 4+ ERA figures.
So buck up, Braves fans: there will be a few games a-coming where we’ll have to grit our teeth and promise to patronize the advertising sponsors to gain permission to go walk our dog.
Nonetheless, we will all have to endure the wait together until the end of July when Alex Anthopoulos unveils the rabbit in his hat.
Make sure there’s plenty of duct tape, baling wire, and bandaids on hand to keep the remaining pitching staff functional until then.