We are not far away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, which means Opening Day is around the corner. It feels like the regular season ended a week ago, but in the same breath, I’ve been starving for baseball ever since the Braves were eliminated in the NLDS.
The best time of the year is near, and there are several new faces in Atlanta. Perhaps Alex Anthopoulos still has a trick up his sleeve. There are a few quality free agents left on the market, and a trade is always a possibility, but I have a feeling the Braves won’t be involved in anything significant for the remainder of the offseason, which means it is time to grade how they did this winter.
After trading for Gold Glove catcher Sean Murphy and signing him to a six-year, $73 million extension, the Braves have six position players on long, team-friendly deals, along with pitcher Spencer Strider, solidifying themselves as likely contenders for many years. The catching tandem of Murphy and Travis d’Arnaud could be MLB’s best. GM Alex Anthopoulos also strengthened the bullpen through trades and signings. However, Dansby Swanson left as a free agent and the Braves are gambling that Vaughn Grissom or Orlando Arcia can replace him and that others will assert themselves to replace Swanson’s leadership, like when Freddie Freeman left.
I’m not nearly as bullish on what the Braves accomplished this offseason as O’Brien. Sean Murphy is a fantastic catcher and will be a critical piece to this team. I like the addition and extending him was the icing on the cake. However, the Braves had to give up a lot to get him, including William Contreras, who will be missed. He was an All-Star last season in his first full year as a major leaguer. I’m aware his defense isn’t anywhere close to Murphy’s, which the Braves place a high value on, but offensively, Contreras proved to be elite, especially for a catcher.
The other significant addition the Braves made this offseason was Joe Jiménez, who I can’t wait to see perform this year. He has an up-and-down track record, but his stuff is filthy, and he was one of the more dominant relievers in the game last year, recording a 2.00 FIP, 1.094 WHIP, and 12.2 K/9. Jiménez has a chance to be a critical piece to a Braves bullpen that is up there with the best in the league. However, I can’t talk about this deal without mentioning who the Braves gave up in return.
Justyn-Henry Malloy was the Braves’ top position player prospect and someone I thought could end up being the long-term answer in left field. He had a .408 on-base percentage across three levels of the minors last year and featured promising gap-to-gap power. The Braves are in win-now mode and are also among the best in the business at evaluating their own talent, so I understand the move, but if Malloy reaches his full potential, it could be something the Braves regret.
The Braves made several other minor additions, but what will determine whether this offseason was a success or failure is the decision to move on from Dansby Swanson. Swanson inked a seven-year, $175 million deal from the Cubs, which the Braves were never going to offer. That will be a difficult contract to live up to, but if Swanson continues to perform as he did in 2022, he will be worth that and then some.
But even if Swanson does play at an All-Star level for the Cubs, the Braves will be better off with Vaughn Grissom as their everyday shortstop if he can perform acceptably. He doesn’t have to be an All-Star, but he does need to become the guy. If the Braves go from Swanson and have to pivot to Arcia, that will be a massive downgrade that could keep this team from winning the NL East, let alone another World Series. I have faith in Grissom, but there’s a lot of pressure on him to fill the shoes of Swanson.
Sometimes the best moves general managers make each offseason are the ones they avoid. There’s a chance we look back at this offseason and say, “Damn, I’m sure glad the Braves didn’t hand Swanson $175 million.” I do wish the Braves spent a little more money. The left field situation still worries me, but this remains a team that should be considered the favorite to win the toughest division in baseball, and they are financially free moving forward. It wasn’t the most exciting offseason, but they will be very good and have the ability to figure out whatever they need to in the future.
Photo: Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire