The New York Yankee and Atlanta Braves have a lot in common: both teams hold a comfortable lead in their division, both have some of the most potent offenses in their leagues, roughly league-average pitching staffs, and the assets to make moves at the deadline.
Despite this, the teams took decidedly different approaches to the trade deadline. The Braves went all-in to fill all their holes, while the Yankees held steady. While that in itself has generated a lot of discussion over the past few weeks within each individual fanbase, the two approaches reflect not merely the actions of a particular front office, but rather two completely different approaches to roster construction. One sees an organization that focuses on maximizing a window, and one that prioritizes keeping that window open.
The Braves’ method
The Atlanta Braves entered 2019 as the odds-on favorite in the NL East, fresh off a 90-win season. Led by youngsters Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Dansby Swanson and joined by veterans Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, Josh Donaldson, and Nick Markakis, their offense has ranked among the top in the National League.
Their rotation, on the other hand, has fallen victim to the usual growing pains that you see from such a young starting staff. None of their Opening Day starters were above the age of 28. Yes, Mike Soroka in particular has had a breakout rookie season, but the rest of the pitchers have been up and down. Their bullpen, similarly, had not been fantastic, with Josh Tomlin and his 4.10 ERA leading the relief corps in innings pitched.
In order to fill the holes in their pitching staff, the Braves first inked Dallas Keuchel to a contract as soon as his draft-pick compensation expired. They also participated in the Seattle Mariners’ fire sale, acquiring Anthony Swarzak. Closer to the deadline, they traded for three relievers to remake their bullpen (all former Yankees, funny enough): Chris Martin, Mark Melancon, and Shane Greene.
Of course, these trades have not worked out as well as anticipated by the Braves. Greene, Melancon, and Martin have combined for 19 earned runs in 29 innings, and Greene has already lost the closing job. When looking at their method, however, it’s clear that the Braves addressed the here and now. While several of the players will remain under contract in 2020, they were acquired to fill a need this season.
The Braves did not exactly sacrifice a ton in the way of prospects at the deadline, and their farm system still ranks among the league’s best. It is clear, though, that the front office identified this year as a year to go all-in and make mid-season acquisitions. They had to plug holes to compete with the Dodgers and stay ahead in the National League East.
The Yankees’ Strategy
Readers of Pinstripe Alley are familiar with the Yankees’ story this season: plagued by injuries across the lineup and pitching staff, unexpected performances from contributors like Gio Urshela and Mike Tauchman have powered the Yankees to run away with the AL East. Their success comes despite a below-average rotation and a bullpen that has been shaky at times outside of the Big Four.
To fill all these holes, the Yankees made multiple trades this year, but none were blockbusters. Edwin Encarnacion essentially fell into the Yankees’ lap in the same way Giancarlo Stanton did. Mike Tauchman and Cameron Maybin were injury fill-ins, acquired to add depth for virtually no cost, much in the same way Gio Urshela was last year. The 2019 Yankees were built in the offseason, with most contributors having been with the team in spring training at some point.
Instead of using top trade chips such as Clint Frazier and Deivi Garcia to reinforce the big-league club, the Yankees instead adapted within the 25-man roster to make things work. A prime example would be their management of the starting rotation. Rather than using Chance Adams, Nestor Cortes Jr., or another Triple-A starter to fill in, the team has resorted to using bullpen games instead of tapping their suspect starting pitching depth.
What this tells me is that the Yankees are not looking at 2019 as any more significant than any other year in their window. On the National League side, the Los Angeles Dodgers are on another level compared to the rest of the league, with a seven-game lead in the race for home-field advantage. Any path to the World Series out of the National League will almost certainly involve going through the Dodgers, which necessitates a team like the Braves to engage in an arms race in order to put themselves in a better position to win.
The Yankees, on the other hand, are one of two superteams in the AL, alongside the Houston Astros. They are expected to dominate the league not just this year, but for the foreseeable future as well. And while you can easily make the argument that the Yankees need to engage in an arms race with the Astros, the Bombers clearly want to secure their position as a superteam for multiple years. The way to do that, the front office seems to think, involves not going all-in during one particular year, but hoarding talented depth that can be a part of the organization for multiple seasons.