The Braves are coming down the home stretch of the season with their eyes on the #1 seed in the National League. However, we know Alex Anthopoulos is always looking one, two, and three years down the road, and it’s never too early to talk about free agency.
The Braves don’t have a ton of holes on their roster, and that’s not going to change in the coming years. They could upgrade in left field and opt not to pick up Eddie Rosario‘s option for next season, and pitching can always be bolstered, particularly the rotation. But outside of that, their roster for 2024 is pretty much set.
Jim Bowden of The Athletic recently ranked his top 30 upcoming free agents. Using that, I’ll discuss which of the top guys could be targeted for the Braves this winter.
*I’ll also be including their ranking given by The Athletic
Shohei Ohtani (Rank: 1)
This one goes without saying. Everyone that has money to spend and is trying to compete will be pursuing Ohtani. He’s the best player in baseball history and would fill the two biggest holes on the Braves roster. Landing him may be a pipe dream, but I expect the Braves to give it a shot. He wants to play for a winner. There’s no better place for him to win than Atlanta. The Braves have also shown an increased willingness to spend. Eventually, they are going to hand out one of these mega-contracts. Perhaps they save that for an Acuña contract extension, but I wouldn’t complain if they decided to jump the gun with Ohtani.
Cody Bellinger (Rank: 6)
Bellinger looked like he could be on his way out of the league after his struggles at the end of his Dodgers career, but the former NL MVP is looking like himself this season with the Cubs. He will opt out of his mutual option at the end of the season, and some team is going to give him the bag. I would love him in left field for the Braves, but there’s always the chance he regresses back to what he was last year, and the team stuck with his next contract will be left shaking their heads for years to come.
Josh Hader (Rank: 7)
Hader is the best closer in baseball. After a shaky season in 2022, he’s all the way back this season and is going to collect in a big way this winter. Raisel Iglesias has been a good closer for the Braves, but adding Hader to this group would give Atlanta the best bullpen in baseball by a wide margin.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto (Rank: 9)
I would be lying if I said I know anything about Yamamoto, so I’ll let Jim Bowden take this one away.
I watched Yamamoto pitch in the World Baseball Classic and was impressed. He looked like a solid No. 3 starter who could step into a major-league rotation and hold his own with double-digit wins and an ERA in the 3’s. He really knows how to pitch, by adding and subtracting and having special command in and out of the strike zone. He’s a competitor with savvy, feel and poise. His fastball is mid- to high-90s with a wipeout split-finger and a plus curveball as part of a five-pitch mix. He moves the ball east to west and north to south extremely well too. He won the pitching triple crown (ERA, strikeouts and wins) each of the past two seasons in Japan.
There were several starters ranked ahead of Yamamoto, but most of them were left-handed. If the Braves are going spend big bucks on a left-handed starting pitcher, they are much better off just taking care of the best left-handed pitcher on the planet that’s already on the team.
Sonny Gray (Rank: 10)
Gray isn’t an ace, but he’s a rock solid middle of the rotation piece that owns a 3.34 ERA since 2019. Charlie Morton could potentially retire at the end of the season. There’s also a chance the Braves don’t pick up his $20 million option for 2024. Gray would be a perfect replacement that shouldn’t break the bank.
Teaoscar Hernandez (Rank: 19)
Hernandez isn’t known for his defense, but a switch to left field could prove beneficial. What he does bring is a lot of pop, on track to hit 25+ homers for the third consecutive season. He shouldn’t cost too much and would be an upgrade over Eddie Rosario.
James Paxton (Rank: 21)
Paxton was once one of the most coveted pitchers in the game, but like a lot of guys, injuries derailed his career. He made just six starts from 2020-2022, but he’s having a nice year for the Red Sox, posting a 3.60 ERA over 14 starts. Paxton will be 35 years old next season, though. Given his injury history, he’ll likely be looking at a short-term deal. That could pique the interest of the Braves, who need to add another veteran starter to their rotation this offseason.
Jorge Soler (Rank: 22)
C’mon, does this one really need to be explained? The Braves should have never let Soler walk out the door. The 2021 World Series MVP has mashed for the Marlins this year and will likely opt out of his contract in search of a better deal. The idea of bringing him back into the fold, and platooning him with Rosario and Ozuna has me foaming at the mouth ready to bark at the next person I see. Make it happen Alex Anthopoulos.
Aroldis Chapman (Rank: 25)
Chapman is back looking like one of the best closers in the game after signing a one-year deal in the offseason. His off the field history may make him a no-go for the Braves, but he would certainly bolster an already impressive Atlanta bullpen.
Joc Pederson (Rank: 30)
Just go ahead and copy and paste everything I wrote about Soler right here. Bring Pederson and his immaculate vibes back and let’s win another World Series.
Photo: John Cordes/Icon Sportswire