Brian Snitker discusses Braves’ offseason, MLB’s outlook

Braves manager Brian Snitker wore a mask during a scrimmage in July 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
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Braves manager Brian Snitker wore a mask during a scrimmage in July 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Braves manager Brian Snitker spoke with reporters Friday morning for the first time since his postseason debriefing. Every manager spoke this week as part of the virtual winter meetings.

Snitker didn’t reveal any surprises, but he covered several hot subjects surrounding the Braves and MLB. Below are some of the relevant points:

- The Braves are operating under the expectation that the season will begin as scheduled. There’s been recent talk that MLB could push back the start of its season because of uncertainty around the coronavirus, but until it happens, Snitker is expecting to be at spring training in early February.

“I’d love to see it start on time, and we’re going to proceed with that (expectation) right now,” he said. “I haven’t been told anything. ... I’ve seen a spring training schedule, so we’re going to proceed like it is until it’s not, (and if necessary) we’d adjust and adapt as we have all year.

“Right now, the only thing we can do is proceed ahead as planned. I don’t know all the other stuff, the medical things. I have complete faith in our medical staff and the way they operate and how strict they were with us, and consistent. They’ll do the same thing again, and I’ll put all my trust in them. Right now, a month from now I want to be getting excited about spring training, unless it’s changed.”

- While the free-agent market across baseball has stalled, the Braves struck early twice. They signed veteran starters Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton to round out their rotation. It’s a homecoming for Morton, who developed in the Braves’ minor-league system over a decade ago.

“I think it’s great,” Snitker said. “We saw how fragile rotations are last year. We went into last year with a lot of depth and numbers, to add two guys like that, I think it’ll be great. I love being reunited with Charlie. I don’t know Drew, but I’ve talked to him, and he seems excited about being here. You look at the numbers. I think it’s going to be great having both of them.”

- Keeping with the theme of uncertainty, Snitker said he hasn’t started thinking about potential lineups. “There’s a lot of unknowns out there,” he said. For one, National League teams are operating as if there won’t be a designated hitter, though there’s still a chance the MLB and MLBPA strike a deal to implement the universal DH again.

The Braves’ lineup also is missing a key piece in free-agent slugger Marcell Ozuna (or his replacement), which ties into the DH discussion. With the rotation addressed, Ozuna’s situation headlines the team’s offseason.

Snitker didn’t have an update on Ozuna. In fact, he said he hasn’t even discussed Ozuna with general manager Alex Anthopoulos.

“He hasn’t even come up, quite honestly,” Snitker said. “I don’t know where all this is or anything like that. I texted Marcell congratulations for being on the All-MLB team as the DH, but other than that, I haven’t had any conversations with him or Alex about where he’s at. All I know is what I read every morning when I get up with my coffee.”

Anthopoulos is on record as saying the team wants to add a middle-of-the-order bat. Ozuna, who led the NL in homers and RBIs, was an excellent fit. Whether Ozuna is a DH or left fielder, the Braves have proved they’ll walk away if the price exceeds their comfort zone, just as they did last winter with Josh Donaldson.

- Ozuna isn’t the Braves’ only notable free agent. Three relievers from the team’s outstanding 2020 bullpen – Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, Darren O’Day – are free agents. Melancon was the Braves’ primary closer last season. The team could still re-sign him, or acquire another reliever or two, but Snitker is comfortable with his internal options, too.

“We have a few guys who can (close),” Snitker said. “Off the top of my head, there’s three guys down there who could close games. That’s a good position to be in. And they’re not specialists as far as one hand or the other. They can get both sides out. That’s just one of those things where we’ll get to spring training, play some games and when the season starts, we’ll see where we’re at.”

Lefty Will Smith and righty Chris Martin, the highest paid veterans in the bullpen, would be logical closer options. Southpaw A.J. Minter is coming off his best season and has experience in the role. It’s realistic to think the Braves will retain one of Melancon or Greene, but the slow-developing market might mean little clarity about the bullpen until closer to spring training.

- Snitker again endorsed the rule changes implemented during the 2020 season. Snitker, who considers himself a baseball traditionalist, said he supports the universal DH, the placement of a runner at second base in extra innings and seven-inning doubleheaders.

The manager was less enthusiastic about the expanded postseason, which included eight teams in each league, feeling that a 162-game schedule “will take care of a lot of that.” He also was on the fence about potentially banning defensive shifts.

Snitker, who’s been in the game for over 40 years, had interesting comments on the state of baseball tradition and the sport’s evolving landscape.

“I don’t know that where the game is at is actually, the tradition that we all grew up with,” he said. “The game has changed. So the tradition we all talk about, I’m not sure that that tradition is there any more. It’s a different game in how it’s viewed. I think probably a lot of us (managers), we’ve been subjected to change since July 3, when things were different when we went back to camp. So we better be able to change. It’s what we lived.

“I think since we did experience things, and we were forced to look at it in a different vein, we thought, ‘Maybe it’s not too bad and it will help the game.’ We’re concerned in our game about the popularity of it, people liking it, the action. I think as we sit back and talk about it – it’s things we haven’t talked about in years. And the conversations are completely different than they used to be. I think everybody is for whatever it takes to help the game.”

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