By PAUL NEWBERRY
ATLANTA (AP) — With a second straight trip to the playoffs firmly in their sights, the Atlanta Braves had plenty of options for improving their roster at the trade deadline.
They could’ve pursued a position player to replace the injured Nick Markakis. Another starting pitcher would’ve fit nicely in a rotation that has been shaky at times.
In the end, the Braves decided to focus on the bullpen.
Atlanta pulled off a couple of deals at the trade deadline Wednesday, picking up closer Shane Greene from the Detroit Tigers and former closer Mark Melancon from the San Francisco Giants.
The acquisitions by the first-place Braves came after Tuesday’s trade that brought another reliever, Chris Martin of the Texas Rangers.
“We engaged everything — position players, starting pitchers, the bullpen — right up until the end,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “At the end of the day, where we thought there were deals that made sense for us and what we had to give up and so on, the bullpen made the most sense. But we definitely tried some other areas. We just couldn’t wind up with a deal that made sense to our organization.”
Make no mistake: the bullpen was Atlanta’s biggest need. Luke Jackson has been shaky as the closer, a point that was driven home when he surrendered two ninth-inning runs without getting an out in Wednesday’s game against Washington. Forced to extra innings, the Braves won 5-4 on Josh Donaldson’s homer in the 10th, extending their lead in the NL East to 6 1/2 games over the Nationals and Philadelphia.
Jackson, who has 17 saves but failed to convert eight other chances, became the closer almost by default after Arodys Vizcaino sustained a season-ending injury and A.J. Minter struggled. Two other key members of the 2018 bullpen, Jonny Venters and Jesse Biddle, were both let go.
The 30-year-old Greene will likely become the closer after being acquired for a pair of minor-leaguers: left-hander Joey Wentz and outsider Travis Demeritte.
Greene has a 1.18 ERA and 22 saves this season for the rebuilding Tigers.
“They’re excited, I’m excited,” he said in Anaheim, where the Tigers were facing the Los Angeles Angels. “I’m starting a new chapter and going to a contender.”
Melancon was acquired from the Giants for right-handed reliever Daniel Winkler, who has been up and down between Atlanta and Triple-A Gwinnett much of the season, and Class A pitcher Tristan Beck.
After signing a $62 million, four-year contract with San Francisco, Melancon failed to remain the dominant closer he had been with Pittsburgh and Washington — in part because of injuries. He had just 15 saves in his two-plus seasons with the Giants.
The 34-year-old right-hander is 4-2 with a 3.50 ERA in 43 appearances and 46 1/3 innings this season. He waived a no-trade clause to join the Braves after his wife gave the green light.
“She’s running the show here,” Melancon said after his bags were packed in the visiting clubhouse at Philadelphia. “After we talked and realized it’s Atlanta, a really good situation over there, we decided it’s OK. It’s a winning team. They got a lot of young talent, a lot of upside there.”
Unlike Martin, Greene and Melancon are under Atlanta’s control for 2020. Greene will be eligible for free agency and figures to get a sizable raise over the $4 million he’s making this season. Melancon is set to make $14 million in the final year of his big deal, which the Braves will fully assume.
“That was part of it, no doubt,” Anthopoulos said. “That adds value. You want contractual control.”
He said the flurry of moves at the trade deadline pushed Atlanta well over its planned budget for 2019, but the GM was quick to point out that the much-maligned ownership group signed off on spending the extra money without much hesitation.
Liberty Media has come under fire in the community for zealously guarding its checkbook despite getting a new suburban ballpark that was largely paid for with some $400 million in public funding.
“We’re a significant chunk over our allocated budget for the current year,” Anthopoulos said.
The Braves also made a pair of minor moves to bolster their depth heading into the stretch run. Catcher John Ryan Murphy was acquired from Arizona for cash, while outfielder Lane Adams returned to the organization on a minor league deal.
Murphy, who hit .177 with four homers and seven RBIs in 25 games for the Diamondbacks, provides an insurance policy behind Brian McCann and Tyler Flowers. Adams gives the team another outfielder with Markakis sidelined until at least mid-September because of a fractured wrist.
Adams played with the Braves the last two seasons, combining to hit .267 with seven homers, 26 RBIs and 11 stolen bases.
AP Sports Writers Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia, Janie McCauley in San Francisco and Joe Reedy in Los Angeles contributed to this report.