Following Monday’s loss to the New York Mets, during which ace Mike Soroka went down with a torn Achilles tendon, many Atlanta Braves fans began clamoring for the team to make a big move for starting pitching.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the time for that.
The Soroka injury was gutting for many reasons, even moreso than the 7-2 beating the team took on the field. The young Canadian is, of course, one of the game’s most promising young arms, so seeing him miss even more time due to injury is heartbreaking. For a team already short on starting pitching, losing one of two reliable starters for at least the rest of this year is almost crippling.
And that’s part of why Alex Anthopoulos shouldn’t – and probably won’t – rush to the nearest trade discussions to land marquee names.
The season, you see, is both young and old at the same time. The Braves have played just 11 games and are just now getting to the point when we’d expect to see starting pitchers throwing close to full pitch counts. Yet, at the same time, we’re less than a month from the trade deadline in a season when most of the league figures to be in the hunt for one of the 473 playoff spots that are up for grabs.
To get to this point in the young season, the Braves have seen one veteran rotation piece opt out of the season, another (predictably) become unavailable due to injury both times the season has attempted to start and two more get designated for assignment due to poor results. One of those options, Jhoulys Chacin, got sent out before he even made a start.
Only Soroka and Max Fried have managed to turn in anything resembling an actual quality start. Sean Newcomb did get to the fifth inning in his last effort before he and Chacin let things get crazy in the fifth. Touki Toussaint also allowed the fans and coaching staff to breathe a little on Saturday with four scoreless innings. Largely, though, the last three spots in the rotation have struggled to get through the fourth inning, limit runs, or both.
That brings us back to the original point: This isn’t a team that should go big for an arm right now. The need is just too great, and the season just too unusual.
If the Braves land just one reliable starting pitcher – maybe a Mike Minor or a Lance Lynn from the Texas Rangers, as has been suggested – that means that the team is shooting for postseason success this year. That also means that the team thinks either Newcomb or Toussaint – or Kyle Wright or perhaps Josh Tomlin – can start in a postseason environment. Even if the Braves decided to go a more unconventional route in the third game of a series with an opener or a bullpen game, someone is going to need to pitch multiple quality innings to make the whole thing work.
There’s also the possibility that Cole Hamels could be ready again before this wild season comes to an end. But I just don’t think we can count on that, frankly.
That would mean that there’s a significant possibility that the Braves actually need to acquire two quality starters. Obviously, the prospect cost would be extremely high to land two such arms in a season when most of the league will still technically be in contention for a playoff spot. That’s a lot of mortgaging of the future when the first round of the playoffs is a best-of-3 scenario regardless of seeding.
Then, we have to consider the reality of this season. After an initial COVID-19 debacle with the Miami Marlins impacted several teams in the two East divisions, the St. Louis Cardinals have had numerous positive tests that will now put a scheduling strain on the Central divisions. One has to wonder how many of these hiccups will take place before teams accept that lots of games just won’t get made up. And when those games don’t get made up, will contenders like the taste of potentially getting beaten for a playoff spot by a team that played 6-7 fewer games? Will teams want to play 5 or 6 games in three days to avoid that?
So the Braves have to operate as though this World Series they’re chasing may not actually happen. And if you’re operating that way, it’s unreasonable to commit prospect capital to bring in players right now. A player like Lynn makes more sense because he’s signed through next year, but Minor is a free agent after this season. Do you really want to trade prospects that you won’t get back if the Padres and the Diamondbacks have a bunch of positive tests next week and the whole thing shuts down? There is no return policy on trades this year, as far as I know.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d love the Braves to win a World Series this year, with this team. I’d love to see Anthopoulos finally make a big splash to address a position of need. And I think the time is coming this offseason when we’ll absolutely need to see that.
Further, things could change in the next few weeks. Maybe one of these young guns like Newcomb, Toussaint or even Bryse Wilson will establish himself over a few starts. That could be the time that a guy like Lynn makes even more sense to solidify a postseason run.
But that time isn’t now.