The Braves’ decision to decline their $9MM club option on Eddie Rosario created a vacancy in left field, and the team is still deciding how to go about patching that need. Among internal options, former top infield prospect Vaughn Grissom appears to be the leading candidate. Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos acknowledged that playing Grissom in left field is a possibility “because he’s a tremendous athlete” (link via David O’Brien of The Athletic). Justin Toscano of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that Anthopoulos also said at last week’s GM Meetings that Grissom has already expressed an openness to play anywhere on the field.
Grissom, 23 in January, broke into the Majors on a blistering hot streak in 2022, hitting .347/.398/.558 in his first 103 plate appearances. His bat went cold to close out that season, however, and he didn’t provide much offense in scattershot looks throughout the 2023 campaign. In all, he’s followed those 103 torrid trips to the plate with 133 plate appearances of .240/.293/.289 output. However, Grissom looked like he little to prove in Triple-A this past season, mashing at a .330/.419/.501 rate in a much larger sample of 468 plate appearances.
Though the organization is clearly open to the idea of testing Grissom’s natural athleticism in the outfield, it should be noted that he’s yet to log a single professional inning on the grass. He’s played exclusively shortstop (2140 innings), second base (792 innings) and third base (235 innings) between the big leagues and the minors, playing the two middle infield spots exclusively in the big leagues.
Of course, regular playing time at any of those spots will be hard to come by in 2024. Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley have second base and third base locked down, respectively. Former utilityman Orlando Arcia seized the everyday shortstop job after Dansby Swanson departed in free agency, hitting .264/.321/.420 with 17 home runs in 139 games. It’s fair to point out that Arcia has a limited track record and also faded in the season’s final month (.200/.260/.316 from Sept. 1 onward), but the strength of his season overall should earn him another look in 2024. Besides, one of the very reasons Arcia was given an everyday look at shortstop was due to the organization’s concerns with Grissom’s defensive abilities at the position.
External options abound, with the free-agent market including the likes of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Michael Brantley and Tommy Pham, among others (to say nothing of a potential lower-cost reunion with Rosario). Trade options include Alex Verdugo, Max Kepler and Dylan Carlson, to name just a few. Going with Grissom would allow the Braves to get a longer look at a top homegrown talent while also saving some payroll to allocate to the team’s expected pursuit of a starting pitcher. At the same time, bringing in an external option could free the possibility of including Grissom as part of a trade package to add a starter who might be more cost effective than a free agent.
The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal writes that the Braves expect to pursue at least one arm this offseason, listing longtime division rival Aaron Nola as potential fit (albeit in somewhat speculative fashion) due to his southern roots and his relationship with current Braves pitching coach Rick Kranitz (Nola’s former bullpen/pitching coach in Philly).
Despite their bevy of long-term contract extensions, the Braves have thus far resisted going beyond a $22MM average annual value for any player on their roster. Anthopoulos has spoken in the past as to how that’s not a limitation that’s written in stone, however; the Braves paid Josh Donaldson $23MM on his one-year deal, for instance, and they’re surely held interest in free agents who’d command a larger AAV than that. Rosenthal reports that for “the right pitcher,” the Braves would be willing to extend beyond a $22MM AAV.
Whether that’s Nola, NL Cy Young frontrunner Blake Snell, NPB ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto, AL Cy Young finalist Sonny Gray, a trade candidate or an extension candidate (i.e. Max Fried) remains to be seen. Rosenthal points out that the Braves don’t have a Scott Boras client on the current roster — Snell and Yamamoto are repped by Boras — though I’d add that like the $22MM AAV, that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. The Braves have had Boras clients on the roster in recent seasons, Touki Toussaint and Dallas Keuchel among them.
Anthopoulos and Braves CEO Terry McGuirk have both publicly spoken about the expectation that payroll will increase for a third straight season, though much of that uptick in spending will come from the roster that’s already in place. Many players who were signed to long-term contract extensions will see their salaries increase under the terms of those deals. That’s true of Austin Riley (a $5MM increase), Matt Olson ($1MM) and Sean Murphy ($5MM). Re-signed relievers Joe Jimenez ($8MM) and Pierce Johnson ($7MM) will also see increases over last year’s respective salaries of $2.765MM and $5MM. Meanwhile, Fried and A.J. Minter are in line for raises on last year’s respective salaries of $13.5MM and $4.2875MM.
The Braves finished the 2023 season with a payroll just shy of $205MM and more than $245MM of luxury-tax commitments, per Roster Resource. They’re already at $207MM and $236MM per those same projections, though non-tenders and potential trades will impact the bottom line.