How the Braves built a well-oiled machine that could be here to stay

October 7, 2022 Atlanta - From left, Evan Foertsch, Bruce Stephens and Clayton Rounsaville install flag buntings prior to National League Division Series (NLDS) starting next Tuesday at Truist Park on Friday, October 7, 2022. (Hyosub Shin /



October 7, 2022 Atlanta - From left, Evan Foertsch, Bruce Stephens and Clayton Rounsaville install flag buntings prior to National League Division Series (NLDS) starting next Tuesday at Truist Park on Friday, October 7, 2022. (Hyosub Shin /

To Braves chairman Terry McGuirk, the organization’s ascension to its current success began in 2012, with a literal and figurative look around Turner Field, then a realization about what the future might look like if the Braves stayed there.

“My goodness, we are never going to be able to compete,” McGuirk thought at the time.

The Braves, whose lease at Turner Field ran through 2016, looked at the broken concrete around the ballpark. The escalators needed work. The place needed new lights. When team officials spoke with then-Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed, McGuirk said, they told Reed they could prove the stadium needed approximately $100 million in renovations before the lease ended and about $100 million after it.

On a recent Friday evening, McGuirk is detailing the timeline of the Braves’ move to Truist Park while sitting on a couch in his office that overlooks the ballpark. Outside, The Battery Atlanta is buzzing and bumping with excitement. Around two hours before first pitch against the Mets, the ballpark is filling with fans who have consistently packed the seats.

“And as you can see, it’s a huge success,” McGuirk said. “It’s absolutely fulfilling what we wanted.”

These scenes serve as further proof that the Braves have built an all-in-one entertainment center in Cobb County. The Battery is the place to be, even for those without tickets. McGuirk said other owners around professional sports – even some in baseball – have inquired about it because they are seeing its effects.

The Braves’ move has led to what McGuirk calls a “virtuous circle”: The team is making more money, which means it can afford better players, which means it has better teams, which means people are buying tickets. The increased spending also has impacted scouting and player development. And shortly after their move, McGuirk and the Braves hired Alex Anthopoulos, the baseball-operations wizard who has brought it all together.

The Braves, who entered a rebuild less than a year ago, have built one of baseball’s sustainable winners, a well-oiled machine that could be near the top of the sport for years to come.

“I’m pinching myself,” McGuirk said. “We’ve gotten more right than we deserved to get right, I think.”

‘I think he’s the best general manager in baseball’

On weekdays, Anthopoulos often is up around 6:30 a.m., in time to hop in the car to take his kids to school around 7:15 a.m. The Braves’ top decision-maker also is a husband and a father, a difficult but fulfilling balance. He makes it work, and a lot of this, especially the time-management aspect of it, comes with experience.

“That’s a little tough when you have a late game, and you’re not going to bed the minute the game’s over,” Anthopoulos said. “But that’s part of being a dad. You don’t get to be home at night on game days, that’s the time you get to spend with them – in the morning in the car on the drive to school.”

His full-time job is difficult enough. “Your mind’s always going,” Anthopoulos said. He always has been in a relentless pursuit to make the Braves better. If you ask people in the industry about the Braves’ success, many point to Anthopoulos. He has the intelligence and instincts, but also the work ethic. He knows what he wants to do, and he gets it done.

The Braves’ string of five consecutive National League East division titles – the longest active streak of division crowns in baseball – is the fruit of Anthopoulos’ drive. Staying atop the division and remaining a perennial contender is difficult. In a sport with so much turnover, the Braves have found consistency.

“It’s 24/7, and you can never take your foot off the gas,” Anthopoulos said of the most difficult part of all of this. “That’s the job, that’s just the reality of sports. That’s not a complaint. You sit there and you realize how fleeting it can be and how hard it is to get back to the postseason, and how grateful we are that we’ve been in this position. I definitely don’t take it for granted, and I don’t think I ever will, just with everything I’ve experienced in my career. I’m grateful every time we qualify for the postseason.

“I’ve been on the other side when you don’t get in and knowing how hard it is to get in. Our jobs as front-office people is we have to worry, right? You’re constantly having to worry and think ahead about the roster, about putting the team together, about all parts of the department, all parts of baseball operations because you know your competitors are really smart, really well-prepared, and they’re tough to beat.”

Years ago, with the Braves searching for a general manager, they fell in love with Anthopulos’ love for scouting and for developing players. His vision matched theirs.

Together, they charged forward into a new era for the club.

“He was that last cog in what we were looking for,” McGuirk said of Anthopoulos. “I think he’s the best general manager in baseball. He proves it every month, every year. You can’t do everything right.”

Locking up the core

As the Braves raked in more money from Truist Park and The Battery, they began to flex their muscles. From 2012-21, McGuirk always said the organization’s goal was to have a top-10 payroll in baseball.

This season, the Braves achieved that: They rank eighth with a $188 million payroll, according to FanGraphs. Their next goal? Have a top-five payroll, McGuirk said, all but assuring that the team will get there.

“The glide slope on this virtuous circle of better players, higher payroll, greater development and being able to build the minor leagues, our spring-training facility – all of these things come out of this decision to move here (to Cobb County),” McGuirk said.

The money has allowed the Braves to build a core that will be around for (at least) most of the decade. They have given long-term extensions to Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, Michael Harris and Matt Olson. They all occurred in different ways, but none has wrecked the team’s chances to contend.

In 2019, Acuña signed an eight-year, $100 million deal that includes two club options – a terrific value for one of the game’s top talents. The previous regime tried to sign Acuña to an extension while he was still in Triple-A. When Anthopoulos arrived, the conversations continued.

While Acuña’s agent might have preferred the outfielder wait for a larger deal, multiple people with knowledge of the situation said the outfielder told Anthopoulos that he would sign if the Braves reached $100 million in their offer. At 21 years old, Acuña became the youngest player in MLB history to sign a contract worth at least $100 million.

Around a week later, the Braves signed Albies to a seven-year, $35 million extension, with two club options. It appears like quite the bargain, as Albies now is a two-time All-Star and has won two Silver Slugger Awards.

This year, the Braves locked up more of their core. Olson received an eight-year, $168 million extension after the Braves acquired him. The Braves gave Riley a 10-year, $212 million deal, then signed Harris to an eight-year, $72 million contract extension not long after.

Along the way, the Braves have made strong decisions. In spring training, they told Harris they wouldn’t trade him, as they obviously knew what they had in him. A few years ago, Riley was rumored to be in trade talks, but the club held onto him.

The Braves’ naysayers complain about how the club has gotten good deals on great players. There is a behind-the-scenes factor in this: Anthopoulos knows what he values and identifies players who fit the organization’s brand.

The perfect example is Harris, who likely will win the National League Rookie of the Year award. In September, as he reflected on his extension, Harris said: “It’s kind of unbelievable still talking about it, that I have a deal done. I honestly do forget that I actually have a deal done because I would’ve never thought this would ever happen.” Harris grew up rooting for the Braves and dreaming of the day he could wear their uniform. Why wouldn’t he want to stay?

As much as they value talent, the Braves look at makeup – the baseball word for character. They have infused that into this roster.

“To get into our organization and to get to a place where you’re considered for the major leagues, you’ve got to be exemplary in all these personal ways,” McGuirk said. “But then to get us to go long term, it’s sort of that next test. So you can be absolutely sure that every one of these guys, we have really looked into their souls.”

‘You just continue to flood the organization with good people’

Since the moment the Braves hired him, Anthopoulos has worked to change the cultu–. Stop right there.

Anthopoulos doesn’t believe in any sort of script or blueprint to implement a certain culture. In his eyes, there is no magic plan or potion – only one solution.

“You just continue to flood the organization with quality people,” he said during a press conference for Harris’ contract extension.

From the executives around him to clubhouse staffers, he has sought people who fit what he wants to do. Of course, they must be proficient in their roles, but their values are most important. The quality people, Anthopoulos said on a recent phone call, “make it a fun place to come to work, a fun place to be around.”

One of the many aspects that Anthopoulos focused on upon his arrival: the family room. It’s right across from the Braves’ clubhouse at Truist Park. It symbolizes the Braves’ goal of caring for players’ families.

In April, Riley and his wife, Anna, welcomed a baby boy, Eason. Anna has dropped off Eason at the family room, where the infant will receive delicate care. And one time, when Austin’s family came to watch a game, they left their luggage in the family room, which made it easier for them to catch their flights when they left in the middle of the game.

“I think it takes pressure off us,” Riley said. “We’re not sitting here having to worry: Is little man being treated right? Is Anna getting the things that she needs or what not? Or even if my parents are here, are they getting treated fairly? Then that allows me to just go out and play baseball. I’m not having to worry about anything.”

As he does in player acquisition, Anthopoulos uses his instincts when trying to hire good people. He knows what he values, which might be his greatest strength as a baseball executive.

“Not everyone has the same friends or the same people that they like or that they enjoy being around, or obviously not everyone would marry the same individual,” he said. “There’s no guarantee that everyone’s going to be compatible and coexist. But I think, generally speaking, if you have certain values and those are the people you pursue, with like-minded values – even though they’re coming from different backgrounds and so on, there’s a good chance that they’ll mesh and they’ll get along, whether that’s in the front office or in the clubhouse.”

For years, Anthopoulos has been driven in his quest to build a roster with strong chemistry. He prioritizes it more now than he did as a young general manager in Toronto years ago.

Players notice these efforts. Pitcher Collin McHugh used the adage: “Bad teams meet.” McHugh said that often is the case because you need to monitor everyone to ensure they’re pulling in the same direction. The Braves, he said, don’t have that issue.

“They’ve done a really good job of getting the right people on the bus,” McHugh said. “Ideally, when you do that, you have to be less active in your daily management that you have to do of those people.

“They’ve gotten people in here in the clubhouse that are committed to taking care of their business, of going about their day in a very professional or very intentional way, so that we get out there on the field, you are able to kind of see what the talent looks like and are able to just play the game, which is the goal.”

Braves use a collaborative process in scouting

Amateur scouts don’t have hands-on involvement with the major-league team, but their fingerprints are all over the roster.

Dana Brown, the Braves’ vice president of scouting, and his team drafted Harris in the third round in 2019, Vaughn Grissom in the 11th round that year and Spencer Strider in the fourth round in 2020, and each is a key rookie this season. The Braves would not be what they are – a potential juggernaut for years to come – without their scouting department appearing to ace a lot of its decisions.

The Braves have created an environment where, Brown said, “each of the guys are not afraid to give their opinion, and you kind of weigh all the evidence, and you try to make wise decisions. You learn from your mistakes in the past.” Humility is required, with each person tossing aside his ego and trying to make the best decision for the organization. The Braves value scouts’ opinions and analytical information, and try to blend them.

The 2020 MLB draft provided a fitting example. In their draft room, Braves officials debated whether to draft Strider or Bryce Elder first. They liked both, but feared one would soon be gone after they drafted another.

When discussing this, the Braves weighed the opinion and report from Billy Best, the area scout assigned to Strider. They also evaluated the analytical profile – the ride on Strider’s fastball, how he looked to be trending up in his development and more. And because they liked the whole package with Strider a bit more than Elder, they selected Strider first. (They are happy with how it turned out because they ended up drafting Elder in the next round).

Many teams, Brown said, use an analytical model for drafting players. It is developed by analytics employees who will create the model that an organization uses to select players. That’s not the Braves’ way. “We still value the scouts,” Brown said. The Braves will look at the model and weigh it versus their scouts’ opinions. When the two are mixed, scouts also can know if they perhaps overrated or underrated a certain player. The Braves remove egos from the process.

“And I think we’ve been able to create that environment,” Brown said, “where we can put all of our heads together and make wise decisions for the organization.”

The Braves are a ‘very well-oiled machine’

Sitting in a dugout in Miami, manager Brian Snitker rattled off name after name from the organization’s player-development department. Snitker, who spent many years managing in the minors, is the biggest player-development advocate you can find. He understands the hard work and long hours put in by coaches and coordinators down there.

“It takes that whole building,” Snitker said, “to be successful.”

The Braves have tons of player-development successes on their roster.

You see Harris, Strider and Elder. Kyle Wright, a main starting-rotation piece, is one of MLB’s breakout stars this season. Dylan Lee, a member of the bullpen, was released by the Marlins ahead of the 2021 season. A.J. Minter, one of the club’s top relievers, went down to Triple-A to get right last year.

The Braves claimed catcher Chadwick Tromp off waivers last year. He helped them win a game in Miami this season. Kyle Muller, one of the organization’s top prospects, has made multiple spot starts this season.

When their players reach the majors, the Braves position them for success. They are known as a forward-thinking club, one that uses a heavy dose of analytics. But that isn’t as important as the application of those numbers.

Robbie Grossman, acquired at the trade deadline, is playing for his fifth team and hasn’t seen anything like what the Braves are doing. “How well-prepared we are,” he said of what strikes him. He has been impressed by the organization’s attention to detail and the way staffers relate analytical information so that there is clear communication between the front office and clubhouse.

“This is a very well-oiled machine here, and it starts at the top, with Alex, and the culture that he’s built here is second to none,” Grossman said.

As Braves contend now, they eye the future

Years ago, a bunch of Braves executives – including iconic former manager Bobby Cox and standout former player Ted Simmons – sat in a room and evaluated the organization’s path forward. With the Braves set to undergo a rebuild, the group came to a realization.

If everything fell into place, 2021 or 2022 would be the target years for a World Series run. Their predictions came true when the 2021 Braves made an incredible and improbable run to bring a championship back to Atlanta.

Success can be fleeting in this sport. Nothing is guaranteed. As the Braves contend now, they eye the future.

“Baseball is a patchwork quilt,” McGuirk said. “You’re always playing five years from now in your head.”

As McGuirk lays out the organization’s fruitful present and its hopeful future, the World Series trophy sits on a table behind his desk. Outside, fans begin to fill Truist Park, which is becoming noisier, as energy flows through The Battery Atlanta.

The Braves have reached baseball’s elite tier, and they plan to stay.

“I think we’ve surpassed pretty much everybody in how a team should be run and how you put the success factors together,” McGuirk said. “I would just put us up against anybody for having the whole package.”