‘Now pitching for the Atlanta Braves - Jacob deGrom?’

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The Braves’ top offseason task figured to be re-upping their shortstop. That might have changed. On Tuesday, Andy Martino of SportsNet New York reported that the chief threats to sign Jacob deGrom away from the Mets are the Rangers, who over time have thrown much money at big names – from Nolan Ryan to A-Rod to Adrian Beltre to Corey Seager – and the Braves.

Wait. The Braves?

Yep. The Braves. Maybe.

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On Wednesday, Alex Anthopoulos was asked at the GM meetings in Las Vegas about a certain pitcher, whose name wasn’t mentioned but whose identity was clear.

What Anthopoulos didn’t say: “Too rich for my blood.”

What he did say: “You don’t rule anything out. … If we think something makes sense for the organization, we do it, right? We’ve done all kinds of things.”

Under current management, the Braves haven’t signed the best pitcher in baseball as a free agent. They did at the winter meetings in Louisville in 1992, but that was when John Schuerholz was spending Ted Turner’s money. (The pitcher: Greg Maddux.) Working under Liberty Media, Anthopoulos has landed big names – Dallas Keuchel, Cole Hamels, Charlie Morton – on short-term deals. The latter, who’ll turn 39 on Saturday, was retained for one year at $20 million.

That figured to be the Braves’ pitching splurge of the 2022-23 offseason. It mightn’t be. DeGrom opted out of his Mets contract, which would have paid $30.5M next year. He’s 34. When healthy, he’s the best in the business by such a distance there’s nobody in second place. Of late, he hasn’t always been healthy. He has made 26 starts over two seasons. Morton – who broke his leg in the 2021 World Series – has made 64.

ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel estimates deGrom will sign for three years at $132M. That would be a record average annual value of $44M, which would shade the $43.3M the Mets are paying Max Scherzer, who started 23 games at age 37 and whose deal has two years to run. Free-agent pitchers almost always are overpaid, for two reasons: Free agents usually aren’t young, and aging pitchers tend not to stay healthy.

It’s astonishing that deGrom’s fastball averaged 98.9 mph last season, 3 mph more than in 2018, when he was 30 and won his first Cy Young Award. Were I his employer, it would be terrifying. How long can you throw that hard? How many pitches does an arm have in it?

Noah Syndergaard, deGrom’s former teammate, had an average fastball of 98.6 mph in 2016. After injuries and Tommy John surgery in 2020, his average fastball last season was 93.8. He turned 30 in August.

There’s your caveat. Here’s your upside: With deGrom, a team coming off 101 wins might win 112. (Not since the 1906 Cubs has a National League club won more.) The Braves’ rotation finished ninth among MLB teams in ERA at 3.70. DeGrom’s career ERA is 2.52. Maddux’s was 3.16.

The Braves know who and where they are. Of baseball’s best teams, they have the most reason to believe they can be even better over time. If Dansby Swanson sticks around, he’ll be – at 29 – their oldest starting infielder. Should Eddie Rosario claim left field in 2023, he’d be their oldest starting outfielder by six years.

It’s not that the Braves don’t have starting pitching. Max Fried is a Cy Young finalist. Kyle Wright led the majors with 21 wins. Spencer Strider will finish no worse than second to teammate Michael Harris for rookie of the year. Morton is a solid No. 4. Mike Soroka and Ian Anderson – who are 25 and 24, respectively – are still under contract.

The Braves don’t need deGrom to win the National League East. They’ve done it five years running. They didn’t need him to win the 2021 World Series, either. They went 101-61 without Freddie Freeman. That said, the Braves find themselves in a moment when Liberty Media might be moved to make the sort of move Liberty Media hasn’t made.

The Braves drew 3.1 million in 2022, the first time the club has broken 3M since 2000. Their average crowd was 38,641. Capacity at Truist Park is 41,184. Counting playoffs, they had 43 sellouts. DeGrom would be a luxury purchase, but there’s a reason a Rolls-Royce costs $450K. I love mine.

Kidding.

Not kidding about this: There’s only one player available who would move the Braves’ needle of already-great expectations. Such a player isn’t often available. Knowing full well that the history of big-ticket pitchers is a tale of woe, I’d give deGrom whatever he wants. But that’s just Hyundai-driving me, and it’s not my money.