HomeOther Philly SportsBraves Take Bold Approach, Acquire Rotation Help in Trade: NBC Sports Philadelphia

Braves Take Bold Approach, Acquire Rotation Help in Trade: NBC Sports Philadelphia

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After winning 205 games the last two seasons only to bow out in the Divisional Round at the hands of the Phillies each time, the Braves have been aggressive in trying to improve one of MLB’s best rosters. Atlanta exceeded the luxury tax for the first time in 2023, paying a penalty of $3.2 million, and its payroll has increased significantly this offseason. The Braves had MLB’s 13th-highest payroll in 2021, rose to eighth in 2022 and seventh in 2023. They’re currently third at an approximate $240 million, an increase of $35 million from last season and $53 million from the year before. It’s a far different approach for an organization that was in the bottom-third of baseball in spending as recently as 2018. The Braves pursued Aaron Nola but the Phillies re-signed their homegrown starter before Thanksgiving. They were unable to land Tyler Glasnow from the Rays, Dylan Cease from the White Sox or Sonny Gray in free agency. Despite missing out on those chances, Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos has been busy this offseason. The team’s biggest hole was starting pitching. Two seasons in a row, the Braves had a very good regular-season rotation but were thin by the time the playoffs arrived, either because of injury, workload or both. They made a gamble Saturday, completing a trade with the Red Sox to acquire left-handed starter Chris Sale in exchange for 22-year-old infielder Vaughn Grissom, a highly-touted prospect who hadn’t been able to carve out a consistent role with the Braves, partly for defensive reasons. The Braves will be on the hook for just over $10M of Sale’s $27.4M salary. The upcoming season is the final guaranteed year of Sale’s contract, though there is a 2025 club option at $20 million that will likely be exercised if he stays healthy and pitches well. Sale will be 35 on Opening Day and doesn’t have upper-90s heat in his back pocket like he did in his prime, but he still bounced back from three consecutive injury-plagued seasons to average 94 mph with his fastball in 2023. He was crushed in his first five starts but excelled in his next 15, pitching to a 3.16 ERA with 95 strikeouts, 19 walks and a .197 opponents’ batting average. During that stretch, he missed more than two months with a stress reaction in his shoulder. That’s the risk-reward of Chris Sale: He can provide top-of-the-rotation production but his body hasn’t cooperated enough. His last full season was his first in Boston, 2018. The Braves have a five-man rotation of Strider, Max Fried, Sale, Charlie Morton and Bryce Elder. That’s a ton of talent with a mixture of youth and experience, and when they’re clicking, they’re going to look as good as any five-man staff. But there are also questions. Can Sale stay healthy? Will Elder regress the way he did in the second half? Can Morton do it again at age 40? Earlier in the offseason, the Braves acquired left-handed reliever Aaron Bummer from the White Sox. He had disappointing results with the White Sox in 2023 but had a 2.59 ERA the prior four seasons and gives Atlanta another option to match up with Bryce Harper, who has brutalized them the last two years in particular. They re-signed relievers Joe Jimenez and Pierce Johnson, signed another one in Reynaldo Lopez, traded for Jarred Kelenic from the Mariners to play left field and acquired high-contact infielder David Fletcher as a depth piece. The biggest move came just before the new year with Sale. Collectively, the Phillies haven’t seen much of the lanky lefty who has spent his entire career in the American League. They’re 12-for-60 with two walks and 27 strikeouts, with 42 of those at-bats belonging to Nick Castellanos.

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