GM meetings: Braves’ Alex Anthopoulos on Dansby Swanson, free-agent pitching, more

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

LAS VEGAS – Alex Anthopoulos uses a phrase.

“Keep the machine going,” he said during one of his answers at the General Managers Meetings.

The machine is this: He looks out of his office and sees the crowds in The Battery. He is aware Truist Park hosted 3.1 million fans in 2022.

But …

“Turn off the faucet if the team isn’t winning, right?” Anthopoulos, Atlanta’s president of baseball operations, said.

The Braves’ business team does its job, Anthopoulos said. The baseball operations team, he added, must follow suit.

Anthopoulos always says his job is to worry. “It’s worry because you know that people are counting on you,” he said Wednesday. He has built a sustained winner in Atlanta, but he understands making the playoffs is no guarantee.

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Here are some of the topics Anthopoulos discussed during his hour with reporters at the Conrad Las Vegas at Resorts World, the hotel that hosted the General Managers Meetings.

Dansby Swanson’s free agency

One major talking point here in Vegas: Will the Braves keep Dansby Swanson? There are four terrific shortstops on the market, one of which has spent his entire major-league career in Atlanta.

Asked if he had connected with Swanson’s representatives at Excel Sports Management, Anthopoulos said: “I just think there’s no point in getting into any of that stuff. I’ve never gotten into negotiations ever, whether it’s in season, offseason and so on. I know all 30 GMs are saying the same thing. We want to get better, that’s what we’re trying to do. Clearly we have an opening there at (shortstop) – that goes without saying. It’s a long offseason and we’re just getting started now starting to explore some things.”

Trea Turner, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts are viewed as the top three shortstops on the market. But all three – and especially the first two – will almost certainly be more expensive than Swanson.

Would the Braves be comfortable shelling out the money it might take to land one of the big three shortstops?

“Because we’re talking free agency, I’m not going to get into any of that stuff,” Anthopoulos said. “So I think like anything else, we look at everything -- trades, signings, and if we think they make sense we’ll pursue them. And I know that’s not what you guys want to hear because you want more in depth but I just can’t get into any plans and things like that. We’re in offseason mode and we’re just looking for opportunities to get better.”

Top-end starting pitching

One reporter from New York asked Anthopoulos a question about big-name starting pitching. Then another question came, preceded by the reporter saying Anthopoulos probably understood where he was going with all this.

“Yeah, of course,” Anthopoulos responded with a smile. “You just can’t say the name.”

Jacob deGrom.

He opted out of his contract and is a free agent. He’ll command a lot of money. But Anthopoulos didn’t shut down the idea of signing a frontline starter.

“You don’t rule anything out,” Anthopoulos said. “To me, you don’t go into the offseason saying you have to address X. Because you may not find the right deal, whether that’s trade or signing. So it’s just: Do you make your club better?”

Justin Verlander is a free agent. Carlos Rodon is another terrific free-agent starter. There are options if the Braves want to spend.

Anthopoulos said the perception or idea that the Braves wouldn’t pay a lot of money for a free-agent pitcher isn’t a fair characterization.

“I think it’s just too general,” he said. “I’ve been here like I said five years going into year six. If we think something makes sense for the organization, we do it, right? We’ve done all kinds of things.”

What about left field?

Last season, Eddie Rosario underperformed. So, too, did Marcell Ozuna, who was arrested for the second time since re-signing with Atlanta. Adam Duvall is a free agent, as is Robbie Grossman.

All of this might lead you to believe the Braves would be active in trying to sign or acquire an outfielder. (To be clear on something: This might be a nitpick – the Braves are in a great spot with their roster compared to most teams. But there’s always room to improve.)

Asked if he’d be comfortable with Rosario being the everyday left fielder, Anthopoulos said: “(Manager Brian Snitker) makes those decisions, right? We provide the roster he makes the decisions of who’s hitting in the lineup, who’s starting, all that kind of stuff. So, you know, we have our players, we have depth. You know, Rosario obviously didn’t have the year he’s capable of. We’re hopeful with a normal offseason, further removed from eye surgery and so on, he’ll be in much better position next year.”

Then he added: “Ozuna, the same way you know, very up and down, still hit over 20 homers, had a really good September. Hadn’t played in a long time.”

Anthopoulos complimented Duvall. During the season, Snitker was complimentary of Grossman. The Braves could bring back either if they wanted.

As of now, Rosario and Ozuna are the primary options in left field.

“These guys have the upside to be very productive, good players,” Anthopoulos said of those two. “Obviously that didn’t happen in 2022, but the ability is there, the youth -- they’re certainly young enough in their careers with the ability to certainly bounce back and give us good seasons in ‘23.”

Belief in Vaughn Grissom

In a surprise, Vaughn Grissom debuted in 2022 – no one expected that – and made an immediate impact, especially with his bat and baserunning. He’s a shortstop, leading some to wonder whether Anthopoulos would opt for Grissom as the starting shortstop if Swanson departs in free agency.

“I know in talking to (Braves third base and infield coach) Ron Washington, he really has belief that he will develop into an everyday defensive shortstop,” Anthopoulos said of Grissom. “Obviously we believe in the bat.”

Anthopoulos said Grissom is going to visit Washington three different times this offseason to work on his defense.

Anthopoulos mentioned the obvious: Grissom had only played 22 games in Double A before the Braves called him up out of necessity. Grissom is only 21.

“There’s definitely some things that he started getting a little more exposed (with) in September in terms of his bat,” Anthopoulos said, referencing Grissom slumping toward the end of the season.

None of this means Grissom would replace Swanson. In fact, Anthopoulos said the Braves believe Orlando Arcia, a former starting shortstop for the Brewers, has the ability to play shortstop again.

But the Braves think highly of Grissom.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The rotation – for now

The Braves’ rotation for 2023 looks like this: Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Kyle Wright, Charlie Morton and a fifth starter. Anthopoulos made it clear that, at this point, four starters have jobs.

There is an open competition for the fifth spot – assuming, of course, the Braves don’t sign or trade for someone better than the names who will compete for the last slot.

Anthopoulos mentioned Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka, Kyle Muller, Bryce Elder and Kolby Allard (acquired Wednesday for Jake Odorizzi) as names in the competition.

“A bunch of guys competing,” Anthopoulos said. “And again, just because you win it out of spring doesn’t mean you hold it right? We saw that this year. So we’ve got the (first) four you know, it’s their job. And then the fifth spot will be an open competition unless there’s a trade or signing but right now, we have competition amongst all those guys.”

Ronald Acuña playing five games in winter ball

Ronald Acuña, who is from Venezuela, will play five games in the Venezuelan Winter League. He’ll be the designated hitter for Tiburones de la Guaira, his hometown team.

Acuña asked the Braves for permission to do this. Anthopoulos talked to the trainers, who cleared it.

“Five games, they were fine,” Anthopoulos said when asked if there was any trepidation about an injury occurring during that stint.