During a wide-reaching interview that any Braves fan will want to check out in its entirety, Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos confirmed to Jeff Schultz of The Athletic that he’s been told by ownership he’ll have the ability to “add payroll at the deadline.”
It’s common for teams to leave room for in-season maneuvering when making their offseason transactions, but this sort of direct acknowledgment from a baseball operations leader is still of note — particularly on the heels of an offseason where virtually every club in the game had to work with more budgetary constraints than usual. The Braves were no exception, as they spent heavily to address the rotation and to re-sign Marcell Ozuna but appeared to be on a rather strict budget beyond those moves. The bullpen went largely unaddressed, though the team did ultimately bring Shane Greene back into the mix on an affordable one-year deal in early May.
There’s a vast array of directions the Braves can choose to go as they look to bolster the roster, though as with most clubs, they’re likely several weeks away from making any actual transactions. Sellers often prefer to wait until the market has more competition, and the Braves themselves right now probably want to take more time to evaluate the roster. Atlanta is five games out of first place at the moment and three games under .500. They’ll presumably operate as a buyer, given the generally underwhelming performance of the entire NL East, but a prolonged losing streak could send them in another direction, of course.
It’s also quite likely that the Braves want to gather more information on internal reinforcements before spending what still figures to be a limited amount of available resources. To that end, Anthopoulos notably reveals that he’s optimistic the Braves will get each of Mike Soroka, Travis d’Arnaud and Huascar Ynoa back at some point in the month of August.
The general assumption has been that Ynoa, who fractured his hand after punching the bench in the dugout after a poor outing, would make his way back in the season’s second half. But that hasn’t at all been clear regarding d’Arnaud and particularly regarding Soroka. The veteran d’Arnaud has been out since May 1 after tearing a ligament in his thumb that required surgery.
Soroka, meanwhile, opened the year on the injured list while wrapping up rehab from the Achilles tear that limited him to just three starts in 2020. But he felt some discomfort in his right shoulder that slowed his rehab, and once he ramped up in earnest, he experienced discomfort in his surgically repaired Achilles tendon, which prompted exploratory surgery. Anthopoulos declined to go into much detail but noted that the Braves received “good news” on the right-hander.
With d’Arnaud out, young William Contreras has stepped up with a .240/.313/.460 showing in 112 plate appearances. His bat has cooled since a hot start, but that production tops the output from d’Arnaud in the season’s first month. Of course, the veteran was brilliant for Atlanta in 2020 — the first season of a two-year, $16MM deal.
If the team feels confident that Soroka, d’Arnaud and Ynoa can return at some point in August, that could lessen any temptation to allocate some of the prospect capital and financial resources to rotation upgrades or catching help. That’d make the bullpen and the outfield far likelier targets for outside additions. Braves relievers have a collective 4.77 ERA, which ranks fifth-worst in the Majors. Atlanta outfielders, as a group, rank 10th in the Majors with a 104 wRC+ at the plate, but nearly all of their production has come from Ronald Acuna Jr. Non-Acuna Braves outfielders are batting a combined .215/.294/.356.
The trade market out to feature various outfield and bullpen options — you can peruse our initial Top 40 trade candidate list for some ideas — but Anthopoulos generally hasn’t been shy about making upgrades on the trade market in the past. With the Braves, he’s made midseason deals to acquire Greene, Chris Martin, Adam Duvall, Kevin Gausman, Darren O’Day, Brad Brach and Mark Melancon. Last year was an unusually quiet deadline for Anthopoulos, but the Braves had a rather comfortable division lead and may not have wanted to expend many resources with only one month of games post-deadline and with an expanded playoff field.
Again, we’re probably weeks away from the Braves or any other club beginning to pursue truly meaningful additions to the roster — a reality Anthopoulos himself acknowledges while discussing a generally open-minded approach to this year’s deadline. The whole interview, which also covers Freddie Freeman, some early thoughts on Contreras’ play and myriad other roster issues, is well worth a full look. But the general takeaway that the Braves will have some financial leeway is an important one, particularly at a time when many other teams won’t have that luxury.
The Yankees, Astros and Red Sox, for instance, are all within $4MM of the luxury-tax barrier. The division-rival Phillies are just shy of $5MM away from the $210MM threshold, while the Padres clock in at about $6MM from the tax line. The Indians and Reds both made substantial payroll cuts over the winter; it’s not yet clear how much (if any) additional salary they’ll be willing to take on.
We likely won’t know the extent to which Atlanta can increase its bottom line. Anthopoulos, like an GM or team president, would never directly tip his hand. However, the very presence of extra resources and the fact that they’re nowhere near the luxury barrier ought to give them some advantage when looking to pry veterans away from other clubs.