2. Using A.J. Smith-Shawver as trade bait could have gotten the Braves a bigger rotation upgrade
For the Braves to have gotten a better pitcher than Sale, they would've needed to give up more than Elder. Enter A.J. Smith-Shawver, Atlanta's top prospect who would've been of interest to any team out there.
Smith-Shawver burst onto the scene in 2023, beginning the year with A+ Rome only to make it all the way to the majors. He'd make six appearances for the Braves (five starts) and post a 4.26 ERA in 25.1 innings of work, and would pitch well enough to make their postseason roster.
Parting with their top prospect and the 69th-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline would not be easy, however, a deal headlined by Smith-Shawver and Elder could've landed the Braves an elite and reliable arm like Cease to stick right behind the dynamic duo of Spencer Strider and Max Fried.
60% of the rotation being filled with giant question marks is not what a team trying to win the World Series wants. Trading an arm as talented as Smith-Shawver is clearly not something Anthopoulos is trying to do either, but that's how Atlanta could've gotten a true difference-maker to make their rotation both elite and reliable.