Fab Four of July acquisitions lead Braves to World Series

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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HOUSTON- Atlanta had just stumbled again, losing its seventh straight attempt to reach .500.

“This isn’t going to define our season, this series,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said that night at New York’s Citi Field.

Little did he know.

Two days later, general manager Alex Anthopoulos obtained outfielders Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall and Jorge Soler along with reliever Richard Rodriguez in four swaps in the hours before the July 30 trade deadline, adding to the acquisition of outfielder Joc Pederson two weeks earlier.

Rosario, Duvall and Pederson combined to drive in 17 of Atlanta’s 28 runs in its six-game NL Championship Series win over the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Rosario was selected MVP as the Braves advanced to a World Series matchup against the Houston Astros starting Tuesday night.

Pederson especially has been a pearl of an addition. Even before the Braves tried to earn the team’s first World Series championship rings since the Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Chipper Jones club of 1995, he became known for perhaps the most-seen strand of pearls since Jackie O’s.

“I just saw the pearls and I was, like, you know what? That looks cool,” Pederson said. “I’ve done the black chain and the gold chain and all those different ones and – I think a lot of other players have. But I don’t know, kind of caught my eye. I was, like, you know, those look good.”

Anthopoulos, a 44-year-old Canadian hired as general manager in November 2017 and promoted to president of baseball operations last year, had to remake his outfield in midseason.

Opening day center fielder Cristian Pache injured his right hamstring on May 13 and didn’t have another big league at-bat until October. Left fielder Marcell Ozuna broke his left middle and ring fingers with a headfirst slide on May 25, then was arrested four days later on charges of aggravated assault and hasn’t returned. Star right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. tore his right anterior cruciate ligament on July 10, an injury sidelining him until next year.

Many GMs make midseason additions. Seldom do so many jell.

With the deal for Pederson, Anthopoulos sent the clubhouse a message “that we believe in you,” recalled star first baseman Freddie Freeman, the reigning NL MVP.

Anthopoulos had gone to his boss, chairman Terry McGuirk, for permission to spend and lifted payroll from $136 million on opening day to $149 million on Aug. 31, still 14th among the 30 teams. The four outfield acquisitions added $7,743,280, factoring in $500,000 that Atlanta is receiving from Cleveland this year as part of the Rosario trade.

“Terry McGuirk came to me at the All-Star break and said you got whatever you need to go make this club better. Whatever you need. And we went full-speed ahead,” Anthopoulous said.

Atlanta lost at Milwaukee hours after the trade deadline, dropping to 51-54. The Braves were third in the NL East, five games back of the New York Mets, one game behind Philadelphia and two games in front of Washington.

“The one thing that’s fortunate for us is we’re playing in the NL East in 2021,” Anthopolous said after the trades. “We’re all in it.”

Atlanta won five of its next six games to move above .500 for the first time all season on Aug. 8. A nine-game winning streak lifted the Braves into first place on Aug. 15.

“It’s two different teams, really, from the first half to the second half, if you really look at it,” the reigning NL MVP said. “So we just had little weapons waiting in the wings all over the place and then we unleashed them and here we are sitting in the World Series.”

An improbable fourth straight division title was clinched on Sept. 30 with three games to spare. The Braves finished with a 6 1/2-game lead.

“Even teams that don’t have great years get on a run. Even the bad teams. We hadn’t got on a run yet and we weren’t a bad team. We just had a hard time putting everything together for an extended period of the season,” Snitker said. “But we were a good team and I just kept thinking, man, our best baseball’s ahead of us at some point in time, and then I think Alex helped that out a lot with the acquisitions.”

Pederson, 29, was obtained for minor league first baseman Bryce Ball and hit .247 with seven homers and 22 RBIs.

Rosario was on the injured list with an oblique strain when the Braves got him for Cleveland for infielder Pablo Sandoval, who was immediately released. Rosario made his Braves debut on Aug. 28, and hit .271 with seven homers and 16 RBIs in 96 at-bats.

Soler, acquired from Kansas City for minor league right-hander Kaley Kalich, batted .269 with 14 homers and 33 RBIs. He missed four playoff games because of a positive COVID-19 test.

Duvall, a 33-year-old who spent 2019-20 with the Braves, was acquired from Miami for catcher Alex Jackson and hit .226 with 16 homers and 45 RBIs, finishing with a career-best 38 homers and an NL-leading 113 RBIs.

“I think this year has been a testament to how we have handled adversity and how we’ve turned the page and just kept grinding, kept working,” Duvall said. “One of our mottos is just show up and work, show up and get better, show up, put your best foot forward, show up and compete.”

Report: Brandon Nimmo staying with Mets on 8-year, $162M deal

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK – Center fielder Brandon Nimmo is staying with the free-spending New York Mets, agreeing to an eight-year, $162 million contract, according to a person familiar with the deal.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the agreement is subject to a successful physical and no announcement had been made.

A quality leadoff hitter with an excellent eye and a .385 career on-base percentage, Nimmo became a free agent last month for the first time. He was a key performer as the Mets returned to the playoffs this year for the first time since 2016.

The left-handed hitter batted .274 with 16 homers and a team-high 102 runs, a career high. He also set career bests with 64 RBIs and 151 games played. His seven triples tied for most in the National League.

Bringing back Nimmo means New York is poised to return its entire everyday lineup intact from a team that tied for fifth in the majors in runs and won 101 regular-season games – second-most in franchise history.

But the Mets remain busy replenishing a pitching staff gutted by free agency, including Jacob deGrom‘s departure for Texas and Taijuan Walker‘s deal with Philadelphia that was pending a physical.

On the final day of baseball’s winter meetings Wednesday, the Mets completed an $86.7 million, two-year contract with former Houston ace Justin Verlander that includes a conditional $35 million player option for 2025. New York also retained All-Star closer Edwin Diaz last month with a $102 million, five-year contract, and the team has a $26 million, two-year agreement in place with veteran starter Jose Quintana, pending a physical.

Those moves add to a payroll that was the largest in the majors last season. Under owner Steve Cohen, who bought the Mets in November 2020, New York became baseball’s biggest spender this year for the first time since 1989. The Mets’ payroll was $273.9 million as of Aug. 31, with final figures that include bonuses yet to be compiled.

Nimmo was selected by New York with the No. 13 pick in the 2011 amateur draft. He declined a $19.65 million qualifying offer from the Mets last month.

The 29-year-old Wyoming native made his big league debut in 2016. He is a .269 career hitter with 63 homers, 213 RBIs and 23 triples in 608 games. He has an .827 career OPS and has improved his play in center, becoming a solid defender.

Nimmo’s new deal with the Mets was first reported by the New York Post.