Could a slow free agency help the Braves?

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We all knew the coronavirus would have a financial impact on free agency in every sport, but I don’t think anybody saw it being this catastrophic. During the option period, in which teams were forced to pick up or decline options on their players for 2021, several guys who would usually be no-brainers to bring back — like Darren O’Day for the Braves — saw their options decline. This tells us two things: It’s going to be a long slow offseason and expect players to earn a fraction of what they normally would, even the marquee free-agent targets like Trevor BauerGeorge Springer, and Marcell Ozuna.

If you have been following the Braves for long, you are well aware that they are one of the most financially aware teams in the league, especially given how large their fan base is. They will never be the ones to pony up a $200 or $300 million contract, and that will be even more apparent this offseason, as they reported a ton of revenue loss again in the third quarter of 2020.

 

That will severely limit the Braves spending in free agency this offseason and beyond. However, looking at this from a glass-half-full perspective, everyone is dealing with the same issues.

Each MLB suffered during the pandemic shortened season — some more than others — and the uncertainty around the pandemic moving forward will only force more teams to hesitate when inking free agents. For clubs that aren’t planning on being very competitive, they might choose to totally punt the offseason, filling the rest of their roster with bodies willing to make the league-minimum. The only teams that I expect to spend are the ones that have a clear shot at winning, which will force a lot of high-quality free agents to take quite a bit less than they would normally.

We will most likely see players take one-year contracts in hopes that the market resets itself by next offseason. This should play in the Braves’ favor, who are known to be hesitant when it comes to signing free-agents to multi-year contracts. I expect there to be a ton of really good, experienced starting pitchers willing to take one-year, $5 million deals and below, and that could be the case for the top guys as well. 

Trevor Bauer has already stated in the past that he would like to sign nothing but one-year deals. I don’t know how much of that is true, but it may be his best bet this offseason. Typically, he would see offers in the $200 million range, but that number could be cut in half under the current circumstances. It’s probably best that he settle for a one-year deal this offseason and hope he can find something better next time around.

The same could be said for the Braves’ own, Marcell Ozuna, who is coming off a career-year. Typically, he’d be in for a giant payday, but I can’t see him coming close to the $100 million figure that he desires. It may be best for him to take a short-term deal in Atlanta and re-evaluate his options a year from now.

If this is the case, I would expect most of these guys to want to join contenders. Who wants to take a substantial pay cut and play for a perennial loser? It should be pretty easy for Alex Anthopoulos to make a case for veterans to come to Atlanta on short, team-friendly contracts.

So yes, the Braves were severely damaged financially by the coronavirus. However, so was the rest of the league, and now the players will feel the effects this offseason. I do not expect to see a ton of multi-year deals, and at the end of the day, there should be a lot of high-quality free agents available for a fraction of the price that they would typically cost. It’s going to be a slow winter, but eventually, the Braves should be able to add the right combination of pieces to make them better heading into the 2021 season.

 

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