Atlanta has been one of the most important settings in the sport of professional wrestling for years. Some of the best moments of the Monday Night Wars and most memorable matches over the past half century have occured in “Hotlanta”. Many of the legendary names who got their start in wrestling have passed through Atlanta several times as their careers skyrocketed. And with the fact that nearly every Braves fan has a connection to Atlanta and/or the south in some form or fashion, I would be willing to bet many Braves fans are or have been professional wrestling fans as well.
One nugget of knowledge about some of our favorite wrestling personalities is that they were likely known by completely different names at the beginning of their careers versus the names that everyone knows them by now. In fact, nearly every wrestling personality has tried out different personas, or experienced a “rebranding”, throughout their career. For most, their persona changes would take place in the lower levels of the wrestling ranks, and once they found a gimmick that worked, he or she would stick with it for the rest of their careers. However, there are some who have successfully been featured as different personas on the main stage. And by doing so, it took their careers to new heights.
The Three Faces of Foley, Bradshaw/JBL, Dolph Ziggler/Nicky (it is okay if you do not count Nicky, it actually is probably for the best) Bray Wyatt/ The Fiend, and Finn Balor/The Demon are all famous or recent examples of wrestlers who experienced a “rebranding” and experienced better careers because of it. Heck, even the Undertaker and Kane have experienced different versions of themselves (though when the Undertaker first was known as Kane the Undertaker, than later dressed as Kane to face the actual Kane, it got confusing.)
The relevance of this reference in regards to the Braves is that they have their own personality who has displayed different versions of himself in Alex Anthopoulos. The man that Anthopoulos was in Toronto is significantly different from the man that is the helm of the Braves now. He has changed from a daring dealmaker with the Blue Jays in which no player or prospect was off limits to a cautious conservative who believes in letting his young talent develop with the Braves. The contrast in styles does not mean one was more right than the other. In fact, so far, history has suggested Anthopoulos was astute in his contrasting yet calculated approaches in both Toronto and Atlanta.
Two years ago, Talking Chop’s own Matt Powers put together a wonderful piece thoroughly detailing Anthopoulos’s career and past moves before he became the Braves GM. Over six years leading the Blue Jays, “Toronto Alex” made 26 trades, consistently helping Toronto’s roster evolve and improve over time. Though the level of pieces involved in these deals did varied, Anthopoulos could easily be described as a “prospect profilin’, stud stealin, wheelin dealin, deadline highlightin’, October noisemakin’ son of a gun. “
Names such as R.A. Dickey, David Price, Josh Donaldson, Jose Reyes, Vernon Wells, Colby Rasmus, and Troy Tulowitski all were All-Star Level talents that Anthopoulos brought North of the Border to make the Blue Jays better. The fact that the Blue Jays had some level of success in the competitive AL East proved that Anthopoulos truly embraced the personal motto “To Beat the Man, You Gotta Be The MAN...(who acquired really talented ballplayers that YOU HOPED TO THE HEAVENS STAYED HEALTHY.)” The end result was two straight ALCS appearances. Though Anthopoulos did not win or make it to a World Series, he was rightfully viewed as one of the best, and most entertaining, general managers in baseball.
Now two years into his tenure with the Braves, Anthopoulos has already matched the number of times he made the playoffs in Toronto. However, Anthopoulos has achieved that success by allowing the talent and infrastructure that was already in place to have the ability to develop and thrive. Sure, it was the efforts of Frank Wren and HE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED (just visited Wizarding World of Harry Potter for first time, seemed like perfect reference) that acquired most of the current young talent in the Braves organization. However, the approach that “Atlanta Alex” has taken by recognizing the culture in place was fruitful for growth and development was the correct call. That includes maintaining several coaches that were already here and refraining from significant roster turnover.
“Atlanta Alex” has not been completely abstinent from making needed moves. His acquisition of Adam Duvall, the signings of Brian McCann, Dallas Keuchel, and Josh Donaldson, and the masterful retooling of the Braves bullpen this past August shows that Anthopoulos still will make the necessary moves when needed. Furthermore, the Donaldson move, and perhaps Keuchel, could easily qualify as “blockbuster”-level transactions similar to the ones that Anthopoulos became known for in Toronto.
There is also is no denying that “Atlanta Alex” has been successful in his approach. With a long-term view in mind, the Braves are viewed as an annual postseason contender for the foreseeable future. However, the past two seasons have also revealed a pertinent question that Anthopoulos and the Braves need to answer this offseason. The Braves know they can successfully manage the journey to the playoffs with back to back division titles. However, now the question that needs to be answered is simple:
“WHATCHA GONNA DO, BROTHERS? WHATCHA GONNA DO WHEN THE REALITY THAT ATLANTA’S ROSTER NEEDS TO BE BETTER BUILT FOR SHORT SERIES POSTSEASON BASEBALL RUNS WILD ON YOU?”
The answer is simple. Just like Vader would proclaim, “IT’S TIME...IT’S TIME....IT’S TRADIN TIME!” The Braves logically thought they had the roster in place to advance in the playoffs this year. Injuries and unexpected slumps prevented that from happening. As a result, the Braves now have all the proof they need that the time to be bold is now.
With fans screaming from the rooftops across the south “In Case You Didn’t Know, your A** BETTA CALL SOOOOMMMEEBOOODDDYYYY”, logic suggests there is no better time than now for “Atlanta Alex” to transform back into “Toronto Alex”, even if it is just for “One More Trade”. One characteristic that all the premium names Anthopolous acquired in Toronto shared, besides Price, was that they were either controlled for multiple years or stayed in Toronto for multiple years once they were traded to the Blue Jays. While Anthopoulos may be changing the approach he has been committed to in Atlanta, he would be implementing an approach he has a long track record of being successful with.
The difference-making talents are out there, and they are logical fits for the Braves. Kris Bryant, Mookie Betts, Trevor Story, Francisco Lindor and several other truly talented names could conceivably be available via trade this winter. Demetruis Bell discussed why a move for Betts made sense. However, unlike Betts, several of these options can be controlled for multiple years. The market is shaping up to match “Tornoto Alex’s” preferences for making a move
The timing also seems right internally. A reason why the Braves have been so reluctant to trade their prospects is due to the impending international restrictions. While that concept is certainly a smart approach, other factors will soon make the significant value of some of Atlanta’s best trade chips start to decline. Atlanta has already experienced the natural attrition of few top prospects actually becoming stars. Roster restrictions also make it hard to hold on to all of an organization’s young yet intriguing talent for several years. While Drew Waters, Christian Pache, Ian Anderson and others theoretically are quite valuable due to their potential and cheap future cost, many of them are at their highest trade value right now.
Atlanta’s cupboard of trade assets is not just limited to the minors. The Braves have young talent at the major league level ( Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte, Kyle Wright, Sean Newcomb) whose profiles are not as bright as once thought. However, they still carry value due to their age and the abilities they have flashed. Due to their remaining cost control, these players could be more valuable to other rosters. As a result, each could be a valuable piece to add to a package to acquire a significant talent.
The Braves have experienced the downside of not being bold and going for it before. Three years ago, the talk of the offseason was the Braves desire to acquire Chirs Sale. The thought was that it did not make sense for the Braves to trade their prospects for Sale because their “competitive window had not yet opened.” Furthermore, the Braves were not willing to part with Swanson in the deal for Sale. However, the Braves have first hand experience of how quickly timelines can be altered. If you are being honest with yourself, it seems there is a pretty clear answer to the question “Would I have rather had Sale than Swanson these past two postseasons?” I get that hindsight is 20/20 and reality is not that simple, but recognizing the lesson to be learned is easy.
As John Cena has reminded people for years “My (The Braves) Time is Now.”
If it takes the Braves marketing and social media team bringing in the iconic voice of Jim Ross to announce it, so be it. To the tune of Eric Bischoff’s “I’m Back” entrance music, it is time for “Toronto Alex” to make his triumphant return. And as Vince McMahon once demanded, this time, it needs to be with ruthless aggression to put the Braves roster over the top. With the long-term cost control in place in terms of talent like Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Mike Soroka, and others, the Braves have room in the budget this year and beyond to acquire a true difference maker and commit to him. They did it last year with Donaldson. They need to do it again in addition to him.
The beginning of the “Atlanta Alex” Era has been overwhelmingly successful. Few franchises have the foundation for future success set like Atlanta does. However, just as Mick Foley at times had to transform into “Cactus Jack” to truly reach a new level of impact, “Atlanta Alex” must become “Toronto Alex”. With budget restrictions in place, that bold blockbuster is much more likely to come via a trade than free agency. As a result, Anthopoulos simply needs to quote Cactus Jack “BANG! BANG!” and start off the offseason guns ablazin’ with a move to acquire the additional star-level talent this Braves roster and their fans deserve.
If Anthopolous can pull it off, he easily will become “the best there was, the best there is, and the best there ever will be” in the mind of a generation of fans and folks associated with the Braves on every level imaginable.
The time for Anthopolous and the Braves truly is now. Hopefully, a person more talented with audio and visual customization will soon make a video of Anthopoulos at a press conference with Jim Ross’s famous “BY GAWD....” voiceover playing in the background after a big move is made. Hopefully, that move is made soon, and will be one we all can enjoy for years to come.
HAVE A NICE DAY!!!!