I’ve given Alex Anthopoulos plenty of credit for many of his moves as Braves general manager. He’s avoided landmines, made a couple of brilliant one-year signings and found several diamonds in the rough that have become significant contributors in Atlanta.
Over his tenure, Alex Anthopoulos has become the king of the one-year deal, and that’s probably because of the restrictions Liberty Media has placed on him financially. He feels much more comfortable handing out lucrative one-year contracts that carry zero future financial risks than multi-year contracts. Those worked like a charm when he signed Josh Donaldson and Marcell Ozuna in back-to-back offseasons, but they haven’t been as successful when it comes to pitchers.
The Braves inked Dallas Keuchel in the middle of the 2019 season, hoping he would give the rotation a boost. It was a one-year, $20 million (pro-rated) contract. Keuchel wasn’t abysmal like some of the other candidates we will talk about in this post, but he certainly wasn’t worth the hefty contract Anthopoulos handed to him. He recorded a 3.75 ERA over 19 starts and was even more ineffective in the playoffs, posting a 4.50 ERA in two outings (eight innings). Once again, not terrible, but certainly not what you’re expecting when you offer someone $13 million for less than 20 starts.
But as I said, that pales in comparison to what Anthopoulos did the following offseason when he signed Cole Hamels and Will Smith. Hamels was signed to a one-year, $18 million (pro-rated, of course, since it was a 60-game season) contract, and he wound up pitching a total of 3.1 innings. Typically, I’m not one to blame general managers for injuries because they are impossible to predict, but that changes when offering a 36-year-old pitcher with a lengthy injury history nearly $20 million. Signing Hamels was a major blunder by Anthopoulos, and it might not even be the worst one he made that offseason.
Reliever Will Smith was handed a three-year, $40 million contract, which was the largest contract he had ever handed out to a free agent at the time. Unfortunately, Smith had a bout with COVID to begin 2020, which really hindered his usage at the beginning of the season. He never really found a groove, leading to a 4.50 ERA in just 16 innings. It’s fair to chalk up his lack of success in 2020 to COVID, but that’s not the case this season, as he’s been equally as ineffective through 18 innings, posting a 4.50 ERA to go along with a 1-4 record. Smith was handed closer money, but all he’s been so far is a sub-par reliever, and he still has one year, $14 million guaranteed left on his contract.
Perhaps Smith’s contract made Anthopoulos a little gun-shy because he reverted to strictly one-year contracts to pitchers this past offseason, signing Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton very early in the offseason. The hope is that they would stabilize a rotation that was a mess in 2020, but so far, they’ve only contributed to the problem. Smyly has recorded -0.4 WAR through six starts this season, thanks to a 5.11 ERA. Morton hasn’t been much better, either, posting a 4.60 ERA and 0.2 WAR through eight starts.
There’s still plenty of time for those two to turn it around, but based on Anthopoulos’ track record, I’m not so sure they will. The Braves have $40 million committed to Smyly, Morton, and Smith in 2021 alone. Over the last two seasons, they’ve doled out $71 million to those three plus Cole Hamels. It’s no coincidence the Braves seem to have a pitching problem every year, whether it be in the bullpen or rotation. The man calling the shots simply hasn’t done his job in this area.
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