Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos covered a host of topics of interest in a chat with David O’Brien of The Athletic (subscription link). Of particular hot stove relevance was his discussion of third baseman Josh Donaldson.
While he declined to dish on the team’s interest in hammering out a new deal with Donaldson, who’s a pending free agent, Anthopoulos left clear that the door is open to a return. That’s true even with Austin Riley representing a big-league option at the hot corner. Riley earned praise from the GM for his outfield glovework. Offensively, we’ve seen cause for both promise and concern. Anthopoulos says he’ll “be curious” to see how Riley hits after returning from the injured list, while adding that “long term we still feel the exact same about him.”
“If our best team is with Austin Riley in the outfield and Josh Donaldson at third base, and that makes sense, we’ll do that. … There’s clearly room for both guys; we can see a team with both guys. Problem is, one guy’s a free agent. And I expect the market for him to be strong because of the year that he’s had and what he’s done.”
But what of the final months before Donaldson formally returns to the open market? Is there any possibility of a late-season extension? Addressing the topic generally, Anthopoulos said “there might be a scenario” where the club engages in contract talks during a season. But that’s not idea, he indicated. Ultimately, there’s really no reason to believe Donaldson won’t become a free agent. After all, that was the point of his decision to take a one-year deal in the first place.
There’s some clear spillover to the Atlanta outfield situation. There’ll be room to add there, with Nick Markakis headed for free agency. That’s all the more true if Riley ends up sliding over to third base. It’s an interesting situation for the Braves, who have two highly regarded young outfielders knocking on the door in Cristian Pache and Drew Waters.
Anthopoulos made clear he’s not planning to head into Spring Training next year with a plan to turn over jobs to the young and unproven duo of Pache and Waters. “We love those guys; we think they’re going to be really good players,” Anthopoulos explains. “We just have no idea when. And you can’t go into a season counting on those guys.”
But that doesn’t answer the question of just how aggressive the Braves will be in pursuing outfield help. Riley’s flexibility gives the team options. Ender Inciarte remains a notable part of the picture. Perhaps Markakis will again be a candidate to return. There’s an argument to be made that the Braves ought to pursue a big bat to put alongside superstar Ronald Acuna Jr.
It’s equally arguable that a placeholding/platoon approach would be more sensible, with resources being utilized instead in other areas. In that case, the concept would be to hold down the fort while Pache and Waters make their case for a promotion. As Anthopoulos puts it, the team can and will “find a way to get them up” once the prospects force the situation.