A conversation about the Braves’ offseason always starts with Dansby Swanson and the shortstop situation. The outcome could set the tone for whatever else the Braves do this winter.
Just a note: Ranking shortstop as a top need doesn’t mean Orlando Arcia and Vaughn Grissom wouldn’t be able to fill a potential void left by Swanson. (It’s difficult to bet against infield maestro Ron Washington, who thinks Grissom could be a good defensive shortstop.) But the Braves must figure out how to handle this position.
The logical move seems to be re-signing Swanson. This makes sense for both sides.
But if their prices don’t align?
Maybe Anthopoulos signs one of the top three shortstops. Perhaps he swings a trade for an established starter, someone who would give Grissom a couple of years to mature into the starting role. Or maybe he hands the keys to Grissom, as there’s a benefit to knowing what you have in a young player by giving him a consistent opportunity.
The Braves must figure out who will start at shortstop next season.
Yes, yes, I know. You wanted Jacob deGrom, who signed a 5-year deal with the Rangers Friday, or Justin Verlander or Carlos Rodón.
Addressing starting pitching almost always will be more splashy than adding to the bullpen, but hear me out.
As someone who covered over 140 Braves games last season, one of my takeaways was this: The Braves’ bullpen was so much better than many other clubs in baseball, and it made a difference. A talented and deep bullpen can be the difference between wins and losses, division titles and second-place finishes. A great bullpen can be a major separator.
Anthopoulos always likes to tell the story of how he hated trying to fix a deficient bullpen at the trade deadline a few years ago. It was expensive. So he’s tried to prioritize strengthening his bullpen in free agency.
The Braves have Raisel Iglesias as their current closer and A.J. Minter as another late-inning option. Collin McHugh is back. The Braves re-signed Jesse Chavez and signed Nick Anderson, and traded for Dennis Santana. And maybe Kirby Yates returns to form. Dylan Lee had a great season and has positioned himself to be in the bullpen again.
But Kenley Jansen and Luke Jackson (who missed 2022 because of Tommy John surgery) are free agents. Tyler Matzek, who underwent Tommy John surgery this fall, won’t pitch in 2023.
There are pieces in this bullpen, but you can never have too much pitching. It feels like the Braves could use one more proven reliever, simply because you don’t know how guys like Anderson, Santana and Yates might perform.
But this depends on the Braves’ resources and where Anthopoulos chooses to use them.
3. Left field
The Braves have decisions to make here.
Eddie Rosario’s rough 2022 season is seen as an outlier. He struggled because he needed eye surgery, then never found his stride. His production was a big step below his track record to that point. Does that mean he bounces back?
The Braves must decide that.
If they believe in him, they can sign another outfielder and play the hot hand and matchups throughout the season. Adam Duvall is said to have loved his time in Atlanta, so could that be a fit? Heck, perhaps Grissom sees time in left field. The Braves have options.
Or maybe the Braves think left field is an area they can strengthen. They have Ronald Acuña and Michael Harris slated to start in right and in center, so a good left fielder might give them baseball’s top outfield.
Whether via free agency or trade, the Braves have different avenues they can work to solidify their left field situation – if they even want to do so. We’ll see how they handle it.
Based on what the Braves do here (if anything), we’ll figure out what they thought about that position.
4. Starting pitching
The Braves look like they’ll have a great rotation if everything plays out as they hope.
Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Kyle Wright and Charlie Morton are virtual locks. A handful of pitchers – Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, Kyle Muller, Bryce Elder and Kolby Allard are the ones we know – will compete for the fifth spot in the rotation.
That is, unless Anthopoulos finds a starting pitcher who’s better than the fifth-starter options listed above.
Any team could use a pitcher like deGrom or Verlander. DeGrom will cost the Rangers $185 million over five years. The Braves might be able to swing a short-term deal with Verlander that would include a high average annual value. In that case, perhaps the Braves would feel comfortable giving one player that kind of money because it wouldn’t tie up the franchise long term.
In an ideal world, the Braves would add a frontline starting pitcher and flex their rotation muscle on the rest of baseball. But no team can afford everyone, and as it stands, the Braves’ rotation probably is a strength if everyone stays healthy and performs close to expectation.
The Braves have top-end quality and depth in their rotation. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t – or won’t – add starting pitching, but they would be fine if they went into the season with this rotation.