By Dan Schlossberg
The Atlanta Braves rarely make bad trades. But there are exceptions.
Trading five young players to the Chicago White Sox for a left-handed reliever coming off a bad year sticks out like a sore thumb.
Basically, Atlanta traded too much for too little, reducing its ability to make other moves.
To be sure, starting pitcher Michael Soroka and good-field, no-hit infielder Nicky Lopez would not have been tendered contracts anyway.
But why sweeten the pot with southpaw starter Jared Shuster, who showed flashes of potential in Atlanta last summer, and smooth-fielding shortstop Braden Shewmake, who is virtually certain to replace Tim Anderson as Chicago’s shortstop?
Minor-league righty Riley Gowens may or may not amount to anything for the Chisox but, as Joaquin Andujar said in his one-word description of baseball, “youneverknow.”
All but Gowens held spots on their teams’ 40-man rosters. Atlanta now has the roster room and payroll flexibility to start signing free agents.
Getting back to the trade, Soroka is still just 25 and apparently healed from two tears of his right Achilles. He was runner-up to Pete Alonso in the 2019 National League Rookie of the Year race and can be a very good pitcher if healthy.
So can Shuster, anxious to prove good lefty starters don’t grow on trees.
Shewmake and Lopez — a phenomenal fielder — figure to form the new White Sox double-play tandem, giving the Sox four front-line players for a ground-ball reliever whose earned run average last summer was a whopping 6.79.
Even Yonny Chirinos, the poster boy for pathetic pitchers who wore Braves jerseys last summer, wasn’t that bad.
Bummer, 30, has been solid in previous seasons but he’s also had biceps, lat, and knee injuries. He turned pro after the Sox selected him in the 19th round of the amateur draft. Lots of others went ahead of him.
Unless Bummer recaptures his 2019 form, when he posted a 2.13 ERA with a 72.1 per cent rate of grounders induced, he will live down to his surname in Atlanta history.
He’ll join holdover A.J. Minter and the returning Tyler Matzek, healed from Tommy John elbow surgery, to form a left-handed troika of set-up men ahead of Atlanta closer Raisel Iglesias. Any of the southpaws could also fill in as ninth-inning help if Iglesias encounters health issues, as he did early last season.
At least Bummer’s contract isn’t too terrible; he’ll earn $5.5 million next year in the final year of an extension the Chisox gave him. That’s less than the likely arbitration-inflated contracts of Soroka and Lopez — had the Braves decided to keep them.
The contract also includes club options for 2025 and 2026, so Atlanta could have him for at least three seasons.
Bummer’s biggest problem has been control — or lack of it. He walks way too many hitters, never a good idea for a relief pitcher in a tight game.
Braves manager Brian Snitker should be happy with a bullpen also occupied by the recently-resigned Pierce Johnson and Joe Jiménez, both hard-throwing right-handers.
Now he and trade-maker Alex Anthopoulos can concentrate on bolstering the starting rotation and finding a left-fielder.
The Braves have strong starters in strikeout king Spencer Strider, the lone 20-game winner in the majors last season; lefty Max Fried, determined to make his walk year his best year; 40-year-old veteran Charlie Morton, who also serves as a de facto pitching coach for the team’s younger pitchers; and Bryce Elder, who joined Strider at the Seattle All-Star Game before wilting down the stretch.
The fifth starter could be power pitcher AJ Smith-Shawver, who showed promise in September, or Dylan Dodd, a lefty who had several stints in Atlanta last season.
Atlanta could also be in the market for Aaron Nola, who worked with Braves pitching coach Rick Kranitz when both were in Philadelphia, or Sonny Gray, a finalist for the American League’s 2023 Cy Young Award.
Now that Warren Buffett has invested $9 million in the team, they might even pursue both.
As for left field, options range from incumbent Vaughn Grissom, strictly an infielder when he hit .330 for AAA Gwinnett, to ex-Braves Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, and Eddie Rosario — all current free agents.
For Braves fans, already enjoying an off-season that included a unanimous MVP award for Ronald Acuna, Jr., it should be a most interesting winter.
HTP weekend editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ also covers baseball for forbes.com, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Memories & Dreams, and many other outlets. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.