The Braves still have plenty of work to do to clinch their fourth consecutive NL East title, and hopefully, a deep playoff run will come after that. However, it’s never too early to start thinking about next season.
Over the last month, Clint Manry and I have broken down what a potential rotation and lineup could look like for 2022, and it’s tantalizing, to say the least. Because Alex Anthopoulos has already done most of the work — like extending Charlie Morton and Travis d’Arnaud — the Braves don’t have to do much to put together an elite squad on paper. With that being said, a few things must be taken care of this offseason if Atlanta wants to be World Series contenders once again.
4. Sign Another Catcher
People thought it was crazy when I wanted the Braves to bring back Tyler Flowers last offseason, but after watching this season unfold, they should understand why. Neither Alex Jackson nor William Contreras was ready for major-league ball, and the Braves ended up playing Kevan Smith and Stephen Vogt for most of the season, who were both significantly less productive than Flowers.
With Travis d’Arnaud back in the fold next season, I would once again like the Braves to bring in a competent veteran to back him up. Alex Jackson is no longer in the organization, and while I don’t believe Contreras is too far from being major-league ready, I would like to see him get a full season in AAA. He’s been robbed of a lot of development time in Gwinnett because of COVID in 2020 and the lack of depth on the major-league roster this season, forcing him to play in Atlanta. If at some point he’s ready to take the reins behind d’Arnaud next season, I’m all for it, but the Braves need a better backup plan going into 2022.
3. Improve The Bullpen
The Achilles heel of the Braves this season has been the bullpen. Tyler Matzek and Luke Jackson have been fantastic. Jacob Webb looks to be developing into another reliable piece, and Will Smith isn’t as bad as the fan base wants to make him out to be — even if he shouldn’t be closing games. After that, though, the Braves could use a complete revamping of their relief core. Alex Anthopoulos needs to prioritize this and sign several relief arms, even if they aren’t marquee names.
2. Bring Back Outfielders
Alex Anthopoulos saved the season by trading for Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario, and Jorge Soler — completely revamping Atlanta’s outfield and bench. With the investigation surrounding Marcell Ozuna still ongoing, it’s imperative the Braves bring at least two of their new acquisitions back for 2022.
Joc Pederson has a mutual option for next season worth $10 million. Based on the way he’s performed this year, I doubt the Braves will bring him back at that price. Adam Duvall also has a mutual option for next season worth $7 million. However, in his case, I believe he will opt out in search of more money. If he does opt-out, he will be arbitration eligible for the fourth and final time, which would likely pay him more than the $7 million he would be owed if he opted in. Either way, the Braves need to make him a priority. I wouldn’t mind if they even reached a multi-year agreement with him. Duvall and Atlanta seem to be a perfect match, and Anthopoulos shouldn’t make the same mistake he did last offseason by letting him walk.
Rosario and Soler are both unrestricted free agents, and the Braves need to bring at least one of them back — if not both. Neither should cost too much, and they very well might settle for one-year deals to stay in Atlanta in an attempt to improve their stock even more. With the DH likely coming to the National League, you can never have too many bats, and these two have been critical to the Braves resurgence.
1. Re-Sign Freddie Freeman
Was there ever a doubt about what #1 on this list was going to be? Freeman is the face of the franchise and the captain of the clubhouse. There’s absolutely no way the Braves can afford to let him walk this offseason. The article that was released earlier this week that seemed to paint Freeman as some sort of bully couldn’t be further from the truth. The rest of the Braves aren’t afraid of him; they have that much respect for him. Freeman is the beating heart of the Atlanta Braves. Without him, this team is no longer a legitimate World Series contender.