Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos held court with the media today after the team announced a new deal for manager Brian Snitker. David O’Brien of The Athletic discussed many of the comments in a subscription post that’s well worth a full read for fans. We’ll run through some key items here.
The chat was interesting on several levels, even if the veteran executive was cautious not to divulge anything that might tip his hand. Anthopoulos touched upon some of the competing priorities facing the organization, the balancing of which will shape the team for years to come.
Even in terms of perceived needs, there’s room for debate. As Anthopoulos noted, in reference to pending free agents Nick Markakis and Kurt Suzuki, “everyone’s under control, except for those two spots.” There’s a world, then, in which the organization largely relies upon existing options, including its intriguing slate of rising talent, while perhaps weighing reunions with those two veterans or otherwise plugging those gaps with outside additions.
But Anthopoulos certainly did not sound like he was preparing only to take a straightforward approach to filling those holes. “We’re going to look to upgrade a lot of areas,” he said. “We can improve in the rotation, the bullpen, offensively — in so many areas.”
Indeed, that comment makes it seem as if just about every part of the roster is potentially in play for change. In seeking improvement, though, the club will need also to balance the pulls of relative certainty versus upside, as well as present versus future value.
Anthopoulos acknowledged as much, noting that he “wouldn’t force a deal right now that will limit [the team] in years to come.” While he made that comment in reference to potential free agent signings that might weigh down future payrolls, it applies just as handily to far-away prospects that could be utilized as trade capital or kept to help form future Braves rosters. Particularly given that the Atlanta organization was slapped with fairly significant penalties for international signing malfeasance under the prior front office regime, drawing from the stock of lower-level talent would arguably be short-sighted.
It’s not terribly difficult to see where things could be headed, then. The penalties did not impact the Braves’ broad pool of upper-level talent. It’s an organization rich with young major-leaguers and promising prospects playing in the high minors, not all of whom are held in equal esteem by the organization and not all of whom will fit onto the 25-man roster. And now that Anthopoulos has been at the helm for a full season, O’Brien notes, he will have a firmer sense of the internal valuations to be placed on those assets.
Of course, moving players who are at or near the MLB level generally means giving up the ability to fill roster spots productively at bargain rates. Acquiring proven, high-level major-leaguers who are still playing for peanuts is next to impossible, even for an organization with a talent pool as deep as Atlanta’s. More likely, the club will be most successful at pursuing players who have at least reached arbitration or who are playing on attractive guaranteed contracts — players, that is, who are worth more than they are being paid, but aren’t still at or near the league-minimum.
Bottom line: improving and deepening a major-league roster almost invariably means adding salary, even if the biggest moves are made via trade. Anthopoulos wasn’t willing to say, though, how much he’ll have to work with. He claimed, in fact, not to know himself while also noting that the team “may decide to hold back some money for July.” While details evidently won’t be forthcoming — “there’s just no upside for us to divulge that stuff”; fair enough — Anthopoulos did claim that his front office “will have a good amount of money to work with.” MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweeted today that indications are the club could add as much as $60MM in salary for 2019, though even that seems to come with some caveats. Plus, the Braves will seemingly be wary of over-committing future balance sheets.
It seems the strong preference will be to part with some upper level talent to achieve cost-conscious but established pieces, rather than getting carried away with the bidding in free agency. Certainly, the Braves GM strongly indicated that fans hoping to land top free agents Bryce Harper or Manny Machado will be disappointed. “There’s the obvious big names up at the top, but I don’t know for our club, with what we have, that the value’s going to be there in the free-agent market,” Anthopoulos said. He suggested that the touchstone of value will govern — even if that means waiting for the middle of the 2019 season or beyond for certain desired acquisitions.
All told, the chat obviously does little to set a clear course. It’s evident still that the Braves could pursue any number of opportunities, in free agency and especially trade. Perhaps it’s also possible that they’ll end up re-uniting with Markakis and Suzuki while otherwise only picking at the edges of the roster, though certainly that does not sound like the hoped-for or expected outcome.
Even if they largely tread water, Anthopoulos’s comments nicely frame the tough but exciting choices that await. With a rather ambitious scope in mind entering the winter, it’s possible to imagine the club at least considering upgrades at all but a few positions on the roster. And if there’s a real desire for impactful roster additions, without the appetite for paying premium free agent price tags, then it’s possible we’ll see a creative, free-wheeling, multi-faceted winter of action in Atlanta.