The Braves offseason addition we should be most jealous of

The reliever turned starter has been on fire this season.
Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves
Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

The Atlanta Braves didn’t have a mission statement this offseason to get under the skin of New York Mets fans. But if it leaked out that they did, would any of us really be surprised?

Their winter wasn’t a huge one. Headlining the offseason was the trade with the Boston Red Sox for Chris Sale. The tattered veteran even managed to get himself an extension to help keep him in baseball a little longer while giving the club a little payroll flexibility.

Also a part of their goal to troll the Mets was the trade for Jarred Kelenic and the free agent signing of Luis Guillorme. Add this all in with the continued presence of Travis d’Arnaud who is now the starter with Sean Murphy out and Atlanta is more the anti-Mets than ever before. Yet it’s not the Sale or Kelenic trade or even the Guillorme thievery that should have us green with envy. Even the Adam Duvall signing is moot with the way Tyrone Taylor has played in New York.

The best Braves starting pitcher this year is someone the Mets could have pursued

The Braves didn’t waste much time coming to terms on a deal with free agent Reynaldo Lopez. Signed on November 20, the “failed starter” was coming off a whacky season where he was a member of three different teams. Somewhat overlooked for years as he was chained alongside Lucas Giolito with the Washington Nationals, Chicago White Sox, and finally with the Cleveland Guardians all of last season, Lopez was arguably the best free agent relief pitcher this offseason. His 3.27 ERA in 66 innings of work and 83 strikeouts was more than enough to award him with a three-year deal worth $30 million. The contract also includes an $8 million team option for a fourth season.

Despite the successful run as a reliever for the last three years, the Braves decided to move Lopez to the bullpen. He hadn’t started consistently since 2020. In 2019, his 110 earned runs was the highest in MLB.

What has he given the Braves through 4 starts? Lopez is 2-0 with a miniscule 0.72 ERA. Just 14 hits allowed in his 25 innings of work, he’s looking like a sneaky project the Braves have embraced.

We can understand why Lopez never landed with the Mets. The three years of guaranteed money goes beyond anything they handed out this winter. Luis Severino is on a one-year deal. Sean Manaea has a player option for the second season. Even if the Mets had pursued him as a relief pitcher, it would’ve gone beyond the scope of what they were willing to pay any of their bullpen arms in comparison to what Atlanta ended up offering Lopez.

A couple of pitchers were in the same spot as Lopez. Nick Martinez, who signed with the Cincinnati Reds, had worked as a starter and reliever for the San Diego Padres since returning from Japan. He hasn’t been nearly as successful. Now 0-1 with a 5.48 ERA after 3 starts and a pair of relief appearances, he is trending toward becoming a starter only in case of an emergency. The latest emergency for the Reds was the loss of Frankie Montas to the IL.

It’s not just the Mets who can be jealous of the Braves. Any team in need of a starting pitcher at a bargain rate can wonder a bit of “what if?”

This isn’t quite the same case as the steal the Philadelphia Phillies made from the free agent market with Spencer Turnbull. He and his 1.33 ERA after 5 starts was far more impossible to ever predict.