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Starting Nine: Will rare late splash be answer to Braves’ needs?

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With rumors swirling and reported interest in the Orioles’ Trey Mancini, Braves could be players in February, a month where they’ve rarely been players

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians
The Braves have been linked to the Indians’ Jose Ramirez, whose two-time All-Star resume includes 108 home runs since 2017.
Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

It may not have quite the connotations of the Doomsday Clock in Watchmen — which was tied to how close the world was to a global catastrophe of its own making — though the proverbial clock ticking as the Braves are teetering toward February without its lineup having addressed a gaping hole while its biggest rivals in the National League East have vastly improved feels a little catastrophic.

But that’s where things appear headed with a yet-to-be-determined report date for spring training looming. The month has been the stage for major deals in recent years like the ones inked by Manny Machado (Padres) and Mike Moustakas (Brewers) in 2019, Yu Darvish (Cubs) Eric Hosmer (Padres) and J.D. Martinez (Red Sox) in ‘18 and deals including Mookie Betts (Dodgers) and J.T. Realmuto (Phillies) being dealt in the past two years, but the Braves have rarely been players in February.

That could change.

A near perfect fit would be Cleveland’s two-time All-Star third baseman Jose Ramirez, although the cost would be exorbitant. The 28-year-old, who since 2013 has the fifth best accumulative fWAR in the game at 26.2, is playing on contract that pays $9 million this season and club options that put him under control through 2023. Would Atlanta be willing to pay the top-flight heavy package that it would likely take to pry Ramirez away? There also isn’t any indication that Cleveland is looking to move Ramirez. The Braves have also shown reported interest in the Orioles’ Trey Mancini, who didn’t play in 2020 in while undergoing treatment for colon cancer, and may not cost as much as Ramirez, but still has a 30-plus home run season and 134 wRC+ on his resume.

While the Braves have rarely made key maneuvers in February, though they have happened. While Atlanta’s waiting game continues, the Starting Nine runs through the top player acquisitions the Braves have made in the month.

1. Joe Adcock (trade, 1953)

In terms of long-term impact on a February deal, Adcock is the benchmark for the Braves. They got the first baseman/outfielder from the Reds and Jim Pendleton from the Dodgers, sending back cash to Cincinnati and Earl Torgeson to the Phillies. Adcock was in the shadow of Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews but would become a key piece over 10 years with the Braves in Milwaukee, hitting 239 home runs from 1953-62. Among them were four in a game against the Dodgers on July 31, 1954, which along with a double gave Adcock a total bases record of 18 that stood for 48 years, and the home run that wasn’t when he gave Harvey Haddix a loss after 12 perfect innings. After a Pirates error put Felix Mantilla on in the bottom of the 13th, a Mathews sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk to Aaron cleared the way for Adcock. He hit what appeared to be a game-winning home run, but Aaron, thinking Adcock’s hit to right-center hit off the wall, cut across the diamond instead of rounding the bases. Adcock passed Aaron on the base path and were both ruled out, giving the Braves a 1-0 win and Adcock a game-winning double.

2. Johnny Hopp (trade, 1946)

You have to dial it all the way back to the Boston days since a February in which the Braves acquired a player who would make the immediate impact Hopp did. In 1946, a benchmark year in which the Braves began using their tomahawk-style jersey and marred by some newly painted grandstand seats that left green paint staining fans’ clothing, they sent Eddie Joost and $40,000 to the Cardinals to get a 29-year-old Hopp. In his only All-Star season, he finished 12th in the MVP voting in hitting .333/.386/.440 and would go on to post a .734 OPS a year later before the Braves dealt Hopp to the Pirates.

3. Brandon Phillips (trade, 2017)

The last impactful trade the Braves have made in the month, Phillips’ time with the organization didn’t end well. He began the season as the everyday second baseman, only to lose that job when Ozzie Albies was called up in August, then was gruff and standoffish when he was shifted to third base. All that being said, it was a big deal at the time, and it was hard to find fault in the move to get the three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner, as the Braves gave the Reds both Andrew McKirahan and Carlos Portuondo and got Cincinnati to pay all but $1 million of Phillips’ $13 million salary for 2017. He hit .291/.329/.423 in 470 at-bats over 120 games before the Braves shipped Phillips to the Angels for Tony Sanchez. Also, bonus points as no one consistently misused “blessing in disguise” better.

4. David Palmer (signing, 1986)

Four years after winning the NL West, the 1986 Braves presented a return to the division’s basement as they finished 23 1/2 games out of first place in going 72-89. Among the few bright spots was Palmer, the 28-year-old right-hander who after seven years in Montreal who was looking to play closer to his family in Memphis and signed with the Braves for $335,000 as a free agent days before pitchers and catchers were to report. He logged 209 2/3 innings over 35 starts and led the team with 170 strikeouts and a 3.6 bWAR. Palmer also showed some questionable judgement, when after giving up a three-run home run to Gary Carter in the first inning against the Mets, he plunked Darryl Strawberry. The 6-foot-6 All-Star rushed the mound and Palmer threw his glove at him. Palmer wound up on the ground amid a mass of bodies during the bench-clearing brawl.

5. Martin Prado (signing, 2001)

To be fair, and the reason this isn’t higher on the list, is that the Braves inked Prado as an amateur free agent in 2001 when they signed the Venezuelan for a mere $5,500 and would have to wait another five years before his MLB debut. He’d of course go on to play 14 seasons before hanging it up in 2019 and spent seven seasons in Atlanta, hitting .295/.345/.435 and earning an All-Star nod and top-10 MVP finish in 2010. That month ended up having a further Braves ties on the international market, as three days after Atlanta inked Prado, the Angels singed Alberto Callaspo, who would sign with the Braves in 2014 (and was later moved to the Dodgers for Juan Uribe and Chris Withrow).

6. Brian Hunter (signing 1999)

Brian R. Hunter, not to be confused with Brian L, Hunter, was fourth in the Rookie of the Year balloting in 1991 and beat the Pirates with a three-run home run in Game 7 of that NL Championship Series. But he’d wind up being traded to Pittsburgh two seasons later for a player to be named later (Jose Delgado) after losing playing time when Atlanta landed Fred McGriff. Six years, with stops in Cincinnati, Seattle and St. Louis in between, Hunter rejoined the Braves in 1999 and played in 114 games, posting a career-high .792 OPS and came up big in Game 6 of the NLCS, driving in two to help the Braves beat the Mets in 11 innings to return to the World Series. The next year he lasted just two games and was put on waivers after Brian Jordan was activated.

7. Garret Anderson (signing, 2009)

The same week the Braves signed Tom Glavine in what would ultimately be a failed attempt to end his Hall of Fame career with the Braves, they brought in Anderson on a one-year, $2.5 million contract. It was a bit of a letdown after the pursuit of Ken Griffey Jr. failed and it did little to help matters that Anderson missed most of spring training with a calf strain and then went on the 15-day injured list in April with a quad strain. Playing in his age-37 season, Anderson hit just .268/.303/.401 and was 17 percent below league average at 83 wRC+. He did, however, provide a highlight as hie earned his 2,500th career hit on Oct. 1, a second-inning single off the Nationals’ Garrett Mock. Underscoring how bad the Braves’ outfield situation was in that era, he tied with Matt Diaz for the team lead among outfielders with a mere 13 home runs.

8. Peter Moylan (signing, 2018)

For the third time, Moylan signed with the Braves, this time for $575,000, and he presented a potentially durable option for the bullpen after a season with the Royals in which the right-hander led the majors with 79 appearances. Unfortunately, he wasn’t nearly as effective as he was in Kansas City, his ERA jumping from 23.49 to 4.45, and while he was up to 7.31 strikeouts per nine (after 6.98 in ‘17), his walk rate rose from 3.79 to 5.72. He would appear in just 39 games, and after a pair of injured list stints with right forearm strain, he wound up on the 60-day IL ending his season.

9. Jeff Francoeur (signing, 2016)

Another reunion, future Braves broadcaster (and blueberry farmer) Francoeur came in on a minor-league deal in 2016 with the idea he’d mentor a young roster coming off a 95-loss season, the Braves’ most since 1990. He’d make the cut, logging 257 at-bats in 99 games with a .249/.290/.381 slash line and seven homers before being part of a murky three-team deal with the Braves, Marlins and Rangers. The Braves got Dylan Moore, while Francoeur had a .333 on-base percentage — his best in five years — in Miami.