- Written by Skye Paul (@BravesFromLA on Twitter)
Braves acquire Jorge Solar from the Kansas City Royals in a flurry of trade deadline moves (2021)
Coming into Friday's MLB Trade Deadline, the Braves trade strategy had yet to be seen. Alex Anthopoulos had not made a trade since he acquired Joc Pederson from the Chicago Cubs on July 16th. Fans were left questioning whether or not the Braves would make any trade by the 4 PM, Friday deadline. It wasn't until the final hours when the Braves finally made a move, acquiring Cleveland Indians outfielder Eddie Rosario, and proceeded to follow it up with three other trades, acquiring Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler, and Richard Rodriguez. Let's breakdown each trade individually:
Trade 1: Eddie Rosario and cash to Braves, Pablo Sandoval to Indians
The first trade GM Anthopoulos made happened to be the most insignificant one, trading for injured corner outfielder Eddie Rosario from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Pablo Sandoval (who was immediately released by the Indians following the trade). The Braves are reportedly paying only half of Rosario's 2.7 million dollar remaining contract. Rosario was not having a good year for Cleveland, sporting a .254/.296/.389 (.683 OPS) and an 84 wRC+ with well below average defense. This is clearly a depth move for Atlanta in case an outfielder gets hurt or underperforms, Rosario is currently sidelined with an abdominal injury (expected to return mid-August). None-the-less, Rosario costed quite literally nothing for the Braves to acquire him, and you can never have too much depth. Rosario is a free agent at years end.
Trade 2: Adam Duvall to Braves, Alex Jackson to Marlins
Hey, a familiar face! After non-tendering Adam Duvall this past offseason, the Braves have brought him back to Atlanta in a deal that sent 25 year old catcher Alex Jackson to Miami. Duvall was having a decent slugging season with the Marlins, carrying a .229/.277/.478 (.760 OPS) slash line, a 104 wRC+, and an impressive 12 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in the outfield his year. While not a huge addition, Duvall provides more production from a corner outfield spots than Almonte, Arcia, or Adrianza provide. Duvall's on-base % is underwhelming, but his high slugging % and overall league average offensive production gives the Braves extra thump and lessens the black-hole in the bottom of the lineup. The Braves are taking on the entirety of Duvall's remaining contract, who is also a free agent at years end. Alex Jackson was the only player the Marlins received in the trade, a former 2014 first round draft pick who never panned out. Jackson offers some nice defensive tools behind the plate, however his abysmal hitting has kept him from seeing big league playing time. In 50 major league plate appearances, Jackson has collected only three hits, a .070 batting average. He's a backup catcher at best, a position the Braves already have filled for the future with William Contreras and Shea Langeliers on the horizon. The Braves aren't giving up much in this trade.
Trade 3: Jorge Soler to Braves, Kasey Kalich to Royals
Well this one came out of left field, and in my opinion, is the best trade Anthopoulos made on Friday. The Braves went out and traded for Jorge Soler of the Kansas City Royals in exchange for RHP Kasey Kalich. Soler is an interesting player, two seasons removed from an all-star caliber year with the Royals, where he clubbed an astounding 48 homers in 2019, holding a .265/.354/.569 slash line (.923 OPS). While Soler's defense is among the worst in the league and projects to be a DH in the future, the Braves are buying into the chance Soler regains his 2019 form. 2021 has not been his year, his power numbers are way down, reflected by his poor 81 wRC+ entering today. However, Soler has been tearing the cover off the ball since the all-star break. In his last 46 plate appearances, Soler has hit six home runs, walking considerably more often, totaling a 178 wRC+ in this time span (78% more offensive production than league average). The Braves will throw him into the mix with Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, and Abraham Almonte for the corner outfield positions, and serves as an elite pinch hitter when he's not starting. Soler has also posted high exit velocities this season, he's in the 91st percentile for the league in both average exit velocity and hard hit %. The Braves also aren't giving a whole lot away in this deal, right hander Kasey Kalich is a 23 year old pitcher who's missed considerable time in the past with a wrist injury. He's posted decent numbers at A+ Rome this year out of the bullpen, but is not considered to be a valuable prospect at this time. I had heard little to nothing about Kalich before this trade, he was not being watched very closely by Braves scouts. This move also comes at little prospect cost for the organization, an understandable return for the rebuilding Royals since Soler is a free agent at years end.
Trade 4: Richard Rodriguez to Braves. Bryse Wilson and Ricky Devito
Four minutes before the trade deadline, Alex Anthopoulos made his largest trade, acquiring Pirates closer Richard Rodriguez, a right handed, fastball dominant relief pitcher. I'm going to be honest, I believed this trade was a steal for the Braves initially, however on second look, while creating this article (I learn a lot from making these!), Rodriguez has several red flags and is likely due for regression. The most glaring issue is his 29.2% GB%, which is extremely low. Ground-ball outs are crucial for sustainable performance, and Rodriguez isn't getting any of those this year. I could live with the extremely low ground-ball rate if he was striking batters out at an elite level, but he's not doing that either, holding a mediocre 7.7 K/9. Rodriguez has also seen a drop-off in spin rate since the foreign substance ban, and has a 5.40 ERA since the ban. In the most brief explanation possible, spin rates are most important and effective for fastballs up in the zone (less vertical drop), which is Rodriguez's primary pitch. Prior to the substance crack-down, the Pirates closer was sitting at about 2600 RPM on his fastball. His spin rate has fallen to around 2300 RPM since the substance crackdown. Without the dominant high fastball being as effective, his pitch arsenal is severely degraded. He throws his fastball 87% (!!!) of the time. I will give Rodriguez credit, he throws strikes and is extremely effective at limiting walks (1.17 BB/9), a skill that the Braves bullpen severely lacks.
I'll have an article out soon about why ERA can be deceiving, I won't go deep into now, but I will touch on Rodriguez's HR/FB %. Essentially, fly ball outs are not a sustainable route to success, since the margin between a 300 foot fly ball to center and a 400 foot home run is extremely small in terms of launch angle. It's so small that statistics show pitchers cannot control such a difference in launch angle, and for the most part, HR/FB rates stabilize in larger samples and are relatively the same for most pitchers in the long run. The league average HR/FB rate is somewhere around 13% to 14%. Rodriguez holds a 3.3% HR/FB rate this year, meaning that he has gotten very lucky on said fly ball outs not leaving the park as often as they would in the long run, massively improving his current ERA. Such a FB/HR rate is not sustainable for any pitcher, not even Jacob DeGrom (9.4% HR/FB this season). In short, the way Rodriguez is obtaining and relying on fly-ball outs is not a sustainable path to success and lies more on the basis of luck rather than skill.
On the bright side, Rodriguez is under team control for an additional two years, and the Braves did not give up much in this deal. DeVito is essentially a non-prospect, I can't find him on any Braves or Pirates top 30 prospect lists. The main piece being sent to the Pirates is Bryse Wilson, once a promising right hander that has not found success at the big league level. Wilson features a plus fastball, but does not have a reliable secondary pitch. His change-up has come along this year, but ultimately, his slider or curveball must develop in order for him to have success at the big league level. He has not shown any signs of developing the slider or curveball, and with the deep pitching prospect depth the Braves have with Kyle Muller, Tucker Davidson, Touki Toussaint, etc, Wilson got lapped and was the odd man out. Wilson holds a 5.88 ERA, 5.23 xFIP, and 5.24 SIERA in 2021. If the Pirates can develop his slider/curve, they may have found a decent, 3 or 4 starter. That's a big if, however.
Overall, I think the Braves had a decent trade deadline. In my opinion, trading Charlie Morton should have been traded, considering the prospect returns from Berrios, Scherzer, Gibson, and others. Nevertheless, Anthopoulos was able to add legitimate major league talent at very little prospect cost. Most of these deals were salary dumps, and I am totally fine with the team adding payroll for this year. I don't believe these moves are particularly productive towards the future, Rodriguez is the only controllable player we acquired, and as I explained, I don't think he'll be a high leverage reliever for much longer. By making temporary additions, fans can remain invested in this otherwise disappointing season, and boosts the energy in Braves clubhouse by the front office trying to put a competitive product on the field.