Braves continue bullpen upgrades, landing All-Star Shane Greene, Mark Melancon ahead of trade deadline
Those moves come on the heels of acquiring right-hander Chris Martin from the Rangers on Tuesday.
“We were engaged on everything, position players, starting rotation, bullpen, up until the end,” Braves manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “At the end of the day, where we thought there were deals where they made sense for us, the bullpen made the most sense.”
The 30-year-old Greene is under control though next season, has the game’s second-best 1.18 ERA among relievers and sits 10th in MLB with 22 saves. The righty trailed only the Yankees‘ Aroldis Chapman and Astros‘ Roberto Osuna among American League leaders.
Melancon (34) is a three-time All-Star with a 3.50 ERA this season, amassing 46 1/3 innings in 43 games. In 2015 the right-hander had an MLB-best 51 saves and closed out 131 games between 2014-16.
In exchange for Greene, the Braves sent left-hander Joey Wentz, the organization’s 12th-ranked prospect via in FOXSportsSouth.com’s composite rankings (seventh in MLB Pipeline) and Triple-A outfielder Travis Demeritte. Wentz had a 4.72 ERA in 20 starts for Double-A Mississippi, while Demeritte hit 20 home runs while slashing .286/.387/.558 over 339 at-bats for the Stripers.
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Atlanta sent righty reliever Dan Winkler, who had a 4.98 ERA in 27 appearances this season, and 15th-ranked prospect Tristan Beck (who is 17th via MLB Pipeline and has a 5.32 ERA in 10 starts with in the GCL and with the High-A Fire Frogs), who has missed time with an oblique injury, to the Giants in the Melancon trade.
It’s been a flurry of moves to remake a relief corps that’s posted overall strong numbers (ninth with a 4.10 ERA), but over the last month that group has allowed the eighth-highest batting average against (.268) and amassed the fourth the fourth-most walks (88) in that span.
That rough stretch has included once-steady hand Anthony Swarzak posting a 9.64 ERA this month and it’s put a further focus on the closer role, including in Wednesday’s series finale in Washington ahead of the deadline.
What began at closer with a timeshare between Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter has included Jacob Webb and before landing on Luke Jackson. While he’s saved 17 games, he’s offset that by blowing seven saves, tied for the most in the majors, and has an ERA over 10.50 in the second half.
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Jackson came on for a save attempt Wednesday’s vs. the Nationals, but was removed after two batters as he gave up back-to-back singles to Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon. He was replaced by Sean Newcomb, who allowed Washington to push the game into extra innings before the Braves won 5-4 in 10 innings.
Anthopoulos said the Bravers have not yet cemented roles and it is ultimately manager Brian Snitker’s call, but it would not be surprising to see them turn things over to Greene, who is in the midst of a career year.
He was a minus-0.1 fWAR player last season when he had a 5.12 ERA en route to saving 32 games and just once in his previous five seasons did Greene have an ERA under 3.78. While Greene does have a 3.70 FIP, 3.80 xFIP, the Padres‘ Kirby Yates is the only qualified reliever with a better ERA.
Carrying the league’s 10th-best saves percentage with 22 conversions in 25 attempts (88.0), Greene is on pace for a 35-save season. The Braves haven’t had anyone with a 30-save season since Craig Kimbrel in 2014.
While Melancon is now longer the dominant presence he once was, has allowed all of five home runs since the start of 2018 with a 3.38 ERA over 85 1/3 innings in that span and boasts a career-high 61.4 percent ground ball rate in 2019. He’s also seventh in the lowest percentage of barrels per plate appearance at 1.5.
Greene — who is making $4 million this season — is arbitration eligible this winter, while Melancon is under contract at $14 million in 2020, which Atlanta pursued in its entirety. Melancon is in the final year of four-year, $62 million deal he signed with San Francisco in 2016.
Martin, meanwhile, is a free agent after this season.
“We like the fact that we have two of these guys for next year,” Anthopoulos said. “We like the fact that we have established, late-inning relievers for next season as well.”
Along with the bullpen moves, the Braves also made a depth play at catcher, acquiring John Ryan Murphy from the Diamondbacks in exchange for cash considerations. Murphy, 28, is hitting .177/.250/.419 in 25 games with four home runs and seven RBI.
But the prevailing storyline is going to be on that bullpen, and in Greene, Melancon and Martin, the Braves managed to reconfigure the relief options and didn’t break the bank on their rich farm system to do so.
“I think we got better with the guys we added and the track record,” Anthopoulos said. “We feel confident we got better as a club.”
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.’ are now available.x
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