The Braves are in an envious position. They are among the top five World Series contenders in baseball, but also possess an elite farm system. Their product is built for long-term success, centered around homegrown talent and short-term contracts, and ownership has shown they are willing to spend more as the team’s success has grown. Whether or not this will remain the mantra is yet to be determined, but for now, while the farm system is deep, the Braves’ options are wide open.
Atlanta is poised to have their highest payroll in franchise history on Opening Day 2020, but with the number of short-term commitments on hand, they will be able to strike again next offseason. And they should have top prospects in Ian Anderson, Drew Waters, and Cristian Pache ready to contribute at the big-league level, which should require fewer veterans on free agency contracts.
Marcell Ozuna – $18M
Cole Hamels – $18M
Mark Melancon – $14M
Nick Markakis – $4M
Tyler Flowers – $4M
Adeiny Hechavarria – $1M
Shane Greene – $6.25M
After the 2020 season, Mark Melancon, Cole Hamels, Marcell Ozuna, Nick Markakis, Tyler Flowers, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Shane Greene will all be free agents. With current payroll expected to be just north of $150 million for this season, roughly $65.5 is coming off the books. Some of that will be eaten away at by rising arbitration figures and salaries, but the Braves only have $67.2 million in guaranteed committed dollars for 2021.
With more and more young talent coming up the pipeline and ownership showing a willingness to spend, the Braves have an unbelievable amount of flexibility. Youngsters should fill most of the gaps, and Anthopoulos should be able to make a splash — something better than a veteran on a bloated one-year contract.
Next season, the free agency class features talents such as Mookie Betts, Masahiro Tanaka, Trevor Bauer, Ken Giles, Alex Colome, Kirby Yates, Michael Brantley, J.T. Realmuto, and Justin Turner. Other potential options include Starling Marte, Adam Eaton, Giancarlo Stanton, Charlie Morton, Jon Lester, Brad Hand, Dellin Betances, and Corey Kluber.
The Braves will be in a financial situation where theoretically they could sign any of these guys and potentially hand Freddie Freeman a new contract, while still sitting around their current payroll and well below the MLB Luxury Tax of $210 million set for 2021. Mookie Betts will likely sign a record deal, which would be incongruent with the Braves’ past actions, but the rest of these guys are pretty realistic. I have my doubts that ownership ever pushes that luxury tax, and they may not ever spend long-term dollars. But for now, the Braves have their options open, and a wave of talent ready to push this team over the top.