For a team coming off its first winning season since 2013 and a division title to boot, the Braves had an odd offseason. Even after investing $23 million in third baseman Josh Donaldson, they were pilloried across the outrage-driven Internet for not spending more.
In June, the Braves bought pitcher Dallas Keuchel for $13 million. On Wednesday, they added relievers Chris Martin, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon -- at an aggregate increase of $7 million in pro-rated salary -- plus backup catcher John Ryan Murphy. After this flurry of dealing, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said that, for the second consecutive season, his deadline acquisitions pushed the Braves above their budgeted number for salaries -- and that chairman Terry McGuirk, who sets that number, readily agreed to the increase.
(That number is believed to be $140 million. Sportrac puts the Braves’ updated payroll at $139,229,893. That would put them 14th among 30 MLB clubs.)
In a phone conversation Thursday, McGuirk spoke at length of the Braves’ deadline doings -- and how it feels for a team branded as cheap to go on a shopping spree.
Q. Do you feel what you did at the deadline made a statement about the Braves’ outlook and your desire to win?
A. I guess I would start by saying I have great faith in Alex and his process. I think we – and the city and the whole fan base – has one of the best general managers in baseball. Watching the behind-the-scenes preparation and analysis and analytics and how he, in the short term, spent the last week with his senior baseball ops team just going through (everything) -- you know what goes on. There’s 29 simultaneous conversations. It’s a calculus problem, trying to process multiple offers, multiple callbacks, juggling balls with each and every team. Alex does it effortlessly, and as well as I’ve ever seen it done.
Taking a step back to the 10,000-foot level, where we are (now) … we could have been there last winter. We could have been there in the spring. We could have been there at any time. We’ve always been ready to pull the trigger, but we’ve never found the correct situation. One of the highest callings in the general manager job is spending your money efficiently, and there’s so many ways to do it inefficiently. It’s easy to waste money unwittingly in deals. Alex is just very good. You look at the quality of these deals. It was just the right moment for us to do these things for our team.
These particular kinds of opportunities weren’t there last winter. Winning the winter just for the sake of pleasing the Twitter universe really leads … ask a few teams that we know about this year that did that, and they’re pretty sad with what they did. Alex was very strong, as was the plan that I’m following. You look at the quality of what was able to be done here.
There’s two kinds of deals out there. There’s a monetary deal and a talent deal, and there’s always some combination of those two things. And that goes further to the complexity of what Alex is dealing in. We have the best minor-league system in baseball, or we’re right in the top three now as Baseball America values it, so our No. 5 might be like somebody else’s No. 1 prospect. It’s always difficult for another general manager to do a deal with us because he’s trying to impress his local writers and get a No. 1. Alex was able to accomplish this with the preservation of all our top talent, which was what his goal was going in. Which makes it even more impressive. What we accomplished was this combination of talent- and money-based deals that absolutely met what our goals were.
We are spending more money. We have said all along that those resources were there. There just wasn’t a good place for us to use them. We were in on a couple of deals throughout the season, but it wasn’t until right now that the right one came along.
Q: Anthopoulos said Wednesday that you never came close on one of those big-name starting pitchers. Do you see that as a sign of restraint, and is that a commendable thing in your eyes?
A: Oh, absolutely. Those were the talent-preserving moments of the discipline of our plan. He preserved the glide slope of 2020 and 2021, where we’re going to do nothing but get better and attract better free agents. The whole league is watching us, and they’re watching how much fun it is to play here, how much better we’re getting, the organization in general, and it all goes toward what we’re trying to accomplish. I want to make this about Alex because I couldn’t be more pleased with the leadership and the quality of the job he’s doing. All of Atlanta should be very proud of him.
Q: Players now expect their GM to step in and do his part at the deadline, do they not?
A: And no one felt that more than Alex. He’s on absolutely the same pulse as our clubhouse, and he knew how important it was psychologically for a team at this stage of the season to get a little boost. And to get help in one of our weak points as heavily as he just did, I know they’re very, very appreciative.
Q: Just for the record, Anthopoulos said Wednesday that this was the second year in a row that you’d gone over your budgeted salary number at the trade deadline. Is that correct?
A: That is correct. There’s always a number in every clubhouse and every budget. With every team, there’s always a number. With us, the overall five-year plan is more important than any specific one-year number. Alex has gotten a lot of control of how we assemble the talent over a very long period of time, and his recommendations I think were exactly right for us right now to make the jump that we did.
Q: Do you see what he did as an indication he feels this team has a chance to win the World Series?
A: Yeah. I think we as an organization feel like we’re getting close to that moment when we can look at any team and say we’re competitive and we can win the World Series. We’re right there.
Q: Having landed Keuchel in June and these relievers at the deadline, do you feel a sense of vindication for the hits you took over the winter – that the Braves didn’t care about winning, that they were more interested in saving money?
A: It’s a different feeling than that. We’re feeling the same frustration anybody is when we’re not expressing our passion in dollars and players coming in. But there’s a sequence and timing to all of this. Alex is a master at it, and we’re spending a lot of time thinking about it. If it’s not the right time, it’s fool’s gold to go make deals that are not the right deals for not the right players. We knew, 100 percent, last winter that this moment would happen. We just didn’t know when it would happen, and we didn’t know what players it would be, but we absolutely knew there would be a moment when the right players came along and we would then express our passion in dollars and talent that we’re willing to spend to get there.
The trade deadline is the end of the opportunity to do anything this year, as opposed to previous years (when August waiver deals were possible). This put us right to the test. We had to do it now or it was not going to happen. It was the appropriate moment because there was no other moment this year. We were forced to make a lot of good decisions and tough decisions, just like every other team was.
Q: So when Anthopoulos comes in and says, “I need $14 million next year for Mark Melancon plus the pro-rated part of this year,” do you flinch or do you say, “Go ahead”?
A: There was no flinching. As I said, this had been long thought about – six months to a year that this moment was coming. It could have come two months ago, three months ago, but it happened that it took until the deadline. But we discussed it 100 times. We know what we’re about here. Alex has a good handle on all the dials and levers of our organization, and it was the right move.
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