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The Braves trade for a couple of tranquilizers, and they may have more deals in store before the deadline


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ATLANTA — The Braves traded in a pair of powerful relievers — one significantly more accomplished than the other — without giving up much in return Monday, and baseball operations director Alex Anthopoulos made it clear he wouldn’t stop him from pursuing more moves, runaways or otherwise, before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“You just know this is your last place to try to isolate yourselves for what may or may not happen,” Anthopoulos said, noting the urgency to take steps now to stockpile talent in the event of injuries or underperformance after August 1.

He made the remarks two hours after the Braves acquired veteran right fielder Pierce Johnson from the Rockies for minor league pitchers Victor Vodnik and Tanner Gordon, and acquired Taylor Hearn from the Rangers for financial considerations.

To create roster spots, the Braves were allocated relievers Derrick Rodriguez and veteran quarterback Lucas Lutig.

Atlanta’s bullpen has the second lowest ERA for the majors and the lowest WHIP. But several key members weren’t there, including Dylan Lee, who missed more than two months with a sore shoulder, and Jesse Chavez, who was an All-Star candidate before he popped his leg, given a slow-healing bruise. Chavez was recently transferred to IL for 60 days and is out until at least mid-August.

Johnson, 32, will be a free agent after the season and is out of minor league options. Hearn, 28, is in his final options season and could be sent down to Triple A.

The flexibility of that roster was a major consideration in the trade for Hearn, who has a speed of 98 mph but has compiled a 5.47 ERA in 35 games over the past two seasons at the major league level, including four in 2022.

“He’s got a strong arm, he’s got great stuff,” Anthopoulos said when asked why the Braves wanted Hearne. “We really don’t have a lot of players to choose from at the moment, especially on the left side. We don’t really have any, to be honest with you. Lott is the only guy we’ve had on the left side for the last few times, obviously.”

Left prep man AJ Minter should return from an IL 15-day stint once he’s eligible this weekend, and Lee might not be too late if his second session goes well on Tuesday and he’s cleared to start a short rehab stint. However, the Braves cannot be certain that Lee will be effective after such a long layoff or that he will remain healthy. Likewise, they cannot be sure of the 39-year-old Chávez.

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That’s why the Braves added two healthy powerhouses on Monday, even if the left they brought on board was hardly a sure thing in itself. The Braves have had uncommon success with reclamation projects at their bases in recent years—Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson, Lee, et al—and with others who have been able to take a big step under the coaching and analysis provided by the Braves.

“Again, having someone with a lot of talent and a big arm, we’ll see if we can put him in the strike zone a little bit more,” Anthopoulos said. “But the fact that he’s got big things and he has some starting experience, it’s just an amazing piece for us.”

Hearn has 219 strikeouts in 229 innings pitched over parts of five seasons with the Texans, but his 104 is ugly, including 43 in 100 innings last season. He pitched only seven innings in four relief appearances (10.09 ERA) for the Rangers this season, but had a 3.66 ERA in 39 1/3 innings pitched in 24 games including two for the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate, with 54 strikeouts and 24 walks in 39 1/3 innings pitched.

Given the string of shooting injuries the Braves have dealt, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Braves make at least one move, along with a possible move to upgrade the bench and possibly add a starting pitcher. Anthopoulos declined to discuss specific needs but acknowledged that further deals could be developed.

As he often says, and he did again on Monday, you can never have too much depth, especially since waiver trades were canceled in 2019 in August after the usual non-waiver trade deadline.

“Look, I’ve got areas in my mind that we’d like to do a little bit better,” he said. “But in fairness to the players on the roster, I don’t think it’s fair (name them). I don’t think it makes sense to say that, and it’s not fair to the players on the team. But look, you’re never perfect everywhere. Whether it’s offensive, defensive or rotational, you can always improve.

“I’ve said this many times, our job is to worry, and the biggest challenge is knowing that once August 1st comes and goes, we’re done. Unless it’s claiming someone on waivers. Right now, we’re not at the forefront of our claiming people (waiver demand goes worse to first class sign up).”

In other words, get all the depth you can now because if injuries occur later, the only way to add players is via a waiver claim, which is hard when you’re at the end of the claim order.

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“It could be a deal that affects you in the long run, which makes sense right now,” said Anthopoulos, who referred to the Braves trade for closer Raisel Iglesias a year ago, even though they had Kenley Jansen (on a one-year deal) and even though Iglesias was $48 million in debt over the 2023-2025 seasons. We will make it move forward. There are other times when men are destined to be free agents.

“So trade deadline next week, we still have a week or so to go. And like anything, you always take the time and figure things out. We’re not going to force any deals. If the right deal is out there, and it’s something we think makes sense, every team will tell you the same thing. But I think this is clearly the time of year where all 30 teams are involved, and it’s an opportunity to either improve your roster in the short term or in the long term.”

The Braves looked more confident that they had improved in the short term Monday with the addition of Johnson, 32, who has a great strikeout average (13.38k/9) and a ballooning ERA (6.00) in his first year with Colorado. It came after three strong seasons with San Diego in 2020-2022, during which he posted a 3.39 ERA in 102 appearances with 125 strikeouts and 44 walks in 93 innings pitched.

A few points to consider regarding Johnson’s stats. He had a 7.23 ERA, . 518 slugging percentage against opponents and six homers allowed in 25 high-altitude appearances out of Coors Stadium, a 4.11 ERA, 278 opponents, and one homer allowed in 18 road appearances.

After struggling as a closer assistant to the injured Daniel Bard early in the season, Johnson was moved out of that role in early June and has been much better since the changeover. He had a 7.50 ERA and . 958 OPS for opponents in 24 innings through June 8 and has had a 3.60 ERA and . 739 OPS against opponents in 15 innings since then, with 25 strikeouts and eight walks.

Among NL pitchers with 30 or more innings pitched — starters and relievers — Johnson entered Monday tied with Padres closer Josh Hader for fourth in strikeouts in nine innings pitched with 13.38, behind fellow freshman Spencer Stryder (14.58) as well as Alexis Diaz (13.50) and Craig Kimbrel (13.39).

Anthopoulos said the Braves had talked to the Rockies about Johnson since before the All-Star break.

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“I think it’s just a combination of things,” said Anthopoulos. “We look at things; love things. We look at his past. He’s had a hit in the past. Again, we’re looking for more right-side swing and flops, and he provides that. We’re weighing all of those things. We’re looking at everything we can, and we’re optimistic and hopeful that we can get the Savior he’s been before this year.”

To get Johnson, the Braves gave up Vodnick, 23, a reliever who finished 18th in baseball’s mid-season Braves top 30 prospect rankings, and Gordon, 25, who didn’t make the BA’s top 30 season and had a 5.86 ERA in 17 combined games (16 starts) this season in Double A and Triple A.

“We love both men,” said Anthopoulos. “Gordon started some games there for us, and Vodnick had a great arm and was in the discussion this off-season if I added him to 40; obviously we chose not to, it could have been a debate again in the winter. I think with just a few additions right now, we’re pretty confused on 40 as he is. But again, you’re going to have to give up talent. Especially a guy like Pierce Johnson, with his stuff, I think there’s definitely an upside there.”

“Besides, that’s the point behind scouting and development, right? The scouting and development team puts you in a position to gain men,” Anthopoulos said.

One would think the Braves would probably be content with hitting after Monday’s additions and Sunday’s debut of Cuban right-hand man Desbel Hernandez, who struck out three of four Milwaukee batters in the eighth inning and had 20 batters in his last 27 batters, including Triple A.

“No,” he said of the idea of ​​complacency. “It was one in the first half, it looked really nice, it looked good. But then again, we have a long way to go. Think about it, we have two and a half months, and even if you get to the playoffs, you lose guys in the playoffs. We’ve lost a lot of guys over the years in the playoffs. We lost Dansby Swanson before the 2018 playoffs. We lost Chris Martin in the first round of the 2019 playoffs. In 2021. We lost Ian Anderson last year… At the end of last year Max Fried wasn’t feeling well and Stryder was injured.”

In other words, with a week left until the trading deadline, be ready for more moves.

(Photo by Pierce Johnson: Ron Chinoy/USA Today)

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