Braves’ president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos, who recently added a World Series victory to his resume, spoke with members of the media today about what the club has planned between now and their upcoming title defense in 2022. When it comes to the budget, Anthopoulos said that it will go up next season, though the exact figure is still being finalized. (Twitter link from David O’Brien of The Athletic.)
It’s hardly surprising that ownership is going to invest some more money into the club, given that they surely saw increased revenues from ticket sales and television viewership during their triumphant march to becoming World Series champions. They began the 2021 season with a payroll over $131MM, the highest opening day figure in franchise history, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. In July, they acquired Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Stephen Vogt and Richard Rodriguez, taking on about $15MM in salary and pushing their season-ending payroll to somewhere in the $145-150MM range. At the moment, their outlook for 2022 is just over $141MM, in the estimation of Jason Martinez of Roster Resource, already fairly close to 2022’s final outlay. Therefore, their offseason strategy will depend upon exactly how much of increase the front office has to work with.
Anthopoulos himself acknowledged that it will be hard to keep all of the outfielders. (Twitter link from Gabe Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.) Soler, Pederson and Rosario are all heading into free agency today, leaving the club with a 2022 outfield of Duvall, Cristian Pache and Guillermo Heredia. Ronald Acuna will retake a spot as soon as he’s healthy but isn’t expected to be ready by opening day. There’s certainly room to add to that group, on paper, as long as there’s money available to do it.
Of course, there’s another area that the club surely wants to dedicate some resources to, and that’s bringing Freddie Freeman back into the fold. When it comes to the slugging first baseman, Anthopoulos said, per Burns, “We’ve made it clear we want him to stay. He wants to stay.” The mutual interest in reuniting is understandable, given that Freeman has been with the organization since they selected him in the second round of the 2007 draft and since has become the face of the franchise, but he’s also 32 years old, meaning this is going to be his best shot to land a huge deal in free agency. As much as he may want to return, he’ll also want to take advantage of his first and potentially only trip to the free agent market and can’t be expected to offer huge hometown discounts.
Freeman has been one of the most consistently-excellent hitters over the past decade or so. Since his 2013 breakout, he’s never had a wRC+ lower than 132 and never produced less than 3.3 fWAR, even including the shortened 2020 campaign. In 2021, he hit 31 home runs and slashed .300/.393/.503, good enough for a wRC+ of 135 and 4.5 fWAR. It’s hard to fathom him doing that in any other uniform at this point, but the Atlanta brass will surely have to put some cash on the barrelhead to keep it that way.