The Atlanta Braves made a five-player deal Saturday to upgrade their outfield and an already formidable bullpen, acquiring Rick Ankiel and right-hander Kyle Farnsworth from Kansas City for three players.
The NL East leaders are trying to fend off a charge by second-place Philadelphia, which had cut a seven-game deficit to 3½ entering play on Saturday. The Phillies also made one of baseball's most high-profile trades this week, acquiring starter Roy Oswalt from Houston.
Atlanta sent reliever Jesse Chavez, outfielder Gregor Blanco and minor league pitcher Tim Collins to the Royals. Kansas City included cash in the deal.
Ankiel joins an outfield that currently features rookie Jason Heyward in right, Melky Cabrera in center and Eric Hinske in left. The Braves demoted struggling outfielder Nate McLouth — who started a team-leading 52 games in center — to the minors four days ago with a .168 average.
"Ankiel's a tremendous outfielder, a great athlete," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "Hopefully he helps solidify things out there in center."
The 31-year-old Ankiel batted .261 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 27 games for the Royals, who signed him to a one-year, $3.25 million deal. He has missed time with an injured right thigh.
"I know he hasn't played much, but since he's been back, he's played well," manager Bobby Cox said. "He's great defensively. He's really, really good."
Atlanta's offense has struggled lately, but still ranks among the top in the NL. The Braves are fifth in batting average and runs scored.
Farnsworth joins a bullpen that is already one of the NL's best, bringing the Braves a hard thrower who can help them get to closer Billy Wagner. The 34-year-old Farnsworth is 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA. He's in the second year of a two-year, $9.25 million deal.
Atlanta's bullpen leads the NL with 21 wins and is second to San Diego with a 3.22 ERA.
"Farnsworth — we know he can be really dominant," Jones said. "I think that moves out bullpen to top-notch. When we get to the seventh inning with a lead, I like our chances."
Both players were expected to join the Braves for the final game of their series against the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday. The Reds won 5-2 on Saturday.
"It's been busy," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "I'm very comfortable with our strategy. It all unfolded originally with Alberto Callaspo and Scott Podsednik. We felt we needed to get out in front, figuring it was going to be a busy trade deadline."
"We were certainly necessarily motivated to move Rick. The deal had to feel right for us. The three we got in return for Rick and Kyle Farnsworth made sense for us," he said. "It is great for Rick and Kyle to join an organization that is 3½ games up in the pennant race and go there and send Bobby (Cox) out in style."
The 26-year-old Chavez spent his first full season in the majors with Pittsburgh last year. He went 3-2 with a 5.89 ERA in 28 games with the Braves. The 26-year-old Blanco was called up from Triple-A Gwinnett before Saturday's game, then dealt away. He has batted a combined .269 in eight minor league seasons.
The 20-year Collins came to Atlanta on July 14 in a five-player deal that sent shortstop Yunel Escobar to Toronto and brought shortstop Alex Gonzalez to the Braves. The 5-foot-7, 155-pound Collins has pitched at Double-A all season, going 1-0 with a 2.29 ERA in 41 appearances.
Chavez and Blanco will join the Royals on Sunday and Collins will go to Triple-A Omaha.