Two-thirds of a lengthy conversation with Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos concerned his decision not to meet Minnesota’s price for Josh Donaldson. That was the biggest story of this offseason, but much else has happened, most recently the signing of outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Part 2 of our interview touches on that acquisition and the state of the 2020 Braves before -- spoiler warning -- coming back to you-know-who.
Q: Was Ozuna someone you were tracking all along?
A: We had him as a target early in the offseason, knowing that Josh was a priority. He’s someone we had parallel conversations with, just to stay in contact, stay in touch with him. But we were very candid with Marcell’s representation that Donaldson was the priority for us, and we were going to wait out that process. If Marcell signed and came off the board, so be it. We were committed to waiting out the Donaldson process and staying in it all the way to the end. To our good fortune, Marcell was still available when Donaldson did agree with the Twins. When Donaldson did agree, we turned our focus and were able to get something done in about a week’s time.
Q: Is it fair to say that you’re of the opinion Ozuna is better than his back-of-the-baseball cards stats?
A: Our internal data, our internal metrics – you can look at some of the publicly available information – we just think he ran into some bad luck. His batted-ball characteristics are very strong. We think there’s the potential for him to have the year he had with the Marlins, 2017. Even the last two years were good years, and we’d be happy with that, but we do think there’s significant upside. We wouldn’t be surprised to see him replicate 2017 or come close to it, and that would (make him) obviously a fantastic player for us.
Q: Assuming there’s no other major move coming before opening day, are you comfortable with your roster?
A: I’m probably never comfortable. Your job is to worry as a general manager. You’re always thinking about how you can get better. I’m hopeful that some of our young starters take a step this year, the way (Max) Fried and (Mike) Soroka did. That would be huge for us. But I don’t think you ever get comfortable. When you do that, you get complacent and you lose your edge. I think you’re at your best as a general manager when you’re constantly worrying and constantly looking for any incremental way to get better, whether it’s the last guy on your 40(-man roster) or the last guy on your bench, whether it’s other depth options, minor-league signings.
You look back at both 2018 and 2019. How many little moves were critical for us, things you didn’t think would matter? You could say, ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff,’ but those are the things – whether it’s a Billy Hamilton or a (Francisco) Cervelli or (Rafael) Ortega winning a big game in L.A. for us, a Josh Tomlin, a Matt Joyce. You may not pay much attention to these at the time, but in 2018 (Ryan) Flaherty was among the league leaders in hitting, Preston Tucker the same way. Those guys are a big part of helping you win over the course of the year and winning a division. I think you constantly have to be on high alert to make the club better, the whole organization better.
Q: You’ve lost Dallas Keuchel, and you’ve lost Donaldson …
A: And Julio (Teheran).
Q: And Julio. You’ve added bullpen guys, and you’ve added Cole Hamels.
A: Lost Brian McCann. Signed (Travis) d’Arnaud. And Ozuna.
Q: With all that, are you better on paper than last year?
A: Good question. I guess I would say this: Everybody’s trying to build a World Series-winning team. We felt like we had a World Series-caliber roster going into the playoffs last year. We’ll never know, but I would have loved to see how an NLCS with the Washington Nationals and the Braves would have been, considering how well we played against the Nationals during the year. That said, I like our talent. I’m probably always going to say that. I like the talent we have on the roster. Everyone needs help. I like our depth. Like everybody, we need some things to go right. We need guys to perform to their capabilities. That’s why you try to insulate and have as many options and as much depth as you can. You don’t want to be in a position where there is a big injury and then you feel like your whole season is reliant on one player. You want to build as deep an organization as you can, so that you can sustain any injury and still be competitive.
Q: You’ve been doing this a long time.
A: Eight years.
Q: That’s long. Is drawing the line on Donaldson the hardest thing you’ve had to do as a GM?
A: It’s definitely up there. It’s a great player who wanted to be in Atlanta. Again, baseball operations, myself – we take ownership for this. Josh Donaldson gave the Atlanta Braves every opportunity to bring him back. You can’t say that enough times. We had great communication. We were kept up to date the whole way. Even right up until the end, we had every opportunity to sign him back. It was tough, ultimately, and I understand that. He deserved the contract he got, and it was a significant amount of money. I think everybody would have done the same thing (he did). So I think it’s up there.
At the trade deadline, you’re always in really tough spots. Trade deadlines are hard because you’re in-season, when you’re contending. Trade deadlines are probably the hardest decisions to make because you know you’re going to give up long-term pieces. Basically you’re using your credit card and you know the bill is going to come due. At that point it’s instant gratification, but a few months later or years later when that bill comes due, it’s a little hard to stomach. But this, because of who he is and how great a player he is and how universally liked he is – definitely a tough call.
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