Braves: In Alex Anthopoulos we trust

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Ah, here we are — the point in the offseason when there is an abnormally large cult of Braves fans that think Liberty Media refuses to spend a dollar on anything but themselves, and Alex Anthopoulous doesn’t know his head from his ass. I love this time of the year — I really mean that — because it’s the time where I can poke fun at all the naysayers and provide a thorough explanation for why every Braves fan should trust Alex Anthopoulos’s decision-making.

First, let’s start with Liberty Media because they are really the group that people hold a grudge with the most, and understandably so. For years, Liberty Media has pinched pennies and lined their own pockets instead of putting the most competitive team on the field possible. However, recently that has changed, and they deserve some credit.

According to Spotrac, in 2018 — when the Braves finally came out of their rebuild to win their first of three-straight NL East titles — they had a payroll of just over $130 million. That put them right between the Tigers and Orioles — not exactly world-beaters — for the 18th highest payroll in the league. In 2019, they were up to 15th, raising their payroll to up over $140 million. Last season, they dolled out nearly $160 million in salary (before it was pro-rated), putting together a team that finished a run shy of reaching the World Series for the first time since 1999.

Sure, Atlanta isn’t coming close to the powerhouses like the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox when it comes to payroll, but let’s temper our expectations (I know that’s hard). Last season was the most the Braves have spent in franchise history, and even with the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, they may spend even more in 2021. It’s time to cut Liberty Media a little slack (at least for now) and put your trust in the man pulling the strings.

Alex Anthopoulos has done little wrong during his tenure, acting patiently and silently each season while fans scream to the moon for him to make a move. It doesn’t matter if it’s trading for Kris Bryant or re-signing Josh Donaldson; Anthopoulos has blocked out the outside noise and consistently focused on what is good for the franchise — now and in the future.

Signing the Bringer of Rain to a one year deal was a slam dunk, but not bringing him back to Atlanta was a much more difficult decision, and Anthopoulos nailed it by turning to another undervalued superstar — Marcell Ozuna — to take his place. Now, he’s in a very similar situation with Ozuna, who nearly won the Triple Crown last season. I think I speak for everyone in Braves country; we want him back, but Anthopoulos understands it only makes sense if the price is right.

Aside from becoming the king of the one year deal, Anthopoulos has also been fantastic at finding value with much smaller transactions. In 2018, Anibal SanchezBrad Brach, and Jonny Venters were critical to the Braves first of three-straight NL East titles. The following season it was the likes of Luke JacksonAnthony SwarzakMatt Joyce, and Jerry Blevins that helped Atlanta to a second-straight division title. Last season, Travis d’Arnaud came in and was arguably the best offensive catcher in baseball.

Let’s also not forget: it was Anthopoulos that jumped the gun early and got both Acuña and Albies locked into team-friendly contracts.

I’ll admit — even I got on Anthopoulos a bit after last year’s trade deadline when he didn’t pull the trigger on one of the talented starting pitchers and instead settled for Tommy Milone. Who knows? Perhaps that could have been the difference in the NLCS. However, hindsight is 20/20, and none of the good starting pitchers available for trade turned out to be worth their asking price in the second half of last season. Mike Clevinger was shelfed with an elbow injury and will miss all of 2021. Still, he traded prospects with a pulse to the Orioles for Tommy Milone — that’s pretty egregious.

There are also other instances where I’ve been critical of Anthopoulos, like when he failed to improve the bullpen following the 2018 season — when the Braves had one of the worst relief cores in baseball. If it weren’t for Luke Jackson saving the bullpen’s ass every night for the first 100 games, Atlanta might not have even made the playoffs.

Anthopoulos has not been perfect, but year in and year out, he’s made the Braves a better team, and he’s done it with a middle of the road budget and without parting ways with any of his best prospects. Because of that, Atlanta has a championship window as large as anyone’s in the majors.

So, I know this offseason has been a painful grind for those of you waking up hoping there will be news, but it’s been that way for every team — not just the Braves. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Anthopoulos is working the phones constantly, evaluating all his options, and has multiple backup plans in place. He’s done plenty enough over the last four years to earn the trust of the fan base.

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