To the obsessive Braves’ fans out there, who have been interested in nothing but who the Braves might acquire every second of the last four months: This one is for you.
The front office notably chose not to issue any long-term deals this offseason in hopes that their young talent would provide the boost they needed to take the next step in the right direction. They ignored the possibility of hamstringing themselves by signing the likes of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper; they never even considered handing out multi-year contracts to aging veterans who could potentially block their blossoming stars; they avoided trading away significant future pieces for players they could only control for a couple of years; they stayed true to the rebuilding path that won them the NL East in a landslide a year ago.
And even though it’s only spring training, the young prospects are proving them 100% correct.
After Mike Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman, Sean Newcomb, and Julio Teheran – the Braves have an embarrassment of young arms on the horizon ready to contribute in the rotation or the bullpen as soon as 2019. Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright, Touki Touissant, Kyle Muller, and Max Fried have all been eye-popping in spring training, and Mike Soroka and Luiz Gohara are waiting in the wings with injuries.
There should be little worry about the Braves coming up with a successful five-man rotation by the time the season heats up. So why hand out a lucrative contract to a 30-year old Dallas Keuchel, who has had just as many sub-par seasons as he has had stellar ones?
As far as the bullpen goes, several of these young arms will be contributing by season’s end; A.J Minter is a budding closer’s option; Darren O’Day, Grant Dayton, and others are returning from injuries; Chad Sobotka is an emerging young arm. So why pay top-dollar for an aging closer (even if he is among the best of all-time) when he has shown clear signs of regression?
Just because you have extra money doesn’t mean you have to spend it. If the payroll is higher than it was last year, which I believe to be true, that means it will be even higher in 2020. If the Braves do not waste their money on bad contracts while they wait and see what they have prospect-wise, they are going to have even more money to spend next offseason.
People want to thumb their nose at that idea, but it is 100% conceivable and probably accurate. It’s very possible Anthopoulos looked at what he had heading into this offseason, thought many of his prospects had the potential to be stars and was not going to be convinced to sell low. Thus, allowing for the talent to develop, see what he has, and spend his money the right way in 2020 and 2021, when this team’s championship window was supposed to open in the first place.
The reality is – and everyone around the baseball world knows it, even me and you as Braves’ fans – the Braves were at least a year early last year. They were spectacular but overmatched in the Divisional series, and it would have taken a colossal amount of miracles for them to win the Pennant, or God forbid, top the Red Sox. Adding a Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel is not going to make the difference. Even adding a Bryce Harper or Manny Machado probably wouldn’t have been enough to put them over the hump.
But allowing their unbelievable young talent and prospects develop into stars might do the trick down the road. And for those of you alluding to the fact that not all these prospects are going to be able to play in the majors this year or even the year after; I am well aware. That doesn’t mean they can’t still build value. Kyle Muller is the prime example of that.
Before spring training, Muller wasn’t on many people’s radar. Now, he’s a shoo-in to become a top-100 prospect, and if all the spots are taken in both the rotation and the bullpen, Muller can be a centerpiece in a trade that patches up a hole. You can say the same thing about Christian Pache, who most people would have willingly handed to the Marlins for J.T. Realmuto, now he’s the most untradeable piece in the Braves system after a standout spring training
This isn’t an article meant to defend Liberty Media. They have unfairly put the team in a financial burden ever since they purchased the Braves back in 2007. Liberty Media is the definition of a despicable ownership group. That doesn’t mean I think they are lying about payroll being higher this year.
I just believe Alex Anthopoulos is being wise with his money, realizing payroll will continue to rise and that the Braves window extends way further than 2019. This a young team, who will find out a lot about themselves this season. If they appear ready before the July 31st trade deadline, I am sure Anthopoulos will have a trick or two up his sleeve. But for now, let’s put down the pitchforks and allow the front office to do their job. They know a little bit more about this than we do.