Will Braves swing trade to replace Acuña? Rival execs react

May 29th, 2024

More than a decade ago, Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels was faced with the possibility of a suspension for Nelson Cruz, the anchor of a Texas lineup that had reached the World Series twice in the previous three seasons.

“There is no contingency plan for your best players,” Daniels said when asked how he would replace Cruz if a suspension was handed down.

Alex Anthopoulos now faces the same daunting task, though instead of a suspension, it’s a torn left ACL that has taken away , the centerpiece of Atlanta’s lineup.

“He’s always aggressive,” a National League executive said of Anthopoulos. “That team has a chance to win another championship, so I have to believe he’ll do whatever it takes to make sure he gives them the best chance of making that happen.”

Having lost the 2023 NL Most Valuable Player, will Anthopoulos overreact and get aggressive to bring in a replacement?

“Toronto Alex would have,” said an American League executive, referring to Anthopoulos’ time as Blue Jays GM. “Atlanta Alex is patient and measured. He’s good. He’ll get help; I just don’t think he’ll mortgage the future in any way.”

Unlike Daniels, who had never faced such a hurdle during his tenure with the Rangers, Anthopoulos has been in this spot before. Acuña suffered a torn ACL in his right knee on July 10, 2021, presenting the Braves’ GM with a similar situation.

The timing was different, of course. With only three weeks remaining until the Trade Deadline, Anthopoulos had a number of teams ready to sell, allowing him to pounce. Five days after Acuña’s injury, the Braves traded for Joc Pederson, adding a veteran outfielder to the roster. Two weeks later, Anthopoulos added Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario and Adam Duvall, bolstering the outfield with a number of proven big league options without giving up any prime prospect capital.

The four acquisitions made a huge impact down the stretch, helping the Braves win the World Series. It’s never easy to lose your best player, but Anthopoulos has navigated these waters before in the not-so-distant past.

“I would expect that,” an NL executive said when asked if Anthopoulos could try to follow the same script from 2021. “Not aggressive, just sensible. They are not deep, so even adding decent mid-tier talent will be a real upgrade. They’re unlikely to catch lightning in a bottle like [2021] again, but an addition would still make sense.”

Three years ago, the cost to acquire the four outfielders was veteran Pablo Sandoval (who was released immediately by Cleveland), RHP Kasey Kalich, 1B/DH Bryce Ball and C Alex Jackson – none of whom are still with the organizations that obtained them from Atlanta.

MLB Pipeline ranked Atlanta’s farm system 26th prior to the season, but given that Anthopoulos was able to acquire multiple players in 2021 without giving up any blue-chip prospects, the Braves’ prospect depth is unlikely to be a hindrance.

Among the potential acquisitions cited by executives were Tommy Pham of the White Sox, Miami’s Bryan De La Cruz, the Angels’ Taylor Ward, Washington’s Victor Robles (who was recently designated for assignment), and Ramón Laureano, who was released by the Guardians earlier this week and is now a free agent.

Atlanta has Michael Harris II, Jarred Kelenic and Duvall – who had been platooning in left field with Kelenic – penciled in as its starting outfield at the moment, while J.P. Martinez and Forrest Wall could get chances at some point.

The biggest differences between now and 2021? First, while Acuña’s injury happened just a few weeks prior to the Trade Deadline three years ago, the latest ACL tear came with more than two months to go until this year's July 30 Deadline, leaving fewer sellers ready to unload an outfielder who could help the Braves. The addition of a third Wild Card in each league could also reduce the number of teams looking to sell this summer. But it could also make it easier for the Braves to reach the postseason, even without a major deal.

“I think he will see who steps up first,” an AL executive said. “It’s just them and Philly in the division. I don’t think [Anthopoulos] will go crazy first without seeing how the overall group reacts.”

The Braves entered Tuesday trailing the Phillies by six games in the NL East, though Atlanta held the top Wild Card spot in the NL, four games clear of the field. Where the club stands come mid-July could be a factor in Anthopoulos’ ultimate decisions, though it should be noted that the Braves were hovering around .500 and trying to remain in the playoff race when they made those moves in 2021.

“It feels like he’s been in role-player mode during the Deadlines, typically,” an AL exec said. “I’m guessing it’s going to depend exactly where they are standings-wise by then.”

Money could also be a consideration for the Braves when it comes to adding players in the coming weeks and months, as Atlanta added significant payroll this past offseason, resulting in the largest payroll in franchise history.

“I’d never bet against him doing something, but the majority of their moves this offseason seemed to be taking on money to add talent as opposed to trading away talent,” an AL executive said. “I’m not sure how much more room they have. I’m also not sure how that strategy informs what we should think of their opinions of their talent pool vis-a-vis their finances.”