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Looking back on Alex Anthopoulos’s first year as Braves GM

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Let’s take a look back on Anthopoulos’s first season running the Braves.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves hired Alex Anthopoulos one year ago today. Time flies when the team goes from 72-90 and in the midst of an international spending scandal to 90-72 and National League East champions.

To be fair, Anthopoulos does not deserve all the credit for the Braves’ sudden turnaround. Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies and Johan Camargo were signed by Frank Wren’s front office. Mike Foltynewicz, Ender Inciarte, Sean Newcomb and Dansby Swanson were acquired during John Coppolella’s tenure. Anthopoulos said from the day he was hired he would exercise patience as he learned the ins and outs of the organization, and he held true to his word.

The Braves — like nearly everyone else — did little in free agency under Anthopoulos’s first offseason. The first (and only real) significant move came in a five-player mega deal that sent Matt Kemp back to the Dodgers for Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy and Charlie Culberson. For a deal with so many names attached to it, it was purely a money swap between two teams looking to benefit their flexibility moving forward. It was a no-brainer for Anthopoulos, who cleared Kemp’s hefty contract for 2018 and 2019 while opening a spot for Acuña. Gonzalez was immediately designated for assignment and Kazmir never threw an inning for Atlanta. We know of Culberson’s heroics last year, and while McCarthy lasted two months before missing the rest of the season with injury, he managed to eat innings early on with decent results. It was a trade that made sense at the time, especially with the Braves’ roster looking like it was one year away, and it looks even better today than last December.

There were a handful of other lesser moves made. Jim Johnson was mercifully traded away for salary relief. Preston Tucker was acquired from the Astros. Shane Carle was acquired from the Pirates. And in what turned out to be one of the best signings of the winter, the Braves signed Anibal Sanchez on March 16th for pennies.

Atlanta entered the 2018 season with the goal of becoming competitive. Four-straight losing seasons put a strain on the organization, although we could see the light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel. Fast-forward six months and the Braves were atop the NL East and back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

So what transpired under Anthopoulos’s watch during those six months?

The first real decision of note came with the handling of Acuña’s service time. There were arguments for and against starting the 20-year-old phenom with the big league club, and ultimately Anthopoulos and the Braves elected to delay Ronald’s debut by nearly a month to gain an extra year of contract control.

Perhaps the biggest hiccup to date came during the Draft in June. To be fair, we don’t have all the details surrounding the health of No. 8 pick Carter Stewart. Ultimately the Braves were unable to reach a deal with Stewart over medical concerns, and a grievance has been filed against the Braves because of it. We’ll see if anything of substance comes out of it. Regardless of what transpires between Stewart, MLBPA and the Braves in the coming months, it’s safe to say Anthopoulos would very much like a do-over of his first draft selection with Atlanta.

The trade deadline arrived and the Braves were among the most active clubs in baseball. Anthopoulos made four trades of note:

Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day for Evan Phillips, Jean Carlos Encarnacion, Brett Cumberland, Bruce Zimmermann and international signing money. There were sexier names available at the deadline, but Anthopoulos used the Braves’ farm system depth and financial flexibility to acquire Gausman and O’Day without surrendering a top prospect. It was a trade many pundits liked at the time, and it seems safe to pencil in Gausman as a No. 3 starter moving forward. The addition of O’Day’s remaining $13 million into the deal lowered the prospect cost, and assuming he can recover from hamstring surgery, he could factor into the Braves’ late-inning bullpen plans next season.

The other three trades were of the lesser variety, including the acquisitions of Brad Brach and Jonny Venters to bolster the bullpen. It’s a fair critique to say Anthopoulos didn’t upgrade the bullpen enough as we watched its downfall during the final weeks of the season and in the playoffs. Venters (3.54 ERA, 3.21 FIP) and Brach (1.52 ERA, 3.12 FIP) pitched well over the final two months, but it was apparent that the likes of Dan Winkler, Jesse Biddle and Shane Carle had hit a wall. Another reliever or two would’ve proved beneficial.

Finally, there was the smart-on-paper addition of Adam Duvall for Lucas Sims, Preston Tucker and Matt Wisler. Duvall, of course, did not fare well in Atlanta and was left off the postseason roster. The idea of bringing in a right-handed platoon partner for Ender Inciarte was the right one, but it just didn’t work out. Fortunately, Inciarte broke out of his offensive funk shortly after the trade and helped push the Braves into the postseason.

Since the season wrapped up there hasn’t been a ton of movement, although it’s still plenty early. All coaches, including Brian Snitker, were retained with the exception of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. The Braves also hired Mike Fast to continue overhauling and improving their analytics department.

There were plenty of other decisions not touched on here that were made over the last 12 months, but as we approach 1,000 words, let’s just say Anthopoulos’s first year running the Braves has been a resounding success. There were misses, but that’s baseball. I am incredibly confident in this front office moving forward, and it’s hard to not be excited about what the future holds.