The Braves’ search for an outfielder has taken priority with mere weeks remaining until spring training.
Through the winter, general manager Alex Anthopoulos has pinpointed the outfield, rotation and bullpen as upgradable. The team is content with the latter two if necessary, thus outfield is consuming the majority of their phone time.
“We’ve been engaged on more outfield than anything else,” Anthopoulos said. “We’ve still kicked around bullpen and starters. We’re still open-minded to some other trades for other things. Obviously I want to give the fans some type of insight and be more specific, but that’d probably put us in a tough spot from a negotiating standpoint. We’re still active and trying to be creative, is probably the best way to put it.”
Anthopoulos took the fan pulse at Chop Fest on Saturday, seeing the anxiousness that’s dominated social media and fan conversation since the Braves reeled in two free agents just after Thanksgiving. They opened the winter with a bang, bolstering the lineup with Josh Donaldson and plugging the catcher vacancy with fan-favorite Brian McCann.
Crickets since: As the National League East transforms into an arms race, the Braves are taking a more methodical approach. They don’t plan to change that strategy either, and if the discussions bleed into spring training, so be it.
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“I've won the offseason before,” Anthopoulos said. “I've made the big splashes. It does not always work. That is not always the right way to go about it.”
It’s not as if Donaldson wasn’t a splash, but Anthopoulos makes an understandable point. Remember July, when the Chris Archer bidding war capture headlines, but the Braves swooped in to add Kevin Gausman, who proved valuable down the stretch, and Darren O’Day, who’s expected to boost this year’s bullpen. Archer, meanwhile, cost the Pirates a bounty and didn’t match Gausman’s production.
The Braves wouldn’t throw their chips on the table for an enigma like Archer, and they won’t spend “stupid money” like the Phillies. They’re diligently working the phones, and they’ll take the splashy move if it’s on their terms. Otherwise, their situation allows patience, even if that induces eye rolls.
“I expect us to add. I just don’t know if that’s one, two or three players,” Anthopoulos said, assuring they’d strengthen their roster before opening day.
The Braves have three current outfield targets who logically fit their roster, according to Anthopoulos. He wouldn’t reveal whether they’re trade possibilities or free agents, but it’s likely safe to assume one is Nick Markakis, the team’s own free agent who’s coming off an all-star season.
Reports suggest A.J. Pollock could soon join the Dodgers, but his price tag hasn’t reached the point the Braves would be seriously involved anyway. There’s a reasonable drop off after him in the free agency. There aren’t any obvious trade candidates, though there are a few names who make sense.
Anthopoulos reminds us there are players on the trade market who haven’t circulated through the public rumor mill, which welcomes the use of imagination. One deal in particular could soon have a determination.
“The things that we have been engaged on, one outfielder, potentially could resolve itself soon,” he said, while not unveiling whether that’s a free agent or trade target. “Some other free agents I think will take some time, and some of the trades I think could resolve themselves soon.
“We have multiple balls in the air. Right now we’re weighing, do we give up mostly young assets in trade? Or do we just spend dollars in free agency? There are times you may be excited about a trade but you’re weighing the prospect capital you’re going to give up. That’s the way the job works, but those are some of the things we have to talk about.”
And so the waiting game continues.
“We just don't want to force a move,” Anthopoulos said. “I know at times that can be tough for a fan base. Everyone wants to see us make a splash with trades and signings. I get it completely. … The one thing I know the fans care about is if that team is going to win on the field.”