On Wednesday afternoon, Alex Anthopoulos changed the dynamic of the Braves bench with two moves that only cost the Braves a couple dollars and no prospects. To say the Braves GM has worked some kind of voodoo magic in order to improve the roster for a playoff run without giving up anything of value is a huge understatement at this point.
Early in the afternoon, a waiver acquisition of backup catcher Rene Rivera from the Angels was announced, and a few hours later, a trade with the Royals for 1B Lucas Duda came down. With those two moves, the Braves managed to lock down a couple key pieces that will add a ton of positional depth to a team that has lacked it all season.
While the move for Rivera may seem like a bit of a throwaway acquisition of a journeyman third-string catcher on the surface, what it means when you dig deeper could be crucial for September and October. It adds depth, but not in a way you would think a fringe catcher would — Rivera only has a career 70 wRC+ and 3.7 fWAR over ten seasons and 1,500 plate appearances.
What the addition of Rivera adds is a bat to come off the bench late — either Tyler Flowers or Kurt Suzuki. When you are running with a platoon at catcher and have a couple of guys who have combined to be one of the better backstop tandems over the past couple seasons, it ends up doing your bench a huge disservice. When you have two capable starting catchers, unfortunately, one is stuck as the backup every night, which limits when and how you can use them. So far this season, Flowers and Suzuki have combined for 13 pinch-hit appearances for Brian Snitker and the Braves. Rivera alone off the bench doesn’t add anything offensively but having him available to enter the game late adds either Suzuki or Flowers as an additional offensive threat late. By adding in a major league quality backup catcher, Flowers and Suzuki instantly become go-to bats off the bench instead of one of them being the 25th guy in any given game. Essentially what Anthopoulos did was add a starter-quality bat off the bench by adding a fringe player who gives Snitker depth to play with.
With Duda, the Braves have also picked up a legitimate LH bat to add to a growing amount of depth in Charlie Culberson, Tyler Flowers/Kurt Suzuki, and Adam Duvall. Prior to Duda, the only left-handed bat the Braves have had long-term this season was Ryan Flaherty — which, we can all agree, was a complete disaster as an offensive option. Duda also adds a Major League quality bat to spell Freddie Freeman if the Braves are able to create more distance between themselves and the Phillies without having a huge drop-off in production like they would if someone like Rio Ruiz were slotted in as the starting 1B.
Duda may be having a bit of a down season (he currently has a 95 wRC+ and .173 ISO with the Royals) but he is coming off a 2017 campaign split between the Mets and Royals where he hit 30 homers and had a 12 BB% in nearly 500 PA. Even at his current 2018 numbers, the addition of a left-handed bat with power that could backup Freeman is going to be crucial.
When you look at the two moves on the surface, adding Duda appears to be the biggest move, but once you start to dig a little deeper, having a third-string catcher that is neither a complete wash offensively (Chris Stewart) or unproven (Alex Jackson) may be the key going forward.