At this point, how does anybody in Braves Country still doubt this man? Last offseason, Alex Anthopoulos navigated the many traps one could fall into when trying to make a hungry fan base happy while also trying to keep the Braves championship window open for as long as possible.
AA avoided the cries for J.T. Realmuto. Remember, there was actually a massive chunk of Atlanta fans that were disappointed the Braves didn’t give up Mike Soroka or Max Friend and Austin Riley for a catcher… what a disaster that would have been. He didn’t have any interest in mega-contracts that no longer look so glamorous a year later, and instead, took a calculated risk on Josh Donaldson that ended up paying substantial dividends. All of this, along with a bevy of other lesser moves, led to Atlanta winning 97 games – which could have easily been 100 had injuries not taken a toll over the final couple of months – and their second consecutive NL East title.
Sure, the Braves didn’t achieve their ultimate goal. But like I said, injuries severely limited this team’s ceiling in the postseason. The point is, Anthopoulos did everything possible for this team to make a legitimate run at a World Series ahead of schedule, and he mortgaged none of the future to make that happen. There was a time last season where the Braves were championship caliber. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in October, and sometimes, that’s how the cookie crumbles. But there’s no debating Anthopoulos continuously made moves to put Atlanta in an ideal position to chase championships for years to come, and he showed that again last night with the signing of Marcell Ozuna to a one-year pact.
Fangraphs projected Ozuna to fetch something around four years and $60-70 million this offseason, and rumors suggested he was looking for at least a three-year contract if not four. It’s clear an offer like that never came to fruition, so what did Anthopoulos do? Snuck on in there and made a similar pitch to the one he gave Donaldson a year ago, convincing the 29-year-old left-fielder to sign a one-year, prove-it contract that could be beneficial for both sides.
I’m well aware some Braves fans are tired of one-year contracts, but you shouldn’t be. There is no such thing as a bad one-year deal, and in this case, that saying rings especially true. The primary concern when looking at both Marcell Ozuna and Nick Castellanos was the length of the deal. Like it or not, mitigating risk is always going to be something Anthopoulos has to take into account. Given the financial restraints placed on him by Liberty Media, one abysmal long-term signing could cut Atlanta’s championship window in half. By convincing Ozuna to take a deal like this, it eliminates all future risk and will allow the Braves to reload as they see fit this time next offseason when their outfield situation changes drastically.
Looking at Atlanta’s roster before the Ozuna signing, their most glaring hole was in left field. Austin Riley and Johan Camargo should be able to serviceably replace Josh Donaldson, but Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall would have been a noticeable weakness. However, the long-term outlook in the outfield is much more promising.
Atlanta’s top two prospects, Drew Waters and Cristian Pache, both made their Gwinnett debuts in August of last season. One of them will likely be ready as early as this year and possibly both. Unless the Braves were planning on making a trade, they did not want to block the future of their outfield, which makes the Ozuna signing that much more perfect.
The Braves have the opportunity for a one-year trial run with an All-Star caliber left fielder, preventing them from rushing either of their top prospects. If they love what they see, they can bring him back for the long-term and include Pache or Waters in a blockbuster deal, improving their roster even more for a championship run. If he doesn’t work out, or they don’t feel the need to re-sign him, Pache and Waters should be more than ready for Opening Day in 2021.
Once again – with everyone doubting him following Josh Donaldson’s decision to go to Minnesota – Anthopoulos pulls off the type of wizardry that reminds us why we are not the GM. The Braves are now loaded up for a run at the World Series in 2020, still have all of their prospect capital, and will be exceptionally financially flexible going into 2021. Take a bow, Alex Anthopoulos.