‘We expect to win’: As Braves enter offseason, expectations have risen

The Braves’ top priority this offseason appears to be figuring out shortstop Dansby Swanson’s situation. (Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

The Braves’ top priority this offseason appears to be figuring out shortstop Dansby Swanson’s situation. (Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

LAS VEGAS — Following the Braves’ early exit from this postseason, their fans all around the country experienced the pain and heartbreak they had not felt in two years. Those supporters felt the sting of unmet expectations. Perhaps the World Series trophy from the year before lessened all of this, but Braves Country still mourned a team that looked like it would achieve so much more.

Fans felt upset, hurt, disappointed, mad, confused, empty.

And this – the reaction all around the fan base – might have been one of the biggest positives from the Braves’ season because it proved something: The Braves have succeeded in setting their bar really, really high.

“We don’t hope to win anymore, we expect to win,” manager Brian Snitker said the day after the Phillies eliminated his team from the postseason.

On that same day, president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos said he and Snitker have had that conversation. They have talked about the turnaround in Atlanta, which has included increased attendance and heightened expectations from fans.

A few years back, the Braves made fans believe better times could be ahead. Now they are showing that growing success was never a fluke.

“We feel a great sense of responsibility to keep this going and to do it year in and year out – because we know that people are counting on the work that we’re all doing on the organization, everyone on down,” Anthopoulos said. “People are living and dying with this team.”

The members of the Braves’ organization never stop working. But the grind will now pick up with Houston’s World Series victory over Philadelphia signaling the beginning of the offseason. From Tuesday through Thursday here in Las Vegas – with many people arriving before those days – the baseball world will convene for the General Managers Meetings.

On Sunday – the day after the conclusion of the World Series – nine Braves became free agents: Dansby Swanson, Kenley Jansen, Robbie Grossman, Adam Duvall, Luke Jackson, Jesse Chavez, Darren O’Day, Ehire Adrianza and Jay Jackson. Jake Odorizzi – who, per Spotrac, has a $12.5 million player option for 2023 with a $6.25 million buyout after hitting performance bonuses over the length of his contract – could join the group if he declines that option.

The Braves’ free agents cannot sign with new teams until after 5 p.m. ET Thursday because teams have an exclusive five-day negotiating window with their own free agents following the end of the World Series. Clubs must also extend the qualifying offer – worth $19.65 million this year – by that day and time. Players have 10 days to accept or decline that offer.

The five-day quiet period might mean this year’s GM Meetings are rather slow. But they’re still the official beginning of hot stove season, which is always must-follow entertainment for baseball fans.

The Braves’ top priority this offseason appears to be figuring out Swanson’s situation. If he departs in free agency, as Freddie Freeman did, Anthopoulos will need to deploy another backup plan. Trea Turner and Carlos Correa are the top two shortstops on the market, but the Braves haven’t traditionally dished out the type of contracts those two might command.

Left field could also be a priority. Eddie Rosario underperformed last season, though his eye procedure may have kept him from experiencing a normal season. And then there’s this big question: What will Atlanta do with Marcell Ozuna? That contract seems like a rare miss from Anthopoulos, on and off the field.

Then there’s Jansen. He was the Braves’ closer in 2022, but they acquired Raisel Iglesias, another proven closer, minutes before the trade deadline. The Braves must solidify their bullpen, which proved to be a strength last season.

Could the Braves sign a frontline starting pitcher? Will they make a splashy trade? We’ll receive answers to these questions over the coming months.

The Braves are in a good spot, though.

Yes, the offseason is always busy. Yes, we can talk for hours about the Braves’ priorities this winter. But they are set up well – perhaps more so than many other teams.

They’ve solidified their core, giving extensions to Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Michael Harris and Spencer Strider this year. Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies also have long-term extensions. The Braves’ player development department is humming.

Thus, Swanson’s free agency will headline the Braves’ offseason. He is their unofficial captain, the unquestioned leader of the clubhouse. On the field, he is a Gold Glove Award winner and an All-Star. He’s also a clutch hitter. Many times, his coaches and teammates have talked about the “It” factor with Swanson.

The Braves have this going for them: Around the industry, Anthopoulos is regarded as one of the sport’s top executives. His track record in Atlanta is rather strong. The bulk of his offseason work begins now.

On the morning after the Braves lost in the National League Division Series, Anthopoulos woke up and watched the news, and saw reporters interviewing fans about the Braves’ 2022 season. He also received a ton of texts from people.

Anthopoulos knows how much the Braves mean to their fans, and it seems to be a motivating factor.

“We take it in a very serious way,” Anthopoulos said that day, “to try to put a great product on the field and try to make the entire community proud.”