With their core, Braves should be winning for a long time

As he answered a question about what it would mean if the Braves, his favorite team since childhood, became perennial World Series contenders, Michael Harris began his answer by mentioning that the Braves have a “great group of guys already locked up here for a good amount of years.”

Then Harris paused for a couple of moments. He then pointed to his left, at president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos.

“He did his part,” Harris said of Anthopoulos. “(Braves chairman) Terry McGuirk did his part. They’re just really good at getting good guys to stay here because a lot of people want to play here. We have a great group of guys that want to play with each other. I feel like it just helps with players making decisions long-term and actually wanting to be here and play baseball here.”

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Anthopoulos told this story once again during Wednesday’s press conference about Harris’ extension: When he first got the job as the Braves’ general manager and moved to the area, Anthopoulos, a huge sports fan himself, would listen to talk radio and watch TV as he tried to gain a feel for the city and the market. He remembered seeing a half-empty Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the middle of the Falcons’ season. “It was eye-opening to me,” Anthopoulos said. When you build a consistent contender in this town, Anthopoulos added, the fan base is incredible.

That is precisely what he and McGuirk have done.

The defending World Series champions have only strengthened their roster and, by association, their organization. They won a title, then traded for and extended Matt Olson before extending Austin Riley and Harris. They look like a perennial contender.

“Obviously, I worry about a lot of things in this job,” Anthopoulos said. “The number one thing I worry about is being sustainable and being competitive each year.”

Anthopoulos on Wednesday mentioned something all fans must know: MLB is not the NBA. One star player – a LeBron James, if you will – often cannot carry a team to sustained success. A successful baseball organization possesses talent, depth and a strong pipeline of young players. Effective scouting and player development are a must.

Then another challenge comes: Once you scout, draft and develop players, you must keep them. And locking up good players is difficult and expensive. That’s where the Braves have excelled. Not only has everyone in the organization contributed to creating a positive environment, but Anthopoulos negotiated multiple big deals recently and McGuirk signed off on them. This has been a team effort.

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Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies, Riley, Olson and Harris are all signed through at least 2027, which is the year when the Braves could exercise the final option on Albies’ contract. Riley is signed through at least the 2032 season, Harris through at least 2030 and Olson through at least 2029.

In total, if you don’t count the money on potential option years, the Braves will have given Acuña ($100 million), Albies ($35 million), Riley ($212 million), Olson ($168 million) and Harris ($72 million) a combined $587 over the duration of their contracts.

That’s not a ton when you consider the Angels in 2019 gave Mike Trout a 12-year deal worth $426.5 million. Padres star Juan Soto eventually could command $450 million.

Here is another staggering part: In 2027 – used as an example because all of the aforementioned players could still be on one roster – the Braves will pay Acuña, Albies, Riley, Olson and Harris a combined $77 million that season.

For context, the average annual value on Mets starter Max Scherzer’s contract is $43.3 million. The AAV on Trout’s deal is over $37 million.

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The Braves are going to strike a nice balance between having a lot of talent and building a roster that is not too top-heavy. They aren’t paying too much for those core pieces, which will allow Anthopoulos to field a deep club for a long time.

“Obviously we’re trying to win each year, but the most important thing is how do we sustain it and have a sustainable long-term team?” Anthopoulos said. “And it’s important that guys want to stay here. If we can become one of the best places to play, then obviously we’ll be able to keep players, we’ll be able to sign players and the fans will certainly enjoy it.”

The Braves are one of baseball’s better teams. Critics say their World Series run was a fluke, but they have backed it up with another outstanding regular season. They are chasing their fifth division title in as many seasons since Anthopoulos took over as the baseball-operations leader.

“I was here when you could go out and count how many people were in the stands,” manager Brian Snitker said. “There wasn’t any expectation and all. And now to see where we were in that run in the ‘90s and the kind of a downtick and now back up.”

Mike Soroka remembers pitching in Rome in the minors in 2016, and talking to teammates about how the Braves had to win a World Series somewhere between 2020 and 2022. They accomplished that goal in 2021. “Now we’re looking toward hopefully being one of the best teams in the decade,” Soroka said.

There is a common refrain you are hearing and seeing from Braves faithful: There has not often been a better time to be a Braves fan. This team should contend for another World Series this season, but that trend isn’t expected to stop here. This organization could be a powerhouse for years to come.

“It seems like I’m going to have joy on my face for a while,” said Michael Harris, the father of Michael Harris II, after his son’s press conference. “With the nucleus that the Braves have put together, it should be a fun time for the near future. It’s looking good. It’s really looking good.”

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Soroka: The mound ‘felt like home’

As he went to bed Monday, the night before his first rehab appearance, Soroka caught himself visualizing striking out the side in his first inning back on the mound.

“No, don’t do that,” he told himself. “Think about pitch by pitch. Think about the first pitch, and the next one.”

As it turned out, Soroka struck out the side in his first inning – and did it on 10 pitches. He allowed one hit and struck out eight over four scoreless innings for High-A Rome on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Soroka said he didn’t know when or where he would pitch next. (Snitker said he assumed Soroka would stay on schedule and pitch five days after his first start, which would be Sunday.) But Soroka said he felt “as good as I can ask for” a day after that outing.

As he reflected Tuesday, he felt like he would have more nerves going into that start. He had a chance to think about all of it during a drive over to the ballpark.

“It kind of felt like home,” he said of stepping on the mound. “It felt like I never really left, so that was a really nice feeling.”

When he experienced shoulder issues in 2018, he felt like they immediately put things into perspective. Through his injuries – the latest two being on his Achilles – Soroka has learned a lot about himself as a pitcher.

“I can carry a quiet intensity, still be a competitor and still show a smile every once in a while when something funny happens or someone says something from the dugout or whatever it may be,” Soroka said. “I think you learn a lot in those situations, and this last year, especially, I think I’ve learned more than anywhere else, so hopefully be able to apply that soon.”

Albies to travel on next trip

Ozzie Albies, who is rehabbing after fracturing his foot, will travel with the Braves on their next road trip, which is to Pittsburgh and St. Louis. He’ll continue ramping up in his progression of doing baseball activities.

Albies will soon begin taking batting practice, Snitker said. He’ll also continue intensifying his work in the field. Albies on Wednesday worked on the field with infield guru Ron Washington.

“He’s doing great for what they’re letting him do,” Snitker said. “But he’ll start amping up, just getting back into baseball shape and everything.”