Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei briefly discussed the Braves offseason outlook in a television appearance on CNBC yesterday. In the course of a ten-minute interview with CNBC’s David Faber, Maffei indicated that the club plans to “spend some money” this winter, even after the club’s recent addition of roughly $30MM in new commitments to their 2020 payroll.
“We’re well set up…with young talent,” Maffei told Faber before referencing Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies as some of the club’s key young players. “But in addition, we just signed Will Smith–probably the best reliever in baseball. Yeah, we’re going to spend some money, and we have relative freedom under the cap and in our payroll compared to most people, including the Mets.”
These comments, which begin around 6:44 in the above-linked video, can’t be taken as an outright declaration that Atlanta is expecting to shake up the free agent market with a number of high-dollar-figure pacts–after all, phrases like “some money” and “relative freedom” really only tell us that the club isn’t completely hamstrung from a financial perspective
Also from the cold water department: though Maffei references the division-rival Mets, it seems like a stretch to interpret his comments as anything more than a playful barb toward a division rival–consider also that Faber, his interviewer on Thursday, is a self-professed Mets fan. Besides that, it’s simply unlikely, given club history, that Maffei and his associates at Liberty intend to contend with New York from a payroll perspective.
All of these caveats aside, Maffei’s relative candor here shouldn’t be taken lightly–especially considering these comments come at a time when several club executives and ownership figures around the league have cited luxury tax and flexibility concerns as harbingers of quiet offseasons to come. And, to be certain, the Liberty-led Braves do indeed have an enviable slate of contract commitments moving forward, especially when considering the way recent extensions have locked in premier performers at affordable rates.
As it stands, Albies and Acuna are the only Atlanta players under guaranteed contracts past 2021. Readers will remember that the all-world Acuna was locked up via an eight-year, $100MM extension last year; ditto for Albies, who will earn $30MM from 2020-2025. Those deals, regardless of one’s personal feelings about them, should allow the club a great deal of flexibility in its long-term outlook–and that’s before factoring the bevy of quality young players it still maintains at team-control rates, including Mike Soroka, Kyle Wright, and Austin Riley.
The Braves sported a season-ending payroll of $144MM in 2019, and, as things stand now, their 2020 Opening Day number sits at roughly $106MM after accounting for forthcoming arb awards for nine players. The club will see $24.75MM in 2020 commitments to four players–Mark Melancon, Nick Markakis, Tyler Flowers, and Darren O’Day–come off of the books at the conclusion of next season. It’s unclear if the “some money” Maffei refers to may be an additional commitment that would inch Atlanta closer to last season’s season-ending figure, but it is worth noting that the club has room in its long-term outlook for a sizable addition. Given their activity this offseason and Maffei’s comments, it would seem they’re inclined to agree.
So far this offseason, the club has signed Smith while also retaining Chris Martin, Darren O’Day, Tyler Flowers, and Markakis. Atlanta has already emerged as one of the winter’s early players, and there could clearly be more action for Braves fans to anticipate in the coming weeks and months: just yesterday, we heard that Atlanta “checked in” on Yasmani Grandal before his signing with the White Sox; they’ve also been said to “have some interest” in former Cardinals and Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna; As for the third base position recently vacated by Josh Donaldson? GM Alex Anthopoulos has been said to be making an “aggressive push” to retain the bringer of rain, while also keeping one eye trained on former Royals and Brewers third baseman Mike Moustakas.
Of course, a less conservative rendering of Maffei’s recent comments may lead us to believe that the club is intent on making a serious addition to the payroll–perhaps in the form of Donaldson, or an even bigger fish. The Braves have never exceeded $122MM in Opening Day commitments, but it’s fair to wonder whether recent playoff appearances–and early playoff exits–may encourage club leaders to lock in a March roster more closely situated toward 2019’s $144MM year-end ceiling. As our own Jeff Todd recently noted, the club could also open up another few inches of headroom by finding a landing spot for Inciarte or Shane Greene, perhaps giving the club upwards of $40MM+ in theoretical payroll space.