As we all saw this season, the Braves are unbelievably close to finally getting over the hump and winning their first World Series since 1995. However, they have a lot of moving parts this offseason. Some will be retained; others will not, and the production that does not return must be replaced.
Anthopoulos has done a fantastic job each winter, keeping the core together and filling the roster around it with as much talent as possible while also not sacrificing the future with abysmal contracts. That’s not easy to do with a limited payroll, and it could be even more difficult this offseason after revenues were down significantly thanks to COVID-19.
1. Re-Sign Freddie Freeman
Freddie Freeman has been the best first baseman in baseball, but he took it to a new level in 2020 and was the best offensive player in the game. Unless the writers who vote for the award simply weren’t watching, he should run away with the NL MVP award. This is the face of Atlanta, and he’s made it known he wants to stay here for the entirety of his career. However, the Braves aren’t typically the team to hand out mega-contracts. Perhaps Freeman won’t force them to do so and take a hometown discount, but regardless, Alex Anthopoulos needs to work out something before he becomes a free-agent after next season. If Freeman hits the open market, they may lose a bidding war on their best player since Chipper Jones.
2. Figure Out the Cleanup Spot
I’m calling it the cleanup spot because Freddie Freeman typically bats third. However, if the DH remains in the National League, I would imagine he will continue to bat second. Regardless, the Braves need to find someone to protect him in the order. I don’t think there is a fan or person in the organization that wouldn’t love to see Ozuna return on a long-term deal. However, to keep this core together for as long as possible, they may not be able to bring him back. But even if they can’t re-sign Ozuna, they must find a replacement that can provide similar production and protection in the lineup. Anthopoulos seems to have quite the knack for finding players willing to sign one-year, prove-it contracts, and it usually works out for both sides. Perhaps he can do it again this offseason.
3. Bolster the Rotation
There will be many people expecting or hoping to sign guys like Trevor Bauer or Marcus Stroman. I just don’t see that happening, and I also don’t really think it’s necessary. The Braves are adding an ace in the form of Mike Soroka. He, Max Fried, and Ian Anderson will be as good of a top-three as any in baseball, and the Braves still have many more young arms on the horizon. However, as we saw this year, you can never have too much starting pitching, and you can’t just hope that some young arms will pop. The Braves need to add at least one high-quality veteran, preferably on a short-term deal, and there are plenty of options available.
4. Find a Home for Ender Inciarte
This postseason was the writing on the wall for Inciarte. He’s almost certainly done in a Braves uniform. Unfortunately, he has Atlanta on the hook for nearly $9 million in 2021 and has zero trade value. There is a way for the Braves to move him, however. They just have to be willing to part ways with a mid-level prospect. Perhaps that is something they can accomplish. If not, they will lose out on at least one player they hoped to bring back or add.
5. Continue to Strengthen the Bullpen
We saw how valuable a top-flight bullpen can be. The Braves relief core saved them all season long. They are in pretty good shape, but they are losing Shane Greene and Mark Melancon. I would like to bring both of them back, but that may not be possible. Still, the bullpen is much cheaper to improve than starting pitching, and I think Atlanta’s can be even better than it was this past season with a few minor tweaks.
6. Extend Dansby Swanson
Dansby Swanson has proven himself over the last two seasons. He’s a well-above-average shortstop — both offensively and defensively — and a straight-up gamer. He’s the type of player you can undoubtedly win a championship with. Not to mention, he’s a marketing dream for the city of Atlanta. There’s no reason the Braves should be unwilling to work out an extension, paying him for his final two years of arbitration and three to four seasons after that.
7. Improve the Bench
This is last for a reason. The 2020 Braves bench was the best bench they’ve had in a while, but it was exposed a bit in the NLCS when Adam Duvall went down. They could get better in this area. Although the answers might reside internally. Cristian Pache looked MLB ready, and Drew Waters could be at some point next season as well. However, an improvement over Camargo seems necessary at this point, and they could use a power bat off the bench too, especially if there is no DH next season.