ATLANTA – You may have heard by now that Alex Anthopoulos, the Atlanta Braves general manager who has been in charge for four years, resurrected his team’s season by acquiring four new outfielders before the end of July. It was a strategy that initially caused confusion (the Braves had a negative record at the time, somewhat far from being contenders for a postseason berth); however, the negotiation is widely praised today, due to the way it catapulted the Atlanta franchise to its first World Series appearance in more than 20 years.
Anthopoulous seems to be equally entertained and uncomfortable with the praise. At 44, he has led sports operations departments long enough – 10 years total, including six within the Toronto Blue Jays organization – to know that mistakes are inevitable and successes fade quickly. The executive referenced a quote attributed to former basketball coach Ted Winter in the ESPN documentary “The Last Dance,” about the Chicago Bulls’ 1998 season: “You only succeed the moment you commit a successful act.”
“It’s true,” said Anthopoulos, whose team appears poised to take a 2-game-1 lead over the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the World Series, to be played this Friday at Truist Park in Atlanta. “When this is all over, you start from scratch. Nobody cares. If you do badly next year, they will destroy you, they will kill you. No one will say, ‘Well, give them a break, they played the World Series last year. They won the division for four years in a row. ‘That goes away. Old news. Nobody cares. “
The executive’s logic is sensible, though Anthopoulos omits something else: The players he added to his roster in July could make up the most impactful group of midseason acquisitions in baseball history.
No, we are serious.
All four outfielders (Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler) had a collective 0.7 WAR (based on the FanGraphs formula) prior to their arrival on the Braves roster. All can be free agents once the offseason starts (Duvall and Pederson have mutual options for 2022 on their respective contracts) and neither of them, to no one’s surprise, cost much in terms of prospect capital delivered. Yet no team had relied as much on its mid-season acquisitions for postseason success as the 2021 Braves. At least not, when it comes to offense.
The statistics make that very clear.
Here is the list of teams with the most accumulated home runs by players who had started a season with another team, courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau:
Braves (2021), 9
Astros (2004), 8
Cardinals (2004), 6
Giants (2010), 6
All the homers connected by the Astros that year were authored by Carlos Beltrán, all the home runs by the Cardinals were by Larry Walker; and all but one of the Giants’ homers were produced by Cody Ross. The Braves’ home runs are divided among the four aforementioned outfielders.
Now, we present the list of the most hits connected together during a postseason by players belonging to another team at the start of the tournament:
Braves (2021), 43
Cubs (2003), 36
Giants (2021), 34
Yankees (2000), 33
And the list of more extra bases:
Braves (2021), 16
Giants (2010), 15
Cubs (2003), 13
Braves (2021), 28
Yankees (2000), 26
Dodgers (2018), 20
Cubs (2003), 20
Finally, more plate appearances (with three to five games to go to finish this season):
Yankees (2000), 170
Braves (2021), 166
Giants (2012), 141
Cubs (2003), 136
The Braves had just 88 wins during the regular season. However, they were 34-18 in August and September, winning the National League East by a margin of 6 ½ games, then beating the Milwaukee Brewers in the Division Series and eliminating the Los Angeles Dodgers (owning 106 victories). in the regular season) to raise their first pennant since 1999. When they secured their place in the World Series last Saturday, they became the first team in major baseball history to reach these instances despite not having a positive record. for August 6.
After the long-awaited champagne celebration that night, Freddie Freeman was asked if the Braves had benefited from the best trade deadline in baseball history.
“I’ll say yes,” he said with a laugh.
Of course we saw higher caliber figures switch teams mid-season (Max Scherzer, Kris Bryant and Craig Kimbrel were traded earlier this year). We have also seen a long list of players who have caused the greatest impact in the peak stage of the regular tournament (CC Sabathia, Manny Ramírez and Mark Teixeira had a wide impact with their new teams, only in 2008). However, no other team had rebuilt a complete pool immediately to rely on it so much in October.
It was a strategy forged by failure.
Seven years ago, Anthopoulos oversaw a Blue Jays team that was nine games over .500 and 2½ games away from first place by the last day of July; however, it did practically nothing during the trade deadline. His team had no money, he was unwilling to include prospects in operations that would give him greater flexibility in terms of payroll, and then watch his team disappear in the final moments of the season. This experience made him learn to reserve funds before the start of each season, in order to assist his players when necessary. Prior to the 2015 season, Anthopoulos set aside $ 7 million to later complete midseason trades to acquire David Price and Troy Tulowitzki, helping the Blue Jays capture their first division title in 22 years.
This year started a little differently. Initially, the Braves cut their payroll as a result of a 2020 season with no fans in the stands. However, Anthopoulos claimed that team president Terry McGuirk reached out in early July to announce that attendance figures had improved above what was initially projected, and he wanted to direct that additional revenue towards strengthening the payroll.
Anthopoulos’ first trade came on July 15, acquiring Pederson from the Chicago Cubs organization in exchange for first baseman Bryce Ball, who plays in the lower ranks of the minor leagues. On the morning of July 30, the Braves held a 51-53 record, five games out of their division’s top spot and nine out of the second wild-card spot in the National League, with four teams leading them. They were playing below expectations, largely due to outfields that did not feature Ronald Acuña Jr. (who suffered an ACL injury) and Marcell Ozuna (accused of domestic violence) and lacked options. internal capable of performing similarly.
Anthopoulos saw the potential within the situation. He secured Rosario, acquiring him from the Cleveland Indians (in exchange for veteran infielder Pablo Sandoval and, most importantly, cash considerations) and Soler from the Kansas City Royals (in exchange for 23-year-old pitcher Kasey Kalich, who plays in A class). So, with just a few hours to go, he called Miami Marlins general manager Kim Ng to hopefully pick up previously stalled talks about a tentative Duvall operation. In the end, he seized his services in exchange for 25-year-old catcher Alex Jackson.
Suddenly, the Braves had four new outfielders.
“We knew we had a chance to make the playoffs,” Anthopoulos said. “We wanted to get into a position to advance to the postseason, but regardless, playing meaningful games in September is valuable, I think. It’s valuable for the players, the employees. Going into the offseason, you try to sign players for your club. Playing meaningful games, being involved in the fight, I think it’s important. I think it’s very important. “
Duvall, Pederson, Rosario and Soler hit a collective .837 OPS for the final five weeks of the regular season, helping the Braves overcome a struggling New York Mets and a flawed Philadelphia Phillies in the fight for the East. of the National. In the postseason, they have managed to rise much further.
Rosario, who continues to recover from an abdominal injury sustained after his acquisition, was awarded the MVP of the National League Championship Series after becoming the first player in baseball history to have 14 hits in the top six. six games in a postseason series. Although other players have also had great moments. Pederson hit the three-run homer that produced all the TDs in Game 3 of the Division Series. Duvall hit a home run and stole another from the opposition in the same inning of a major win in Game 4 of the Championship Series. And Soler became the first in history to start a World Series hitting a home run, unleashing the offense that overwhelmed to prevail in Game 1 in Houston. This group has combined to hit 57 home runs since joining the Braves, the best in a season for a group of players who started the season wearing another team’s uniform.
Above all, these four outfielders have indirectly injected a deep sense of faith for a struggling team, pressed for a midseason boost.
“He showed us, and he showed the world, that he still believed in us,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said, referring to Anthopoulos. “I think he lit a flame within us.”