The Braves made their biggest headlines on Monday with the announcement of Austin Riley’s 10-year, $212 million extension, but they did make a pair of trades to shore up their roster in advance of Tuesday’s deadline. They fortified their rotation by acquiring righty Jake Odorizzi from the Astros, and added outfield depth by getting Robbie Grossman from the Tigers.
Both deals were single-player swaps. For the 32-year-old Odorizzi they sent 33-year-old lefty reliever Will Smith to the Astros, while for the 32-year-old Grossman they sent 20-year-old lefty prospect Kris Anglin to the Tigers.
After a season in which he was about league average in 23 starts and 104 innings for the Astros last year, Odorizzi has improved to a 3.75 ERA and 3.61 FIP in 12 starts this year, averaging exactly five innings per turn, and bouncing back from what initially looked like a season-ending ankle injury suffered while running towards first base against the Red Sox on May 16. At the time, there was concern that he had ruptured his Achilles or fractured his ankle, but he didn’t break anything, and the damage to his tendons and ligaments did not involve his Achilles and wasn’t nearly as serious as initially feared. He missed seven weeks, and since returning on July 4, he’s had rough starts against the Royals and A’s but also two seven-inning scoreless starts against the A’s (whom he’s faced in three of his five post-injury games) and Mariners, including a two-hit effort with a season-high eight strikeouts against Seattle on Sunday.
On that note, Odorizzi’s 18.8% strikeout rate represents his lowest full-season mark to date, but he’s tweaked his repertoire relative to last year, increasing the usage of his cutter at the expense of his splitter, to generate more soft contact:
Jake Odorizzi Statcast Comparison, 2021 vs. 2022
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Overall, Odorizzi has shaved his average exit velo from 89.7 mph to 87.6, and dropped his barrel rate from 9.3% to 6.1% and his hard-hit rate from 39.3% to 31.1%; his xERA has dropped from 4.66 to 3.75.
Exactly how Odorizzi fits into the Braves’ immediate plans remains to be seen, but he does offer some depth and insurance. Thanks to Max Fried and a pair of breakout campaigns by Kyle Wright and Spencer Strider, the Braves have put together one of the NL’s better rotations, ranking third in innings (564) and FIP (3.65), and fourth in WAR (9.9), though they’re just eighth in ERA (3.86) and 10th in BABIP (.297). With Strider solidifying the fifth spot in the rotation in impressive fashion after moving from the bullpen in late May, Ian Anderson has been the shakiest of the bunch, pitching to a 4.99 ERA and 4.23 FIP, the highest among the regulars.
This move illustrates the Braves’ monitoring of the workloads of Strider and Wright, both of whom are approaching last year’s innings totals but coming off strong showings in July; if there’s fatigue, it isn’t apparent yet. The 23-year-old Strider, a 2020 fourth-round pick who has pitched to a 2.91 ERA and 2.17 FIP, has totaled 80.1 innings thus far; he pitched 94 across five levels last year, including 2.1 for the Braves during the final weekend of the regular season. As for the 26-year-old Wright, a 2017 first-round pick, he’s thrown 122.2 innings with a 2.93 ERA and 3.38 FIP after totaling 143.1 innings last year, all but 6.1 of them at Triple-A Gwinnett.
As for Smith, who recorded the final three outs of the World Series clincher against the Astros last November 2, he was supplanted as the Braves’ closer when the team signed Kenley Jansen in March. He has notched five saves, three while Jansen was recently sidelined by an irregular heartbeat, but his has been a disappointing campaign overall. Pitching mainly in a setup role, he’s posted a 4.38 ERA and 5.22 FIP in 37 innings; for the second year out of three, he’s got a negative WAR (-0.5). His 24% strikeout rate and 12.3% walk rate both represent his worst performances since his 2012 rookie season, when he started 16 games for the Royals, and he’s served up 1.7 homers per nine.
Smith may have some tactical value given that the move makes him the only lefty in the Astros’ bullpen, though over the past three seasons, his platoon splits are modest. He’s held lefties to a .214/.291/.414 line (.302 wOBA) in that span, while righties have hit .208/.304/.436 (.316 wOBA) against him. The Astros, who have been working with a six-man rotation since Odorizzi returned (Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, José Urquidy and Cristian Javier being the other five), apparently decided that they needed that left-handed bullpen presence more than the bulk in the rotation.
Contract-wise, Smith is in the final guaranteed year of a three-year, $40 million deal in which he makes $13 million annually; the Astros will almost certainly decline his $13 million club option and pay him a $1 million buyout. Odorizzi is in the second year of a two-year, $20.25 million deal that’s paying him a base salary of $5 million this year plus incentives ($500,000 for 100 innings, with an additional $1 million apiece for reaching 110, 120, 130, 140, and 150 innings, plus another $1.25 million if he reaches 160). He has a $6.5 million player option with a $3.25 million buyout, but he’s on the verge of nearly doubling that, as the Houston Chronicle’s Chandler Rome explained: “Odorizzi’s player option can max out at a $12.5 million base salary and a $6.25 million buyout — but only if he pitches in 30 games in which he records 12 or more outs in 2021-22. After Sunday, Odorizzi has 29 such games across 2021-22.”
All told, by RosterResource’s calculations, the Astros have added about $3 million of guaranteed salary to this year’s payroll, but they might have been on the hook for even more once Odorizzi’s incentives kicked in. For Competitive Balance Tax purposes, they’re at $202.4 million, well short of the $230 million threshold. The Braves are at $200.3 million after taking on about $1.78 million remaining on Grossman’s $5 million salary.
The switch-hitting Grossman hit a career-high 23 homers for the Tigers last year while batting .239/.357/.415 (114 wRC+), but he hasn’t come close to replicating that this year, hitting just .205/.313/.282 (77 wRC+) with two homers in 320 PA. What’s more, his strikeout rate has spiked from 23.1% to 28.1%, and his barrel rate has been sawed in half, from 7.6% to 3.8%. There’s little optimism to be had by looking at his Statcast expected stats (.203 xBA, .296 xSLG). The Tigers have lately been giving a good portion of the left field playing time to Akil Baddoo, and it makes more sense to see if they can dig him out of his deep sophomore slump than to watch Grossman struggle.
The Braves are hoping that a change of scenery and maybe some tweaks (or a sprinkle of last year’s midseason magic) will help Grossman recover some semblance of the form that helped him hit for a 109 wRC+ from 2016-21, and a 144 wRC+ against lefties from 2020-22 (92 wRC+ against righties). The bar, admittedly, is a low one, as the Braves made the Replacement Level Killers list based on the performance of both outfield corners; while Ronald Acuña Jr.’s continued presence should shore things up in right field, left field — primarily the domain of Marcell Ozuna, Adam Duvall, and Eddie Rosario — needs serious help. Braves left fielders have hit .218/.267/.428 (89 wRC+) with -0.1 WAR from that spot; Duvall was recently lost for the season with a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist, while Rosario returned in early July after missing two and a half months following laser eye surgery to correct blurred vision but has managed just a 64 wRC+ since coming back. A platoon in which the lefty-swinging Rosario faces righties while Grossman handles lefties makes the most sense, though we’ll see how things shake out after the deadline.
As for Anglin, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound lefty was chosen out of Howard College (a Texas JuCo) in the 16th round of the 2021 draft. Some notes from Eric Longenhagen:
Anglin began 2022 at Low-A Augusta where he made a dozen starts before he was demoted back to the Complex League after a seven-run clunker, one of a few nuclear meltdown starts Anglin has had this year. Anglin’s riding fastball sits 87-90 mph and has other elements that help it play up, though he’s still prone to getting hit due to a lack of velo and inconsistent command. His breaking balls are slow, often in the 74-78 mph range, but they play nicely off his fastball. Barely 21, if Anglin can throw harder he’ll become an interesting prospect. His delivery is fluid and loose but he isn’t especially projectable, physically, so that’s not a given.
All told, while neither trade is a blockbuster, both deals address some areas of concern for the Braves, though it wouldn’t be a surprise if they make a more substantial deal for an outfielder or designated hitter before the bell rings at 6 pm ET on Tuesday.