It’s funny how narratives mysteriously come to fruition through words taken out of context and accepted by many as fact. One of the most significant ones surrounding the Braves this past offseason was that Mark Melancon had no real interest in returning to Atlanta because he wanted to play for a contender — as if the Braves weren’t considered contenders this offseason after finishing just one run shy of the World Series — and was aching to move back out west.
The latter of those two points I can’t really comment on; however, I was fairly certain throughout the entire process that the Braves could have easily had Melancon back had Anthopoulos made a push for him to return. My hunch was that a serious offer for The Shark never occurred, which is why he ultimately ended up signing with the Padres.
I’ve been slaughtered on social media for this take, as people came to a conclusion based on uncorroborated rumors and what Melancon said in his opening press conference that he didn’t have any interest in returning to Atlanta. I found it puzzling that people genuinely believed it was more likely that Melancon thought he had a better chance to win with the Padres rather than the possibility that Liberty Media short-armed Alex Anthopoulos with the payroll, forcing him out of the Melancon sweepstakes.
I mean, the same people calling me crazy for saying the Braves never offered Melancon are likely the same people who hold their pitchforks outside of Liberty Media’s backyard. So you’d think they’d at least consider the possibility. But regardless, we know the truth now. For the first time since the season started, Alex Anthopoulos sat down with a media member — Jeff Schultz of The Athletic — and discussed what has been a miserable start to the 2021 campaign.
The two talked about several topics, including Mark Melancon when Jeff asked, “Can you set the record straight on Mark Melancon: Did you make him a serious offer to come back?” To which Anthopoulos responded:
He was amazing for us. We allocated our money. I think there were four signings we did this offseason: (Josh) Tomlin, (Drew) Smyly, (Charlie) Morton, Ozuna. Ozuna was the last signing we made. In fairness to everybody, we made four free-agent signings. Ozuna was the last one and we backloaded that deal.
The Braves elected to spend their money on the rotation, which hasn’t exactly panned out. But at the time of the signings, it made some sense, considering how much trouble Atlanta had with their starting pitchers in 2020 and how many “reliable” bullpen arms they already had on paper. Not to mention, Melancon was inching towards 40, and his peripherals from his two seasons with the Braves painted the picture of a possible decline in the near future.
That obviously hasn’t happened — at least not this year. Melancon leads the majors with 19 saves to go along with his minuscule 0.64 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP. His 1.8 bWAR would be good for fourth on the Braves, and his mere presence at the back end of the bullpen would likely have given a lot more confidence to the rest of the relief core.
However, hindsight is always 20/20. I understood why Anthopoulos decided to fill in other holes at the time. It hasn’t panned out the way that we would have hoped, but at least we know now that Melancon didn’t just dart out west because he didn’t feel the Braves were contenders. Atlanta never seriously offered him, and it could end up being why they miss out on the playoffs for the first time in four years.