Five things to keep in mind about the Braves as offseason progresses

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

SAN DIEGO — Jacob deGrom chose Texas. Trea Turner is headed to Philadelphia. Justin Verlander joined the Mets.

Things are heating up at the winter meetings.

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The Braves, like their competitors, are exploring ways to improve their roster and, by association, their chances of winning another World Series in 2023. Since the Phillies eliminated Atlanta from the postseason in October, Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos has been hard at work as he tries to position his club for another championship.

Atlanta is open-minded to different ways of improving its club.

“It could be anything,” Anthopoulos said. “It really could.”

Here are five things to keep in mind about the Braves as the winter meetings continue:

The Braves won’t force a deal

“The Braves HAVE to do this.”

Anthopoulos doesn’t like thinking about it that way. He thinks it can be dangerous.

“I think once you put yourself into that position, you’re likely to make a mistake,” he said. “So you might aspire to do ‘X’ or have goals and so on, but you force a deal, there’s a lot of implications to that. Sometimes, you need to just feel good about the deal, and (other times) pass.”

The Braves, as Anthopoulos said, can have hopes and desires for this offseason. They must figure out their shortstop situation. They could bring in an outfielder. Perhaps they strengthen their rotation and add to their bullpen.

But it’s clear they won’t be too rigid on the specifics. A forced deal could be detrimental.

Sometimes it’s better to pass on opportunities.

“That’s hard to do at times, especially in the short term,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s a long offseason. I’ve talked about this before: You can talk yourself into things the later the offseason goes. You have your plan at the beginning or you have the group of players that you want to target, whether that’s free agency or trade. As you get later in the winter, you get to January and so on, there’s guys still out there, you might still have some money available, you start talking yourself into players that you weren’t really targeting to begin with.

“I made those mistakes as a young GM. I learned from those mistakes.”

The Braves are always judicious with their actions during the winter.

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Alex Anthopoulos acknowledges emotion but remains balanced

Freddie Freeman meant something to the Braves and their fans. So does Dansby Swanson.

Even if this is a business, emotion is prevalent in situations such as these.

“Yeah, it’s challenging,” Anthopoulos said. “There’s no doubt. You’re not a human if you don’t have it, and you don’t try to balance it out.”

Acquired by the Braves years ago, Swanson, who is from Marietta, debuted with his hometown team. Everyone saw him grow into one of baseball’s top shortstops. His leadership qualities shined more and more as time passed.

“Everyone does get attached, from the fan base to the front office and so on,” Anthopoulos said. “But there’s a reason you get attached, because they’re likely good people, they’re likely a very good player, so they’ve earned that attachment. Those are likely the guys you want to keep.”

This is the case. Publicly and privately, the Braves have stated their desire to re-sign Swanson. They believe he’s a great shortstop and leader. He fits in their organization.

Anthopoulos has relationships with his players and recently spoke to Swanson.

But Anthopoulos has a job.

“Bottom line is, your job is to do what you feel is best for the organization,” he said. “Sometimes that doesn’t line up, and that’s the hardest part.”

The point here: The Braves love Swanson. They want him back.

But they won’t allow emotion to cloud their judgment on what’s best for their present and future.

The Braves feel they have the players necessary to swing a trade

At the trade deadline last summer, Anthopoulos said no club has ever told the Braves they don’t have the players to engage in a legitimate discussion about a trade.

Winter is upon us, and that apparently hasn’t changed.

“Explored some things but who it would take for us to get certain guys, we just don’t want to move those guys,” Anthopoulos said. “So if we said yes, then we probably would have had traction on a deal. I don’t know if we would have gotten it done, but we definitely would have traction. But the centerpiece of the deal that we discussed, we just don’t want to trade that player.

“That happens. But we have the ability (to make a trade). We have not had a time yet where people just said flat out, ‘You don’t have the young player to get a deal done.’”

Given the high prices and long commitments for top free agents, a trade might be more realistic for the Braves. But after dealing prospects for Matt Olson in March, then seeing a trio of players debut in the majors, would the Braves have the prospects to make a deal? Would they want to give up young players?

Due to his rise in 2022, outfielder Justyn-Henry Malloy could be a hot name for rival clubs. Left-hander Jared Shuster should be relatively close to the major leagues. The Braves used a few top draft picks on pitchers over the summer.

Michael Harris, Spencer Strider and Vaughn Grissom are no longer part of the farm system. Of course, Atlanta’s system isn’t what it was years ago, before the Braves made their rebuilding push.

You should know this, though: The Braves don’t hype up their prospects like other clubs. They don’t seem to care much about prospect rankings. But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel good about their farm system.

This much seems clear: The Braves have the young players to swing a trade – if they want to pull the trigger.

When it comes to Dansby Swanson, Braves won’t react to others

When thinking about the potential void left by a free agent such as Swanson, Anthopoulos starts with a question: Do you have options internally?

“That’s the first thing,” he said.

If someone were to depart and a team didn’t have confidence it would sign someone else, the club, Anthopoulos said, must look internally. And would a team be comfortable with that solution?

In the Braves’ case, would they be comfortable using Grissom and Orlando Arcia at shortstop if they lose Swanson? Atlanta must answer that question, and its answer would begin to dictate the team’s direction.

When the Braves lost Josh Donaldson, Austin Riley stepped in, as expected. Had the Braves not acquired Olson, Adam Duvall would’ve started at first base.

At a certain point, the industry moves. On Monday, the Phillies reportedly agreed to a deal with Turner. It left three top shortstops on the board.

But regardless of what other teams do, the Braves will stay within their own plans.

“We’re aware of what everyone’s doing, obviously,” Anthopoulos said before the Phillies signed Turner. “We’re watching, we’re paying attention. But we really have to operate with our own parameters and our structure, and just do what we think makes sense for us.

“I just think we can’t start trying to match teams and react. We just have to do the things that make sense for us, hopefully make a decision that, from a baseball standpoint, we think makes sense. Hopefully it pans out. But we’ve never, since I’ve been here, ever made a decision in reaction to what somebody else has done. It’s just – I just don’t believe in it. I don’t think you can make good decisions doing it.”

The luxury tax threshold doesn’t seem to scare the Braves

According to FanGraphs, the Braves, as of this writing, have a luxury tax payroll of around $228 million, which is approaching the first threshold of $233 million.

“We’re aware of everything, but that’s not something that has prevented us from exploring things and having discussions about things,” Anthopoulos said. “So, in the right context, in the right deal, we will go past it. But, again, it needs to be what we feel is the right context and the right deal.”

The Braves, Anthopoulos said, monitor their cash payroll more. That’s what they’ll actually pay in 2023. Anthopoulos said he works off that number and not the luxury tax figure.

Thus, the luxury tax threshold won’t keep the Braves from doing what they want. The good news about all this is that this conversation – about luxury tax payroll – is one you wouldn’t have had about the Braves a few years ago.

Times are good around Truist Park and The Battery.