Braves: Is Jacob DeGrom destined to come to Atlanta?

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The Braves are currently at an all-time high. Fresh off a World Series and now one of, if not the hottest team in baseball, it’s hard to imagine things getting much better, but somehow they did over the weekend. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, not only is Jacob DeGrom expected to opt out of his contract with the Mets this offseason, but the Braves are thought to be the favorites to land him in free agency.

DeGrom has a $30.5 million player option that he can decline at season’s end in hopes of landing an even more lucrative deal on the open market. His injury history is worrisome, but the talent alone will have teams lining up to take a gamble on him. In my lifetime, DeGrom is the best pitcher I’ve ever seen with healthy, and all signs point to him still having plenty left in the tank at 34-years-old. He still hums the ball up over 100 MPH and possesses arguably the nastiest slider in the game.

The Braves signing DeGrom has been something I’ve joked about for a couple of years now, knowing he would eventually opt out after the 2022 season, but it’s never felt as real as it does today. With Charlie Morton potentially heading for retirement, the Braves will have a need for another frontline starting pitcher this offseason, and they’ve been in on some marquee names in free agency over the last couple of years. Most recently, they were linked to Justin Verlander before he signed a two-year deal with the Astros.

Money shouldn’t be an issue, either. The Braves’ top priority will likely be re-signing Dansby Swanson, but they should be able to take care of that and make a serious run at DeGrom. Payroll went up considerably in 2022 following their World Series run, and there’s no reason it won’t be significantly higher in 2023. Attendance at Truist Park is better than it’s ever been, and back before the season, Braves President Terry McGuirk discussed how he envisioned payroll to continue to grow as fans embraced the team. 

We started last year with the 14th highest payroll (of the 30 teams), and it wasn’t too long ago that we were in the low 20s. Our goal — and the philosophy of what we tried to build here — was to get to a top-10 payroll as quickly as we could within the normal growth cycles. And we are there.

This year, we believe we will be a top-10 payroll, and I’d like to march up that list, too. But I’ll take little steps before I can take a few bigger steps. We are not No. 10 in payroll; we probably are going to be No. 8 this year. It hasn’t all settled in yet (with final opening-day roster decisions yet to be made).

Our vision back when we moved here (to Truist Park) was that, as the fans embraced this, as our team began to win, as what we were hoping would happen happened, (it would) give us more economic means to put back into this whole operation.

The economic reality is … that we can compete for a championship every year. That is what our goal is, too. I don’t see anything taking us off this (path) for the foreseeable future.

It’s scary hours for the rest of the National League. The Braves have a young core of players on ultra-affordable contracts, which will allow them to fill out the rest of the roster with top-of-the-line free agents. I’m not going to say signing DeGrom is a slam dunk, but it’s a legitimate possibility, and if they don’t end up landing him, you can bet they will be courting several other high quality free agents whose primary focus is winning championships.

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