Atlanta Braves: Main Storylines Heading into Winter Meetings

Atlanta Braves chairman Terry McGuirk and general manager Alex Anthopoulos have hard work ahead this winter. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Braves chairman Terry McGuirk and general manager Alex Anthopoulos have hard work ahead this winter. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

MLB’s annual Winter Meetings start next week and there is no shortage of things for the Atlanta Braves‘ front office to hash out. Though free agency began a few weeks ago, the Braves have essentially resolved zero of their roster holes. Although that may seem negative, every single other MLB team is in essentially the same boat as the offseason has been off to a slow start. Though the Winter Meetings can be unpredictable and Braves’ GM Alex Anthopoulos never ceases to surprise, there are a few important storylines that are sure to be addressed or at least discussed during the four-day stretch.

Who will be the Braves next shortstop?

Not only has the discussion of the shortstop position been the biggest topic for the Atlanta Braves, the carousel of high-profile shortstops in the free agency market, such as Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Trea Turner, has been perhaps the biggest storyline amongst the entire MLB. It is largely expected that there will be shuffle amongst the big name shortstops. Aside from those three superstars, one shortstop expected to receive a big pay day this off-season is free agent Dansby Swanson. Before the season ended, it seemed like a guarantee that Dansby Swanson would resign with the Braves, but his recent contract valuation being higher than many expected has left the Braves seemingly on the outs.

With Dansby expected to make big money this off-season, the Braves have many routes they can choose to go in finding their next shortstop. The Braves’ obvious first option is to resign Dansby Swanson, though that is becoming increasingly less likely. The Braves also have the option to spend big money on one of the shortstops mentioned before. Though Swanson had a fantastic 2022 season, any of the three other big name shortstops on the market this year should be an upgrade and could be worth spending the extra money.

There are also the cheaper options of trading for the next shortstop. Though the options in this avenue aren’t as plentiful or dazzling as some of the free agent options, trading for a SS would more than likely be significantly cheaper. One name that has been floated around Braves’ circles has been Brewers’ Shortstop Willy Adames. Adames is a great SS that is definitely worth a phone call, but it is not expected Milwaukee parts ways with him. Finally there are the in-house options that could fill the gap. Both Orlando Arcia and Vaughn Grissom are viable options to become the next SS, though choosing this route is certainly not ideal. There are plenty of options for the Braves and I expect we will see where the Braves are leaning once the meetings start.

How far into the luxury tax are the Braves willing to go?

Liberty Media Representatives have been very consistent this off-season on the fact that the Braves would have a top five pay roll for the 2023 season. While that is an exciting promise from, that would almost definitely place the Braves in the Luxury Tax, a move most ownerships groups try to avoid. Six teams had to pay the luxury tax in 2022, including the Mets and Phillies, and the number of teams expected to go above the luxury tax is more than likely not going to get smaller. The Braves would have to keep the payroll under $223 million if they were to avoid the luxury tax, however their projected 2023 payroll already sits at $192 million, which doesn’t give the front office a lot of room to work. If the Braves wanted to sign any big-name free agents, the luxury tax would be inevitable.

So the question is how deep into the luxury tax is Liberty Media willing to go into? The Braves have been tied to pricey free agents like Dansby Swanson, Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, and others. In order to pursue and sign a player like that and fill the other needs on the roster, the Braves would surpass the $223 million mark by well over $10 million potentially. Atlanta should be an enticing destination for every free agent, the only limitation being the willingness of Liberty to spend money. Liberty Media also recently announced that they would make the Braves a publicly traded company, so it is interesting to see how the affects the finances of the team.

What to do with the Braves’ young pitchers?

This is a good problem to have, but the Braves have four or five talented young starting pitchers who most likely won’t even make the major league roster. This group consists of Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka, Bryce Elder, Kyle Muller, and Kolby Allard. All five of these pitchers are young, talented, and have experience pitching at the major league level, making these guys valuable to many MLB teams. The Braves currently have one spot in the starting rotation left to fill, leaving these five as candidates for that spot. Though they are all front runners for that final spot in the rotation, there is always a chance the Atlanta Braves go outside the organization for the final spot, leaving these five in the same spot they were in before.

All five should garner some interest from other teams looking for a young starter and I expect the Braves to do a bit of shopping around with this group. These five could be used as valuable parts of a larger trade package if AA and the front office choose to go that route. Though the futures of these guys are uncertain, a few of them being shipped away shouldn’t be surprising at all.

Will they move on from Marcell Ozuna?

Marcell Ozuna, a DH who finished sixth in MVP voting just three years ago has quickly descended to becoming one of the MLB’s most controversial players. His past bouts of legal troubles, those being his domestic abuse incident in 2021 and his DUI just a few months ago have left many people wanting to move on from former Silver Slugger. Aside from his legal troubles, Marcell Ozuna has also not been performing at a level adequate for a World Series contender like the Braves. Ozuna has two years left on his contract with a salary of $16 million each year, but it is well documented the Braves have tried to get rid of him.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to offload Ozuna for obvious reasons. No team wants to bring on one of the worst defenders in the league who hit for an 89 OPS+ in 2022 and has multiple arrests over the past two years, all for $16 million dollars a year.  It is most likely going to take some sort of prospect or young talent for the Braves to get a return that is even remotely worth it. Though it will be difficult, AA is a wizard and fans should have confidence in his ability to find a good deal.

Next. Why the Braves should stick with Marcell Ozuna. dark