6 dream Braves free agent targets this offseason that would drive fans wild

It would be awesome to see the Braves really push their chips in for the 2024 season with these free agents.

Aug 28, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani
Aug 28, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani / Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
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Early in the offseason is the time where Atlanta Braves fans love to dream on what could be. Sure, there are reasonable concerns like the luxury tax, payroll flexibility, and planning for future seasons, but those are boring. In this moment, we can still wonder what this already stellar Braves roster would look like with the top free agents on it.

Is that likely to happen? No. The Braves have some financial wiggle room this offseason especially if they decline Charlie Morton's 2024 option, but the reality is that they only have so much room on their payroll in respect to the luxury tax given all the extensions they have signed. However, it is still nice to dream.

Here are 6 dream Braves free agent targets this offseason that would drive fans wild

Just to be clear, most of these signings are HIGHLY unlikely to happen even if the Braves don't care at all about the luxury tax penalties. Competition for these guys is going to be fierce this offseason and it is not in Alex Anthopoulos' DNA to give out the contracts ($) that most of these guys are going to command. However, there are a couple that could happen and who knows, maybe AA will have a surprise in store yet again going into 2024.

Let's take a look at some of the dream free agent signings fans wish the Braves could pull off this offseason.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Yamamoto is probably the most pie-in-the-sky option for the Braves because Atlanta hasn't been in the market for the top Japanese players since they signed Kenshin Kawakami before the 2009. For those that may not remember that far back, that did not end well as Kenshin lasted just two seasons in Atlanta before being sent down to the minors and ultimately returning to Japan.

Yoshinobu would still be a fantastic guy to try to add to the Braves' questionable 2024 starting rotation, though. He has three plus pitches including a mid to high 90's fastball, a splitter that doesn't seem fair, and a curve that keeps hitters honest and plays up with his other pitches. Importantly, Yamamoto has the ability to command all of his pitches as well.

The problems here are with cost, competition, and geography. Most Japanese players either prefer west coast teams to take more advantage of Japanese marketing opportunities or go to big markets like New York or Boston. The Braves are neither of those things. A big chunk of the league is already vying to get their hands on Yoshinobu which means his price is going to skyrocket and that will favor teams with more free cash laying around.

Still, he would instantly become one of the Braves' top pitchers and would extend the Braves' brand to Japan which would be awesome.

Blake Snell

Not many people had Blake Snell as a Cy Young favorite heading into the 2023 season and with good reason. Snell had certainly been a very good pitcher in recent years, but his numbers had dropped off considerably from his 2018 season with the Rays where he posted a 1.89 ERA and won the AL Cy Young award.

However, 2023 was a big bounce back season for Snell as put up a 2.25 ERA for the Padres in 32 starts. Importantly, this was also the first season since that 2018 season that Snell was able to throw more than 129 innings in a season with 180 IP in 2023. If you are going to have another career year, doing it the season before you hit free agency is the time to do it.

Snell's season positioned him as one of the top starting pitchers on the free agent market this offseason. His durability is a concern, but he is still probably going to a four or five year deal at around $24-25 million a year when he signs.

With the Braves still thinking about giving an extension to Max Fried and the fact that Snell's durability concerns as well as the fact that his walk rate this season (5.0 BB/9) was so rough, Atlanta doesn't seem likely to compete for his services. But if they did pull the trigger, he would be a huge addition to the Braves' starting rotation.

Josh Hader

Atlanta's starting rotation is going to get the bulk of the attention this offseason, but they could use another bullpen arm or two as well. The Braves did bring back Pierce Johnson and Joe Jimenez which helps the cause a lot. However, if we know anything about AA, it is that the man loves having a loaded bullpen and that is where Josh Hader comes in.

Aside from his bizarrely bad 2022, Hader has been one of the absolute best relievers in MLB for years now. He has a career 15 K/9 strikeout rate and 2.50 ERA and his 2023 season was even better than that as he posted a 1.28 ERA in 61 appearances this season in San Diego.

We have seen Anthopoulos pay real money for a reliever before as he signed Will Smith to a pretty expensive three year deal before the 2020 season. However, that investment didn't pay off quite as well as one would have hoped (although he was awesome in the postseason) and Hader's expected deal will likely dwarf Smith's contract with multiple years at $20 million plus being likely.

If the Braves were able to get a deal done for Hader, though, their bullpen would be absolutely stacked especially if Tyler Matzek can come back from injury and look like the guy he once was.

Sonny Gray

Sonny Gray is actually the one guy on this list that feels like an actual possibility for the Braves and signing him would be a huge win for Atlanta. Gray isn't the flashiest of pitchers, but the guy just puts up results every single year.

In 2023, Gray posted a 2.79 ERA and 2.83 FIP with the Twins, made his third All-Star team, and helped Minnesota finally win a playoff series before they got bounced from the postseason by the Astros. If not for the season that Gerrit Cole had in New York, Gray would probably get a significant amount of Cy Young love as well.

On the plus side, Gray feels more in line with the deals the Braves prefer to do with free agents. He is 33 years old and has already talked a bit about looking forward to his retirement, so he would likely be amenable to a two or three year deal (maybe with a player option thrown in there somewhere) at north of $20 million a year. He has already been mentioned as a fit for the Braves by others and it is clear to see why.

Unfortunately, good pitchers that won't require a huge investment in terms of years are on basically every team's wish list during the offseason. The Twins would probably love to have him back, the Cardinals are going to need multiple starters this offseason, the Orioles could absolutely use a guy like Gray...the list goes on and on. Gray feels like a realistic target for the Braves, but it is still going to be tough to pull off.

Jordan Montgomery

Jordan Montgomery is another guy that isn't the sexiest pitcher out there, but the guy does his job every single night. Every single year, he is close to a lock to post a low to mid-3 ERA, strike out around one batter an inning, and throw a ton of strikes.

The baseball world at large gained a new appreciation for Montgomery during the 2023 season which may have been the best of his career. He posted a 3.20 ERA in 32 starts with the Cardinals and Rangers and he may have been the single most impactful trade deadline addition this year. His performance during the playoffs in 2023 is one of the biggest reasons why Texas was able to get to and win the World Series without question.

Of course, now every team is fully aware of what Montgomery can bring to a starting rotation and that makes him one of the most sought after free agents this offseason. The Braves should have checked in with the Cardinals at the trade deadline on Montgomery (and they may have) and they absolutely should have Montgomery at the top of their list of guys to talk to this offseason.

Unfortunately, he may have priced himself out of Atlanta's range this season. Texas will almost certainly try to bring him back and the Dodgers and Giants could be players as well given the state of their rotations right now. With Monty expected to get four or five years at north of $25 million a year, the odds are slim that the Braves make that move as sweet as it would be.

Shohei Ohtani

Finally, we arrive at the top free agent on the market this offseason and arguably the most incredible baseball player MLB has seen in Shohei Ohtani. What else is there to say about this guy? When he is healthy, he is a top of a rotation arm and one of the most valuable hitters in the game all rolled up in one player. As long as he is on the field with regularity, he is going to be a perennial MVP candidate and contributes in a way that no other player in baseball can.

The biggest question mark about Ohtani right now is his health. He had elbow surgery in September and had Tommy John surgery back in 2018, so it is fair to wonder how good he will look on the mound once he returns. However, he is expected to be able to hit for most or all of the 2024 season and that will keep teams very interested in signing him by itself.

The Giants, Dodgers, Angels, Mariners, and Red Sox have already been connected to Shohei's free agency and there will certainly be more teams that at least try to convince him to sign. Ohtani not only is basically two really good players in one package, but the marketing opportunities alone make considering him worthwhile.

For the Braves, the payroll issue is the biggest problem as Shohei is going to get eight to 10 years and could sign the largest contract in MLB history. The roster fit, especially in 2024 when he can only DH, is also a little dicey with Marcell Ozuna around and playing reasonable well again. However, most Braves fans would happily trade Ozuna and his off the field baggage away and use that money (and a bunch of other cash) to bring a generational player like Ohtani to Atlanta without blinking an eye.

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