The Braves have been especially quiet this offseason when it comes to spending money. After an offseason filled with executives harping on being a top five payroll, the club has spent less than $1 million on free agents this winter. Nick Anderson, who signed a partially guaranteed contract worth $875,000, isn’t exactly scaring the division.
Granted, Alex Anthopoulos swung a blockbuster trade that landed Sean Murphy, who is undoubtedly an upgrade over William Contreras. So the Braves haven’t been entirely dormant. Moreover, the roster will be the highest payroll under its current construction. It was always unlikely the Braves would be big spenders, and there is still plenty of offseason left for Anthopoulos to make moves, even after Dansby Swanson signed with the Cubs. But no matter who the front office brings in, no player or players will likely have the impact of a healthy Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies.
For much of the season, the Braves were without the Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies we’ve come to know. An ACL recovery and an unusual offseason hampered the former’s 2022 campaign. Acuna slashed .266/.351/.413 with 20 home runs on a 162-game pace, good for a .764 OPS. And he was caught stealing more times than any other season, leading the league in that metric. It wasn’t great by his standards.
However, by 2023 Opening Day, Acuna will be further removed from his surgery, and members of the organizations are already expressing big expectations. If we see the pre-injury 2021 version of Ronald Acuna, which had a .990 OPS, 52 RBIs, and 24 home runs in about half of the season, there aren’t many players in the league that can provide that impact. Over his first four seasons, the ultra-talented Acuna slashed .281/.376/.550 with 43 homers on a 162-game pace. Positive regression for him next season will bring new life to the Braves. And Albies is no slouch, either.
Unlike his teammate, the Braves second basemen missed much of the 2022 season. Albies played in the team’s first 62 games, then suffered a broken foot, which took nearly three months to rehab. And the most fun-loving player on the team would suffer another devastating injury, breaking his pinky in his second game back, ending his season. However, even before the injuries, he struggled. In the 64 games Albies played, he posted a .703 OPS and 93 WRC+ — both very poor numbers by his standards.
However, much like Ronald Acuna before his injury, Albies’ 2021 production would be a significant improvement over what the club had in 2022 at the position. He earned Silver Slugger and All-Star honors the year before last. And since becoming a full-time starter, Albies has slashed .272/.322/.479 with an .801 OPS while averaging 21 home runs and 71 RBIs per season from 2018-21, which includes a 29-game 2020 season.
Sure, Albies struggled before the injury, but it was a tiny sample size. It’s expected he would’ve experienced positive regression offensively. To be fair, Orlando Arcia and Vaughn Grissom did a valiant job holding down the spot, but Albies is undoubtedly an upgrade over the course of a full season in all aspects of the game.
The Health of Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies trumps any offseason acquisition. FanGraphs projects the pair to combine for 8.3 WAR in 2023 — 5.1 for Acuna and 3.2 for Albies. If the Braves get the 2021 versions of Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies, it won’t really matter what the front office does for the rest of the offseason. As it’s currently constructed, that is a 100+ win ball club six ways to Sunday.
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