Braves set for busy offseason as they begin repeat bid

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In February, after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl LV, coach Bruce Arians proclaimed during the team’s parade day that the Bucs would re-sign their lengthy list of free agents and “go for two.” The Bucs became the first NFL team in the salary-cap era to retain all 22 starters from a championship team.

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Neither Braves manager Brian Snitker nor general manager Alex Anthopoulos made such a bold declaration during their team’s championship celebration Friday. But starter Charlie Morton, 37, acknowledged reality while addressing his teammates at the end of the festivities.

“I wanted to say in front of everybody here how important this group is to me,” Morton said. “This group will never be the exact same way as it is right now. I just want everyone to know how much I love you guys. I love this moment. I’m appreciative of this moment. This moment we’re sharing on this stage together is the most special of my career.”

Those were the final words spoken by a 2021 Brave during the championship ceremony, leading into an offseason in which the question isn’t whether they’ll keep the World Series roster intact. It’s about who does return, how they fit and at what cost.

The Braves have a flashy group of free agents. They also have further needs to address. The 2021 team caught fire at the perfect time, but it was far from flawless. To reach MLB’s mountaintop again, the Braves must improve the roster.

First baseman Freddie Freeman’s free agency looms over the team’s winter until he inks a deal. Freeman is a five-time All-Star, National League MVP and the face of the reigning champs. It would be a surprise if Freeman leaves the Braves given his tight bond with the organization and community, but in today’s sports landscape, nothing is inconceivable.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Certainly, Freeman’s teammates made their thoughts known. Shortstop Dansby Swanson had a mic drop on the podium Friday: “I might get in trouble for this, but re-sign Freddie.” The Truist Park crowd roared in approval. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud and second baseman Ozzie Albies echoed the “re-sign Freddie” demand when handed the mic.

Many view the Braves retaining Freeman as a fait accompli. But it’s anyone’s guess what becomes of the remade outfield that propelled them to a title. Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario possibly won’t return. The Braves must calculate what is sustainable, what was lightning in a bottle and how each player fits over the longer term.

Pederson and Duvall declined their mutual options. Pederson turned down the $10 million option and dipped into free agency. A fan favorite, Pederson could seek consistent playing time elsewhere, but the Braves pursued him last winter and clearly enjoyed having him during their run.

Duvall declined a $7 million option, but remains arbitration eligible. The Braves non-tendered him last winter only to reacquire him from Miami during the summer. Duvall could earn just over $9 million in arbitration this time, according to MLB Trade Rumors’ projections. Perhaps the sides work something out.

Rosario, the National League Championship Series MVP, and Soler, the World Series MVP, are free to explore their markets. Both players flipped poor seasons into productive ones after getting dealt to the Braves at the trade deadline. Their postseason runs only helped their value.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Ronald Acuna’s return – he’s said he’s targeting May – makes the outfield situation murkier (in a good way). There’s also a belief the universal designated hitter will be part of the new CBA, which would give the Braves another spot to use Soler or Rosario, for instance. Marcell Ozuna’s legal situation, status and potential suspension casts further uncertainty over the Braves’ offseason. Outfield prospect Cristian Pache struggled but still possesses potential. The team also has outfield prospects Drew Waters and Michael Harris.

Beyond the outfield, the Braves will tweak their pitching. Starter Drew Smyly is a free agent and considered unlikely to return. The Braves already re-signed Morton to a one-year extension, so he’s back alongside Max Fried and Ian Anderson. Mike Soroka is a mid-summer maybe.

The big pitching question is how much the Braves believe they need rotation insurance. They won the World Series with only two starters standing, Fried and Anderson. They still have pitchers such as Huascar Ynoa, Kyle Wright and Kyle Muller, but it isn’t clear whether the Braves would feel comfortable banking on them entering the season. They also know how easily pitching depth can dwindle. It’s easy to envision them trying to add another veteran starter. The same should be said of the bullpen, where every team is looking to add.

As always, expect some changes with the bench, especially with the outfield situation. Utilityman Ehire Adrianza is a free agent as well. Maybe the Braves re-sign their familiar Swiss Army Knife. Outfielder Guillermo Heredia and infielder Orlando Arcia are arbitration eligible, so retaining both would ensure the Braves solid depth.

The Braves could consider an extension for Swanson, who’s arbitration eligible for the final time this winter, and maybe Fried, who’s eligible for the third of four times. Their other arbitration-eligible players include Luke Jackson, Grant Dayton, Richard Rodriguez, Mike Soroka, Johan Camargo, A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek, Sean Newcomb and Austin Riley.

It’s shaping up as a busy winter for the Braves, with key free agents and a long list of arbitration-eligible players. In the backdrop of it all are the CBA negations. The current deal expires Dec. 1 and the reported expectation is there will be a lockout, which would freeze transactions. Teams also could be hesitant to spend before the new agreement is in place, further stalling the market.

But all in all, if the Braves re-sign Freeman and continue supplementing their core, along with the reinforcements they have coming, they’ll be in good position to go for two.

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