We constantly reference how the Braves are in an enviable financial position. Their two young cornerstones, Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies, are signed at under-market deals for at least through 2025 (probably longer because of club options). The franchise isn’t hampered with any bad contracts, creating freedom to construct the roster how they see fit.
Right now, the system is ranked baseball’s fourth best, according to Baseball America. And while a decline is soon expected, the team will have so much youth in the majors, and flexibility with its payroll, that won’t be a death sentence.
While the Braves aren’t inclined to commit a massive contract to one player, i.e. Francisco Lindor or Kris Bryant, they’ll have plenty of ways to spread the money around. They’ve done just that in the past two offseasons, signing Josh Donaldson, Marcell Ozuna and Cole Hamels to bloated one-year deals.
The team’s financial future is in excellent shape. We briefly looked at the decisions facing the club through the 2024-25 offseason to get an idea of that oft-referenced flexibility. Below are notable free agents through the next five winters.
2020-21 free agents: Starter Cole Hamels, outfielder Marcell Ozuna, reliever Mark Melancon, reliever Shane Greene, catcher Tyler Flowers, outfielder Nick Markakis, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, starter Felix Hernandez, reliever Josh Tomlin, reliever Darren O’Day ($3.5 million team option)
This is a large group with short-term implications. None of these players should command a longer deal except possibly Ozuna, who the Braves likely won’t be desperate to re-sign given two of their best prospects, Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, are outfielders. Ozuna was signed for one season to fill some of the power lost by Donaldson’s departure.
There could be a loss of leadership if the team finally bids farewell to Markakis and Flowers. Markakis already is the victim of an outfield logjam. Flowers could be kept as a stopgap to 2019 first-rounder Shea Langeliers. Both players’ production is replaceable. It’s their intangibles that carry more weight (even if some reject the notion).
Melancon and Greene are supposed to solidify the back end of an All-Star bullpen, should there be a season. The Braves wanted to turn their bullpen into one of baseball’s best, even if only for one season. Relievers are volatile, and it’s impossible to say how the organization will handle their free agencies.
Should several depart, however, the Braves will be tasked with remaking the unit. Obviously, they already knew that would be a strong possibility given the one-year contracts.
2021-22 free agents: First baseman Freddie Freeman, catcher Travis d’Arnaud, reliever Chris Martin, starter Mike Foltynewicz, utlityman Charlie Culberson, outfielder Ender Inciarte ($9 million team option)
Freeman is the most important player whose contract will expire in the next several seasons. The Braves and their franchise pillar will hope to hammer out a deal that removes Freeman from these conversations. Paul Goldschmidt’s recent five-year, $130 million extension is a logical starting point.
Foltynewicz is an interesting case. The Braves, if players develop as intended, will have ample pitching depth. Perhaps Foltynewicz is more of a known product by then, but given his erratic performance to date, the team probably won’t be inclined to extend him before next season. That could depend on 2020 results though, if there’s a season.
Culberson was fighting for his roster spot in spring training after being non-tendered last offseason. Martin is a strike-throwing, veteran member of the bullpen. Inciarte might be pinched by the team’s outfield depth, letting them allocate his money elsewhere. D’Arnaud, currently 31, will have completed two seasons with the Braves, but we don’t know how Langeliers and William Contreras have progressed.
2022-23 free agents: Shortstop Dansby Swanson, reliever Luke Jackson, outfielder Adam Duvall, reliever Will Smith ($13 million team option),
Swanson’s future is unclear. There’s reason to believe he hasn’t reached his potential yet, and even if he has, his defense and speed make him a valuable contributor. It’s likely the Cobb County native would want to stay. Swanson’s next two seasons will determine his long-term future (and value), as might the Braves’ alternatives.
Jackson was an important piece of the Braves’ bullpen in 2019. In 2020, he’ll pitch in lower-leverage spots. They’ll have the chance to retain Smith for another season with a club option. The bullpen probably will be heavily altered over the next few seasons.
2023-24 free agents: Third baseman Johan Camargo, starter Sean Newcomb
By this time, Camargo would have a clear role in the organization. If he’s a utility player, he could still earn a solid payday on the market, such as Marwin Gonzalez did two winters ago. If he became an every-day player, even better for him.
Similar can be said of Newcomb, who was’d been transitioning back to the rotation before the season’s suspension. The southpaw will be a known commodity at this point.
2024-25 free agents: Starter Mike Soroka, starter Max Fried
This is a bit too far to project, but if Soroka and Fried blossom as the Braves expect, they’d hope to have both on longer deals by this point. A healthy Soroka projects to be one of the best starters in the National League at this point, while Fried could be a valuable left-handed member of the rotation.
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