For most of baseball, this offseason is off to a sloth-like pace. Very few moves have been made, and none of the top stars have signed. There haven’t even been many rumors or indications that things are picking up either. It could be the new year before one of the best names on the market inks a contract. However, while that’s been the case for most teams, the Braves have been the most active organization thus far.
Their first signing was left-hander Drew Smyly. He will compete for one of the final spots in the rotation, but if he’s beat out, expect him to come out of the bullpen, where he has spent a significant chunk of his career. Then the Braves added veteran Charlie Morton, who was an All-Star in 2018 and 2019 with the Astros and Rays, respectively. These contracts are one-year deals and give Atlanta one of the deepest starting rotation units in baseball, something that was far from the case in 2020.
Baseball-Reference provides a reliable payroll table from year to year. Before the Morton signing, the Braves payroll was just under $80 million. Morton’s deal was for one-year, $15 million, putting Atlanta right at about $95 million in salary before they settle in arbitration. Baseball-Reference projected the Braves would spend $20.8 million on their arbitration candidates. However, with the surprising news that Adam Duvall has been non-tendered, that number is down to about $15 million. That still might be a little high, but we will roll with it. After factoring in pre-arbitration players as well, the Braves are already projected to have over a $115 million payroll for 2021.
According to FanGraphs, Atlanta had a payroll of $163 million in 2020. That should leave them quite a bit of room to work with moving forward. Of course, the coronavirus will force several teams to spend considerably less. But so far, Atlanta hasn’t been shy. They clearly know they have some money to spend, and they aggressively patched up their most glaring hole from last season in the first month of the offseason. Still, they need to add a power bat behind Freddie Freeman — preferably an outfielder.
I think I speak for the entirety of Braves Country when I say the hope is for Marcell Ozuna to return. If Anthopoulos makes that happen, that will probably put Atlanta’s payroll around $135-140 million. That leaves about $20 million to spend on the bullpen and bench if payroll is slated to be about the same as last season. It very well could be less, but I wouldn’t totally rule out it going up either. Payroll has jumped every year thus far under Alex Anthopoulos, and ownership might have watched the Braves fall just a run short of the World Series and realized the time to spend is now, especially with so many other clubs scared to do so. Who knows? Perhaps the Braves turn out the real winner in all this uncertainty with their eyes on their first World Series since 1995.