Alex Anthopoulos discusses the Atlanta Braves payroll, rotation, Grissom, Swanson, Acuña, and more

Nov 9, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos answers questions from the media during the MLB GM Meetings at The Conrad Las Vegas. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 9, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos answers questions from the media during the MLB GM Meetings at The Conrad Las Vegas. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports /

For weeks this offseason, Atlanta Braves fans have been clamoring for some insight into the mind of their GM, Alex Anthopoulos, when it comes to his mindset regarding free agency, Dansby Swanson, payroll, the starting rotation, and many other pertinent topics.

While Anthopoulos has given us plenty of tidbits and little insights in between big offseason moments, none have been more candid or comprehensive than the comments he made on Tuesday. Speaking with New York Post baseball writers and media figures Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman on their podcast “The Show,” Anthopoulos answered quite a few hard-hitting questions.

These questions, which gleaned special insight into somewhat taboo conversations, managed to provide Anthopoulos a platform to share his thinking regarding the Mets and Phillies’ spending habits, Dansby Swanson, Ronald Acuña Jr‘s contract, the starting rotation for next year, the impending shortstop situation involving Vaughn Grissom and Orlando Arcia, and perhaps most importantly, the payroll situation.

So, what exactly was asked of the Atlanta Braves GM and what do his responses mean?

The hosts of the show, Sherman and Heyman, took alternating turns asking Anthopoulos questions that, for the most part, he was comfortable answering. The first question, asked by Sherman, started the session off on the topic of the Atlanta Braves’ offseason spending plans:

"“Do you feel like you’re being left out of [the offseason spending spree] or was this the plan all along?”"

In a brief summarization of something that many already knew coming into this offseason, Anthopoulos acknowledged and explained the relative silence in Atlanta:

"“We did a lot of our signings during the Summer. . . I believe that going into the offseason, we had the most guaranteed money going out into the next seven, eight, nine years than any other team in the game. With that, we have a lot of spots that are set.”"

It deserves recognizing that Anthopoulos also confirmed what he had been saying for weeks – that the rotation is four out of five spots deep and that the fifth spot will be an early season battle. He also refused to rule out the possibility of a six-man rotation.

Without wasting much time, Sherman ceded way to Heyman, who got straight into the Dansby Swanson issue:

"“We know you made some effort during the season to try and keep [Swanson], did you make an effort in the Winter to try and keep him? What do you think of Dansby going?”"

While remaining tight-lipped about specifics due to the nature of Swanson’s yet-to-be-official announcement with the Chicago Cubs, Anthopoulos responded by clarifying that he knows just how important Swanson was to the team and who he plans on having compete at shortstop in 2023:

"“Dansby played short last year and over the last five years at an amazing level for us. He has huge value to our clubhouse and to our team. This offseason, there’s no doubt there’s been some tremendously strong deals – it’s an important position, we know that. It’s a critically important spot. From our standpoint, guys like Swanson were a huge part of our success. Right now, we’re going to go into Spring Training with both Orlando Arcia and Vaughn Grissom competing to start at short.”"

Obviously, it’s not the most satisfying answer. We as fans already know how important Swanson was for a variety of reasons, including his now missing 6 fWAR, which Anthopoulos also acknowledged would be difficult to replace. However, it should at least confirm that the Braves did make a genuine attempt at re-signing him.

Though Anthopoulos was reluctant to offer too much toward the previous question, Sherman was able to get him to open up more broadly about why the losses of Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, and other Braves may have occurred when he asked:

"“Do you have an issue with locking down these players who we think of as ‘core Braves?'”"

At the end of the day, Anthopoulos confirmed suspicions about payroll being a factor in his response while also affirming that it has never come down to “bad blood”:

"“There’s no concerns at all. You make offers and hopefully things get done, but statistically, when guys get to free agency, the odds are overwhelmingly that they don’t end up going back to their clubs. It’s not to say you can’t sign guys back, but when you look at the total dollars, we’ve just been short. How can you begrudge anybody for [taking significantly more money when it’s offered], no one owes the Atlanta Braves anything when it comes to that. It comes down to us having to work with what we have and try to fill out a team where we have 26 guys. We want to be able to spread [our payroll] around.”"

I’ll be honest with this one – for a team that’s smack-dab in the middle of their championship window, generating record-high cash flows, and has yet to make any significant money moves this offseason, it’s not what you want to hear after losing your Gold Glove shortstop. However, I also find it perfectly reasonable for Anthopoulos to not want to approach those kinds of figures for Dansby. Ideally instead, “spreading payroll around” should accurately reflect the amount of value that’s needing to be replaced.

However, with the offseason still in full swing and a few upcoming major extensions to consider, it wouldn’t be fair to make critical judgements just yet.

Sherman, pivoting away from the topic of the Atlanta Braves offseason momentarily, prompted Anthopoulos’ opinion on the dealings of the rival Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets:

"“What do you think of [the Mets and the Phillies] building up further by reaching into their pockets?”"

Given the claims that Anthopoulos has made over the course of this offseason, as well as the fact that he has answered questions like this ever since the Philadelphia Phillies spent $330 million on Bryce Harper in 2019, his following response should come at no surprise:

"“Look, each year, these teams are committed. They have two GMs [who run the team very well], two ownership groups that are very supportive of their club and committed to winning, and it’s a great challenge. Each year, we worry about it, but we have to worry about what we can control. We can’t try to match them when it comes to that. We have to do what works for us. I think it’s going to be an exciting challenge for years to come, and I think it’s good for the game.”"

Anthopoulos also mentioned that he feels that the NL East is currently more competitive than the AL East, when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays, ever was. You’d certainly be hard-pressed to argue against that, especially with the Mets now adding World Series champion shortstop Carlos Correa after his failed medical with the San Francisco Giants.

The next question, asked by Heyman, put Anthopoulos in a position to put to bed one of the fanbase’s most stress-inducing topics of conversation:

"“How do you feel about where you stand now in terms of your shortstop situation?”"

Anthopoulos’ initial response delivered a sobering message both on his staunch faith in young talent and the sobering reality of payroll constrictions:

"“We’re in a position where we’re going to have to give young players opportunities. We gave Christian Pache that opportunity to be the guy in center field for us long term. It was short-lived, he got traded, but then you give Mike Harris that opportunity and he does stick. We’ve had a lot of young starters, Fried, Wright, and now Strider, really establish themselves. Just because we’re giving young guys an opportunity [doesn’t mean] we’re naive enough to think they’re all going to do well. That being said, we’re in a position [long-term spending and payroll], where we’re not going to be able to fill the roster with 26 guys making $20-22 million dollars a year. At some point, we’re going to have to take chances.”"

Judging by the way Anthopoulos was speaking of certain financial figures being unattainable, it seems apparent that Braves CEO Terry McGuirk’s comments regarding “a top-five payroll,” were more of a long-term goal rather than an immediate call to action.

Furthermore, Anthopoulos opened up into specifics regarding his two candidates for the shortstop position:

"“With Vaughn, we think he’s got tremendous talent, he’s 21. I understand the concerns and the doubts from a defensive standpoint, but Ron Washington is someone who knows a lot more about the infield than I do, and I’ve talked to him five or six times this offseason, asking him all the time ‘Are you sure, can he handle [shortstop] from a defensive position?’ Wash is convinced that Vaughn Grissom can handle it. That said, Orlando Arcia has a good arm; bat has been so-so, but he’s been the starting shortstop on a playoff team before. Vaughn will have to win the job.”"

While it’s certainly nice to hear that one of the best infield defensive coaches in the league Ron Washington has faith in Vaughn Grissom, I would still take what Anthopoulos is saying with a grain of salt. If you can remember, he also claimed that he planned to take William Contreras, Manny Piña, and Travis d’Arnaud all into Spring Training. Things could certainly change on a dime with an unexpected signing or trade. However, for now, the situation at short seems to be perfectly in line with much of the existing discourse in the Atlanta Braves community.

Another minor topic this offseason, perhaps started by an arbitrary MLB Network rumor, has been whether, especially with the way deals are constructed in this contemporary day, Ronald Acuña Jr. may be unhappy with his eight-year, $100 million dollar extension.

Following up on such rumor, Heyman had a question for Anthopoulos:

"“The Acuna deal really sticks out to me. Do you think there’s any downside to getting such a great deal? Is there concern that [Acuña] will be unhappy?”"

Anthopoulos, in his response, both provided information about the market for players like Acuña at the time of his extension that may have been unknown to the average fan, as well as expanded on why players might be signing “team friendly” deals in Atlanta in the first place:

"“On Acuna, at the time, I believe the White Sox signed Eloy Jiménez to the highest zero-plus guarantee at $43 million dollars, and I believe [extending Acuna] was that same year. Mike Trout received a 3-years of service, $144 million dollar deal, that was the landscape at the time. We signed Acuña to a $100 million guaranteed deal as a zero-plus player. Less than a year of service, six years away from free agency. It was the highest guarantee for a zero-plus [player] at the time by more than two times. Two or three years later, it exploded. Wander Franco signed a deal for just under [$200 million dollars guaranteed]. Fernando Tatis Jr. signs a deal for [$340 million dollars guaranteed]. There’s no doubt the market moved fast.”"

Not that it was particularly of concern for most Braves fans, but it certainly doesn’t seem like there is any credence to the rumors of Acuña being unsettled. Expanding further on why Acuña, Harris, Strider, and Albies might have signed the “good value” deals that they did, Anthopoulos mentioned:

"“Once you start winning, players want to come. I do think it’s a combination of things. We’ve been successful the last few years, new ballpark, great place to live, I think our support staff does a great job making [Atlanta] a great place to play. I’ve heard the players say they like dealing with our media and our market. Look, we’re doing deals a lot earlier than I’ve ever done in the past. We’ve been aggressive in doing these deals a lot earlier than we want to and assuming more risk [referencing the likelihood of a young player to be injured or begin suddenly struggling]. The closer you get to free agency, it’s just harder [to re-sign key players]. The better the player, the more people you’re going to be competing against [in free agency].”"

So, while all of our burning questions and hang-ups over the way Anthopoulos has constructed this Atlanta Braves offseason so far may not have been answered, it’s certainly the most open and candid reflection we have received to date.

With little uncertainty, there is a clear-cut plan. The path to success for the Atlanta Braves, at least for now, must run through the plan – with little exception. The bold decisions to both trust Vaughn Grissom and let Dansby Swanson walk were calculated, oft-discussed, and accounted for long before the offseason even began.

It’s not often you get to hear so much about the inner workings of a top general manager, so it should be interesting to see how these comments age later into the offseason and eventual regular season. Until then, we as fans at least have a reasonable framework from which to view the rest of the Winter.

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What are your personal opinions on Alex Anthopoulos’ comments? Did they surprise you, or was it in line with how you thought the team would handle Dansby/the offseason as a whole? Feel free to indulge below.