MLB free agency is only in its infancy, but it’s off to a pretty firey start, especially if you’re a Braves fan. Anthopoulos was the first GM to make a splash by signing Will Smith to a three-year deal worth nearly $40 million. He also took care of some of his own by bringing back the likes of Nick Markakis, Tyler Flowers, Darren O’Day, and recently, Chris Martin. Until today, no other team had joined the spending party, but only hours ago, Yasmani Grandal signed a monster four-year, $73 million contract with the White Sox.
Grandal was a name I’m sure the Braves had to be considering. Atlanta will need to snag a primary backstop to pair with Tyler Flowers. However, at that price tag – and with there being so many other areas to improve – the Braves were never going to make a competitive offer to Grandal, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still in the market for some bigger fish this offseason.
With Chris Martin coming back, Atlanta has over $100 million committed to its 2020 payroll already. Last year’s payroll sat north of $140 million at the end of the season. Given Anthopoulos would like at least $5-10 million for midseason additions, the Braves are working with about $25-35 million this offseason – if payroll were to stay the same in 2020.
However, there are reasons to believe that payroll could be slightly higher this time around. Spending big-time dollars on bullpen help is like gravy. It’s usually necessary, but only after dolling out all of your hard-earned money on an elegant turkey. The Braves aren’t going to spend $40 million on a relief arm without addressing their more valuable areas of need.
Those needs are (in order): third base, starting pitching, and catcher.
The obvious target at third base is Josh Donaldson. In no way are the Braves out of the running for their star third baseman just because they signed Will Smith. By now, I’m sure Alex Anthopoulos has a number in mind (and it’s a big one) that he is willing to offer Donaldson. If a team goes over and beyond that number to sign him, the Braves may have to move on. However, if Donaldson goes elsewhere, expect the Braves to be all-in on Moustakas, who they have already been linked to this offseason.
Depending on which third baseman they land will probably impact the starting pitchers they can afford. If they sign Josh Donaldson, they will have to spend wisely to stay under their $140M payroll from last season. Now that Yasmani Grandal is off the market, I don’t expect Atlanta to invest too much money into the catcher’s position. However, that still would not leave them with much cash to add to their rotation.
A trade is possible, but I also believe ownership is showing signs of opening up their pockets this offseason. It seems unfathomable that Atlanta would sign Smith without having at least $25 million AAV tucked away for Josh Donaldson and some money to address their starting rotation in a somewhat substantial way, which would put them on track to cruise past their payroll for last season.
I thought my hope for the Braves to finally push all in and go for it while they are paying Ozzie Ablies and Ronald Acuña pennies reached an all-time high after the Smith signing. Then this piece by Tim Tucker of the AJC came out today outlining the words from Braves executive Mike Plant, who said, “We’re set up to win, and we’re going after it.”
Plant went on to talk about the boost of revenues – both at the gate and the surrounding area (The Battery) – citing that The Battery “is complementing our objective of winning a World Series.” He also sat up and guaranteed investors that he will one day be in front of them with a World Series trophy.
I’m not one to get caught up in the words of an executive to his investors because they often say whatever it is you want to hear, but I do acknowledge actions. And the swift way Anthopoulos has acted in addressing the bullpen, coupled with Plant’s dialogue, makes me believe something may be different this time around.
Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg remain a pipe dream, but the Braves seem to be much more focused on championships rather than division titles this year, and they know they are going to have to make some significant moves for that to happen.
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)