The Atlanta Braves don’t need to win the offseason. They just won the National League East. They just went from 72 wins in 2017 to 90, which is the sort of jump – check the timelines of the Cubs and Astros, who underwent similar rebuilds – that tends to presage lasting excellence. They have needs, yes, but they aren’t needy.
You’ll recall that John Coppolella’s epic reset began in the offseason of 2014/2015. Two of his biggest trades were with the Padres: The first involved Justin Upton; the second involved Justin’s brother Melvin (nee B.J.), and also Craig Kimbrel. A.J. Preller, San Diego’s general manager, was the undisputed champ of that autumn/winter, having acquired two Uptons and one Kimbrel, plus Matt Kemp and Wil Meyers and James Shields. Those Padres went from 77 wins to … er, 74. By midseason, Preller was himself in rebuild mode. His team hasn’t broken .500 since.
The Yankees won last offseason by landing Giancarlo Stanton, and they did improve by nine games. This enabled them to finish eight games back in the American League East, as opposed to the previous two, and to lose 4-1 in the Division Round, as opposed to 4-3 in the ALCS. They’d make that deal again, but it didn’t exactly become a stairway to heaven.
The Blue Jays won the 2012/2013 offseason by swinging two huge trades. The first yielded Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio. (Note: Buehrle and Reyes had been huge free-agent buys the previous winter. That was when the Marlins had a ballpark to open and were gearing up. They won that offseason and nothing else. Then they did the Marlin thing and resumed selling.)
The second big Toronto move brought R.A. Dickey, who’d just won the Cy Young; it also came at the cost of losing Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud, who in 2015 would comprise a starting World Series battery for the Mets. This is relevant because the Jays’ general manager was Alex Anthopoulos, who now works in Cobb County.
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The 2012 Blue Jays had won 73 games. Infused with talent, the 2013 club won 74. By 2015, some of the above acquisitions helped Toronto to its first AL East title since Joe Carter’s home run, but it took more Anthopoulos maneuvers – he traded for Josh Donaldson in November 2014 and Troy Tulowitzki at the 2015 deadline – to make that happen.
From this, we can assume two things: Anthopoulos isn’t by nature big-deal-averse, but he also knows from experience that big deals aren’t always galvanizing deals. It would be no surprise if the Braves made inquiries about Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado. It would be a surprise if they dumped $300 million on any one player. Recent history teaches that no player is worth that. Also: The Braves already have a player who possesses Harper/Machado talent, and he can’t file for free agency until after the 2023 season. (His name’s Acuna, FYI.)
Long before Anthopoulos arrived, the Braves had decided free agency was the worst way to go. Chairman Terry McGuirk says this all the time, and he’s not wrong. B.J. Upton didn’t quite work out, did he? (OK, so Greg Maddux did, but he stands as the greatest pitching buy ever.)
Anthopoulos said last month that to add a major piece at massive cost would mean that that one man must lift the other 24, and is there anybody in baseball who does that? Mike Trout is among the 10 greatest players ever, and you know how many times his Angels have made the playoffs? Once in seven years, and they got swept in the Division Series.
This offseason – which commences in earnest this week with the GM meetings in Carlsbad, Calif. – does figure to be the time that the Braves begin to sell some of their real prospects to address immediate needs. (Trading Matt Wisler and Lucas Sims for Adam Duvall doesn’t count.) Luiz Gohara, coming off a lost season, is surely devalued, and Kolby Allard, who showed little in the majors, might be, too. But Austin Riley, now blocked by the ascendant Johan Carmargo, could be sacrificed.
Anthopoulos said last month that we shouldn’t read too much into Julio Teheran’s postseason demotion to middle relief and that the Braves see him in their rotation again next year. This could be a salesman making a pitch, as it were. Teheran can still give a team innings, some of them excellent, and he remains under club control at a not-exorbitant price for two more years. He could be attractive to some team. (We say again: Everyone always needs pitching.)
Mike Soroka won’t be available, but one of the Braves’ next tier of pitching prospects – Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson or Touki Toussaint – might be. It would have to be in exchange for a Major Piece, though. Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto might qualify. Chris Archer, now of the Pirates, wouldn’t: He hasn’t had a big season in so long he’s now of more value as a contract than as a starting pitcher.
A damaged-goods possibility: Sonny Gray. He didn’t work out in New York – some pitchers don’t – but he has a year remaining on an arbitration-eligible contract, and he’s from the Nashville area and went to Vanderbilt. He could be the classic change-of-scenery bargain buy.
As for Nick Markakis, who wasn’t extended a qualifying offer by the Braves: He could be back, but it would have to be at a price not far north of the $11 million he was making. The market for outfielders ran dry last winter. (Carlos Gonzalez, finding no takers, wound up re-signing with the Rockies in March.) The demand for a guy who turns 35 this month, even if he did just make the All-Star team and win a Gold Glove, won’t be fervent.
The Braves would surely like to add a No. 2/3 starter. Every team would. But the teams that possess such arms tend to be winning teams, and they won’t be looking to sell. It would take a massive outlay – Riley plus Wright plus Teheran plus maybe Ender Inciarte – to pry such an arm away, and that’s too much. It’s especially too much for a team that, if it does nothing, stands to get better by osmosis.
We say again: It’s better for Anthopoulos to do too little than to overreach. He has won an offseason before, and he knows how little that matters. He only needs to ensure that this burgeoning team keeps winning in actual seasons.