Several contributors over at ESPN recently provided an offseason to-do list of sorts for the teams that were eliminated from playoff contention. Everyone is now chasing the Texas Rangers, who cruised to their franchise’s first World Series while going an unprecedented 11-0 on the road. As far as the biggest offseason priority, they see the Braves needing to add to their bullpen, particularly high leverage arms.
Biggest offseason priority: The Braves are unlikely to pick up all those options on the relievers (probably yes on Yates and no to McHugh and Hand), plus Johnson and Jimenez are free agents, so they could be looking at replacing a sizable chunk of the bullpen — and perhaps not having a lot of flexibility in the payroll to do that. In this era of lights-out relievers, only closer Raisel Iglesias pitched at least 40 innings with an ERA under 3.00, so you can see the desire to find one or two more reliable setup men. Johnson was very effective after coming over from the Rockies, so the Braves might look to re-sign him.
I’ve talked about this length following the Braves exit in the NLDS. The bullpen isn’t what cost the Braves against the Phillies, but it will in the future if Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t make some additions. Thankfully, the Braves seem to be in a hurry to fix the issue. They’ve already re-signed two of their pending free agents in Pierce Johnson and Joe Jimenez before free agency has even begun. That gives them a nice foundation heading into the offseason, but there’s still work to be done.
Because the Braves have already re-signed two key relievers, the starting staff has to be the top priority this winter, which was ESPN’s “under-the-radar priority to watch.”
Under-the-radar priority to watch: The rotation was a mediocre 17th in the majors with a 4.36 ERA — higher than the Mets or Tigers — and 12th in innings pitched. Not a liability, but not a big strength. Spencer Strider, Bryce Elder and Charlie Morton each made 30-plus starts, but Elder faltered after an All-Star first half, while Morton turns 40 in November, so you can’t assume you’ll get the same production from those two. Then we saw what happened when the playoffs rolled around: Morton was out with a finger injury and Max Fried had to pitch through a blister issue. We already know Kyle Wright will miss 2024 with shoulder surgery. Maybe youngsters Jared Shuster and AJ Smith-Shawver will provide better depth in 2024, or maybe Mike Soroka somehow finds himself, but you can see the incentive to bring in a veteran starter.
The rotation is now my top priority, and it’s for several reasons. The first being what we just talked about above regarding the contracts handed to Johnson and Jimenez. The second being the depth of this group.
Kyle Wright is out for the season and Charlie Morton might retire. Beyond that, there is still some uncertainty surrounding Max Fried. He missed most of 2023 with elbow discomfort, which has to be in the back of the mind of Alex Anthopoulos. This is a rotation that is one injury away from being in a serious pickle. They don’t need to just add a middle of the road arm. They need to add one of the top free agent starting pitchers available this winter, which they’ve yet to do since Anthopoulos took over as GM of the Braves.
Offseason prediction: The Braves are as set as any team in baseball with their powerful lineup of players all in the midst of their prime seasons. I don’t see any reason to tinker with that group, and Strider and Fried remain a dynamite 1-2 duo (although 2024 will be Fried’s final season before free agency). Still, I think it’s always worthwhile to tinker around the edges. One reason the Dodgers have managed to win 100 games year after year is they don’t bring back the same team. The Braves can improve their bench (the position players were also unusually healthy in 2023) and improve their bullpen. That’s probably their focus. — Schoenfield
In a lot of ways, Schoenfield is spot on. When it comes to the Braves lineup, it’s the best in baseball and does not need to be tinkered with. The bullpen might only need an addition or two that shouldn’t cost too much money, but as I said before, this rotation needs some juice.
Could they win it all as currently constructed? Possibly, but why risk it?
Atlanta’s rotation is already entering the year hobbled, and injuries have plagued the Braves in each of the last two postseasons. Hope is not a strategy. Alex Anthopoulos and the Braves need to get out their checkbooks and make a splash for a starting pitcher.
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