Inside the Clubhouse: How the Atlanta Braves doubled-down to earn a World Series berth

Atlanta Braves, MLB

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This week, Inside the Clubhouse looks at how the Braves went all in for the World Series, potential landing spots for Kyle Schwarber and more.

In late July, the Atlanta Braves’ season was on the verge of falling apart. They were without their best player Ronald Acuña Jr., their ace Mike Soroka and leading home run and RBI hitter Marcell Ozuna from a season ago. They trailed the Mets by six games.

But general manager Alex Anthopoulos never wavered, opting to buy at the trade deadline when many other executives in his position likely would have decided to sell. And the players he acquired — Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler — carried the Braves to the World Series, beating a 106-win Dodgers team that entered the regular season as the favorites to win the World Series.

The move to acquire Pederson on July 15, less than a week after Acuña went down, sent renewed optimism throughout the clubhouse. Duvall was a power-hitter the organization was familiar with from 2018-19. Soler was an ultra-athletic outfielder who had intriguing power and was only two years removed from hitting 48 home runs. Rosario was sidelined with an injury when he was acquired, returning on Aug. 28 and playing similar to the player who hit 32 home runs and 109 RBIs for the Twins in 2019.

“It showed that he was going after guys and saying, ‘We aren’t out of it yet,’” Austin Riley said. “I didn’t think we were at the time. We hadn’t clicked on all cylinders at that point as a whole team. It showed the confidence he had in us to go add a couple guys and give us a shot to make a run at it.”

Boy, did they ever. In the NLCS, Rosario emerged as a star. He hit 14-for-25 (.560) with five extra-base hits, nine RBI and a 1.647 OPS. He matched the postseason record for most hits in a postseason series, including the series-clinching three-run homer against right-hander Walker Buehler on Saturday. Pederson, the pearl-necklace-wearing sensation, has a .953 OPS and is hitting a home run in every nine at-bats since debuting on Sept. 29.

“As long as you’re close and you believe in your club, you owe it to everybody from ownership to the fan base to employees of the organization,” Anthopoulos said. “The mindset was to add even coming out of the All-Star break. … There was no chance we were going to sell. We weren’t going to do that.”

Where could Kyle Schwarber go if he leaves the Red Sox?

If Kyle Schwarber re-signs with the Boston Red Sox, one rival executive believes that he can be “the next David Ortiz.”

“He’s made for this town,” the executive said.

Schwarber, 28, was one of the most impactful bats traded at the deadline. He hit towering home runs (10 in 52 games) and transformed a Red Sox lineup that struggled to produce runs by consistently getting on base. There were hiccups in his move defensively to first base, though he will enter the offseason as one of the top corner outfield options and will be in position to land a lucrative multi-year deal.

Schwarber has already indicated that he is open to returning to the Red Sox, but he would give Boston two bat-reliant players with defensive limitations since J.D. Martinez is unlikely to opt-out of his contract. Here are a few possibilities for Schwarber in the winter:

Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles could use a foundational hitter and Schwarber, who has hit at least 26 homers in each of his last four full seasons, could be what they are looking for. He has obvious ties to manager Brandon Hyde from their time with the Chicago Cubs and one player who knows Schwarber believes he could “lead the young guys like (Anthony) Rizzo did with the Cubs.”

Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays were interested in Schwarber at the trade deadline and figure to be interested again. It would be an imperfect fit, but his left-handed bat, on-base skills and impact bat checks a lot of boxes for a lineup that could lose Marcus Semien this winter.

Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers “liked” Schwarber last offseason, according to major-league sources. Christian Yelich is entering the first season of his $215 million contract and Lorenzo Cain is signed for another season, but Avisail Garcia must decide whether to opt out of his contract and Jackie Bradley Jr. was unplayable in 2021. For a team that is in desperate need of offensive firepower, the Brewers may be a team to watch for Schwarber this winter.

Did the Cardinals rush their manager decision?

Oli Marmol may end up being the right hire, but at least two executives wondered if the St. Louis Cardinals rushed in naming him manager on late Sunday night.

Mike Shildt was fired on Oct. 14. They locked in on Marmol on Oct. 24. That’s 10 days. Maybe Marmol was their guy from the beginning. Maybe he blew them away in his interview. Maybe it’s both. But the process felt rushed and instead of talking to a variety of external candidates to gather information on how other elite teams operate, they hired a 35-year-old who has been in the organization since 2007.

Marmol, however, has been considered a rising star in coaching circles for years, with Shildt lauding him as a future manager in recent seasons. The organization holds him in extremely high regard and one Cardinals player said he is “brilliant.” But his age — he’s almost five years younger than Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina — and lack of managerial experience has some people wondering if he’s the right man for a team that will enter the 2022 season with World Series aspirations.

The Giants aren’t committed to Kris Bryant

The San Francisco Giants would love to re-sign Kris Bryant, but they won’t delay other moves — potentially signing one of their pending free-agent starting pitchers — while holding out hope they can reach a long-term agreement. Put simply: they intend to let him test free agency.

“For us, the move at the deadline was really about pushing chips in with this team, which we thought was a special team and had a chance to do special things,” Giants president of baseball Farhan Zaidi said. “But we recognize he’s a superstar talent and it’s going to be a really competitive market for his services. I’m sure we’ll have conversations there, but he’ll have a long line of suitors so we’ll just have to see how that develops.”

Bryant, 29, is represented by Scott Boras, who waits out the market looking for the best value for his clients. He should have a long list of suitors, considering his production, defensive versatility and that he can’t be extended a qualifying offer since he was traded midseason.

The Giants have not ruled out re-signing Bryant, but look for them to target a player with similar defensive versatility and production against left-handed pitching. The Dodgers’ Chris Taylor is one possibility, but the expectation is he will land a multi-year contract in excess of $14 million annually.

Dodgers have soul-searching to do after loss to Braves

The Los Angeles Dodgers must navigate a series of hurdles this winter. Their free-agent class includes Max Scherzer, Corey Seager, Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Chris Taylor. They must figure out what’s next for Cody Bellinger, the National League MVP in 2019 who was one of the worst hitters in baseball this season before breaking out in the postseason.

And they will attempt to operate not knowing how much they have to spend while they await judgement on Trevor Bauer, who has been on administrative leave since July while under investigation for sexual assault. If Bauer is suspended, the Dodgers are expected to use some of the money saved to upgrade other parts of the roster, per Andy McCullough of The Athletic.

Scherzer is the most likely to return, with the expectation being he will land the richest contract for a free-agent pitcher in baseball history. Seager is “absolutely” open to returning, but the Dodgers can move Trea Turner to shortstop in 2022. It’s unimaginable that Kershaw pitches outside of Los Angeles, but the inflammation in his left elbow complicates matters. Jansen is uncertain to return. Taylor is likely to land a contract that exceeds what the Dodgers will be willing to offer.

Even then, the Dodgers will be a juggernaut in 2022 and beyond. But they will look a lot different than they have in previous years — and Friedman must fill his roster amid financial uncertainty and a depleted farm system after dealing his top two prospects for Turner and Scherzer.

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