The Atlanta Braves were relatively quiet at the 2023 MLB trade deadline. General Manager Alex Anthopoulos decided to play it safe and only make small acquisitions. We graded these moves when they first happened but now that everyone has settled into their new roles, let's see how accurate those initial grades were.
Braves Acquire Nicky Lopez for Taylor Hearn (Grade: A+)
This trade could not have turned out better for the Atlanta Braves. Nicky Lopez has been a great addition to Atlanta. He has been able to jump into the game off the bench and produce or give normal starters a rest. Since coming to Atlanta, Lopez has been hitting .283 with a homer and 11 RBIs while playing solid defense at multiple positions.
Taylor Hearn went over to the Kansas City Royals. Hearn was originally acquired by Atlanta from the Texas Rangers for cash considerations. He made one appearance for the Braves where he allowed 4 runs in a third of an inning. He was then optioned back to Triple-A Gwinnett to make room for A.J. Smith-Shawver.
While Hearn is on their 40-man roster, he is currently back in the minor leagues. The Royals gave Hearn 7.2 innings to prove he belonged in the majors but did quite the opposite. He surrendered 7 earned runs in that time frame pushing his ERA while in a Royals jersey north of 8.00.
Atlanta made the right decision making this move and it's curious why the Royals let him go for so little, with all due respect to Taylor Hearn. However, Lopez has been absolutely what the Braves hoped he would be.
Braves Acquire Brad Hand for Alec Barger (Grade C+)
This was a low-risk, high-reward trade for the Braves. Their reward has not been quite as high as they were hoping for. The southpaw veteran, Brad Hand, has posted a 6.43 ERA for the Braves in 14 innings pitched. Atlanta was hoping he could add more stability to the bullpen and be effective against left-handed hitters. He has had his moments but has not been the helping Hand the Braves were looking for.
Alec Barger has stayed in Double-A for the Rockies and has been struggling to say the least. Since joining Colorado's farm system, Barger is 0-2 with an 11.66 ERA in just 14.2 innings pitched. So, while Brad Hand hasn't been as good for the Braves, the piece he was traded for has actually been worse. If Barger goes to the Rockies and performs, we may be looking at a D+ rather than a C+.
Braves Acquire Pierce Johnson for Victor Vodnik and Tanner Gordon (Grade A+)
This trade has arguably worked out the best of any move made by Alex Anthopoulos in 2023. Yes, Nicky Lopez has been great but the Braves bullpen was in dire need of help. Pierce Johnson has been able to provide some assistance in that department. In 20 innings pitched, Johnson has only allowed two earned runs. He has an ERA below 1.00 (0.90).
Johnson had a rough first appearance for the Braves as he relieved Spencer Strider in Boston. He inhereited a runner and Atlanta was clinging to a 3-2 lead. Pierce was able to get a ground ball but a rare error by Ozzie Albies led to Boston having two runners on with just one out.
He would get a groundball from Jarren Duran that got the second out but advanced runners to second and third. Those runs would then score on a Justin Turner double that put the Braves down 4-3. He escaped the inning after that but Atlanta ultimately lost this game 5-3.
However, since then, Pierce Johnson has been one of the best parts of the Atlanta Braves bullpen. His breaking ball has been absolutely disgusting against opponents. He's dropped his ERA by almost 2 points since coming to Atlanta as he's down to a 4.20 overall.
In the month of August his ERA was 0.77 through 11.2 innings and in September, that ERA is 1.35 through 6.2 innings of work. Safe to say that Johnson will be a major part of the Braves push for another World Series.
Prospect Victor Vodnik has made one MLB appearance for the Rockies where he allowed 7 earned runs in just 3.2 innings pitched. Tanner Gordon has stayed in the minors and has gone 2-2 with a 5.96 ERA in 22.2 innings.
The 2023 trade deadline was yet another successful one for Alex Anthopoulos. However, there is still work to be done. The next test will be if these acquisitions can make an impact in the postseason. All signs currently point to big impacts.