Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos leaves the general manager meetings with a better understanding of the market, but nonetheless in a similar spot before his arrival.
Anthopoulos and 29 other GMs, along with abundant agents and reporters, gathered in Carlsbad, Calif., in recent days. Transactions usually are made later; the meetings are more about laying groundwork for future deals. Baseball’s winter meetings are in December.
“There are some players we weren’t certain would be available in trade before we got to the meetings that we now have information about,” Anthopoulos said. “That does open things up for us.”
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The Braves’ entourage spent most of its time meeting with other teams. They had not met with agents or proposed any trades as of Wednesday night. There were reports to the contrary, linking the Braves to prominent trade targets or free agents, but those were inaccurate.
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The Braves spoke with every team before their arrival, since it’s unrealistic to meet with every organization over the allotted span. Instead, Anthopoulos identified a number of clubs — it can range from two to eight — with whom it’s conceivable to consummate a deal. The Braves spent the majority of their time with those franchises.
“We’re spending the bulk of our time here on trades,” Anthopoulos said. “We’re not spending our time on free agents.”
Anthopoulos has been adamant that the Braves’ chief needs are corner outfield and catcher. They’ve stayed in touch with Nick Markakis and Kurt Suzuki, their own free agents at those spots, and remain open to retaining them.
The same can be said of starter Anibal Sanchez, whose mystical season doesn’t supersede the fact that he would block a plethora of young talent. They could add another starter, more likely in the ace-mold.
Four rotation spots currently are locked in, per Anthopoulos – Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Kevin Gausman and Julio Teheran – while Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson and others will battle for the fifth spot.
On the bullpen side, they haven’t closed the door on Brad Brach or Peter Moylan, who indicated he could continue his playing career at 40. Rather than address their reliever needs immediately, the Braves could wait out the market hoping to find value.
“Right now, relievers are not something we’re actively going after,” Anthopoulos said.
As for what they are going after, that’s more complex. Their most noticeable improvements will likely come via trade, which requires parting with their treasured youth. Just because the Braves have such prospect wealth doesn’t mean they’re armed for multiple high-level moves.
The expression, “A fool and his money are soon parted,” applies to prospects. Few teams are positioned better than the Braves, and while they’ll be aggressive, they won’t let the temptation of now deplete their lifeblood.
“We’re reluctant to move them for obvious reasons,” Anthopoulos said. “Doesn’t mean we won’t, we just have to be careful of quantity because we need to have our depth. With our payroll being mid-market and so on, having that depth is key to getting through a season. So that said, we’re trying to add players in trade. Some (prospects) are going to go. We have to be very selective of who we pursue in trade. You start making three or four trades and you’re going to be down to 10 players.”
Despite fan desires for splashy moves, the Braves don’t feel pressure to act quickly. Anthopoulos thinks the National League East will be better, crediting the Nationals and Phillies as good clubs with the Mets having their own opportunities to improve.
Philadelphia, in particular, could be formidable. They’re involved in the Bryce Harper and Manny Machado biddings, along with other celebrated stars. If they secure a big fish, the Braves won’t be reactionary.
“We never worry about what anybody else is doing,” Anthopoulos said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t pay attention and we don’t watch and have an opinion because they’re in our division, but I just don’t believe in it. We just worry about ourselves, how we make our team better and how we make wins. The rest will take care of itself. … We are strictly focused on our own team.”
That philosophy trickles into how they’ll handle free agency. Much is made of the Braves’ spending room. That doesn’t mean a lengthy, historic deal is in the best interest of the organization’s health.
“Does it mean we’d never give out a really long deal? We’re open to it,” Anthopoulos said in terms of pure free agents, not necessarily extensions for his own players. “Where most of those 10-to-12 year deals go, you look in the past where those deals have gone - there may come a time where it makes sense for us but I don’t necessarily expect that to be the case right now. Doesn’t mean we won’t look.”