Braves enter winter meetings with most needs filled

Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson jokes with the St. Louis Cardinals dugout after a play in the second inning. (JASON GETZ/SPECIAL TO THE AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson jokes with the St. Louis Cardinals dugout after a play in the second inning. (JASON GETZ/SPECIAL TO THE AJC)

As Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos readies for baseball’s winter meetings, which open Monday in San Diego, most of his to-do boxes are already checked.

Anthopoulos has wasted no time since the World Series concluded. He added All-Star reliever Will Smith on a healthy $13 million-a-year commitment. He retained seasoned relievers Chris Martin and Darren O’Day, surely hoping that group is the backbone of the team rather than the game of roulette it was for much of 2019.

Recent postseasons have shown us that bullpens can swing a series, if not engineer title runs. There’s no doubt relievers are volatile, so even the seemingly best investments can go sour (see Kenley Jansen in L.A.). It’s a risk contenders take to build more postseason-ready rosters. The Braves paid Smith the going rate for high-level bullpen arms - they undoubtedly did so with an eye on October.

In addressing arguably their most glaring need, the Braves snagged Travis d’Arnaud to fill Brian McCann’s vacated catcher spot. D’Arnaud will make $16 million over two years, a more-than-reasonable price for a reliable backstop.

For the rotation, Anthopoulos signed former World Series MVP Cole Hamels, once a Braves nemesis in Philadelphia. He fills the Dallas Keuchel void, adding a World-Series-tested southpaw who’s expected to provide innings and mentorship.

So Anthopoulos arrived in San Diego with near ideal positioning. He has only one true need: Power in the lineup, ideally from third base. He has luxury of money and prospects to make for ample options.

Josh Donaldson remains unsigned; if the Braves keep him at what they deem is a fair cost, chalk this up as a successful offseason regardless of ensuing moves. The organization insists it wants to retain him, though if he departs, it may have to add power in the outfield instead.

Donaldson was the presumed key to the team’s winter, but the Braves haven’t waited around. They aggressively plugged their other holes, and should Donaldson leave, they still have options to replace him while strengthening their club in other ways.

The rotation isn’t necessarily completed. The Braves could target another veteran starter - yes, Madison Bumgarner among them - to fortify their starting group, especially if the Donaldson money must be reallocated. They could add another outfielder, though it’s unlikely to be a bigger investment with top prospects Cristian Pache and Drew Waters lurking.

However Donaldson’s free agency plays out, Anthopoulos should be a popular figure in San Diego. He’s heading a franchise clearly motivated to turn a good regular-season team into a playoff menace. He’s equipped with a likely franchise-record payroll and plentiful prospects to make that happen. Teams selling off their pivotal contributors in hopes of better days ahead will want to do business with Anthopoulos.

As we’ve seen under this regime, everything is on the table for the Braves. They have one obvious flaw but could still upgrade several spots. Whether its Donaldson or a replacement, once resolved, it’s even easier for the Braves to focus on wants rather than needs. Anthopoulos has so often been creative in assembling the roster. It’s safe to assume he’ll be creative again.