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Five questions the Braves must answer this offseason | Baseball


On a Zoom call, Braves manager Brian Snitker and president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos reflected on the 2022 club, its high ceiling and the feeling of having unfinished business. In their own ways, the two discussed specific details and the big picture about this season.

And at different points, each ended up at the same conclusion.

“We’ll turn this page and get over it and be focused on winning (a World Series) again,” Snitker said.

“You have to turn the page at some point and start thinking about how we really do have a good team and a really good group,” Anthopoulos said. “We just didn’t get the job done in ‘22.”

The 2022 Braves won 101 games. They captured a fifth consecutive National League East title for the franchise, which owns the longest active streak of division crowns in the sport. There were great memories and inspiring stories among this bunch.

But because it is over, it is time to look ahead.

Here are the five biggest questions for the Braves this offseason.

Will the Braves re-sign Dansby Swanson?

You didn’t expect anything different for this first question, did you?

Dansby Swanson’s situation has been the most pressing topic surrounding the Braves recently. The club extended Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Michael Harris and Spencer Strider this season. All along, Swanson’s free agency loomed.

The Braves discussed a contract extension with Swanson and his camp. The sides are believed to have exchanged figures. But only those in the room know how far those discussions went, as “discussions” can mean anything from broaching the idea to negotiating it.

The interesting wrinkle in Swanson’s case is this: The Braves don’t appear to have an obvious backup plan if the shortstop departs in free agency. Swanson – his on-field play and overall leadership – would be almost impossible to replace. Vaughn Grissom may not be a long-term shortstop, and he’s young. The Braves don’t have any other desirable options in the system, and would need to go into free agency.

The follow-up to that point is this: Anthopoulos is regarded as one of baseball’s top decision-makers, and it would be foolish to believe he doesn’t have another avenue in mind if he doesn’t re-sign Swanson. Anthopoulos stays in the moment, but is known for thinking ahead to ensure the Braves are in the best spot possible.

It remains to be seen whether the Braves would want to pay a hefty price for Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner, who is set to become a free agent. Twins shortstop Carlos Correa, who is exercising his opt-out clause, is a Scott Boras client, which may be a sticking point for Anthopoulos.

Swanson should have suitors. And because the Braves didn’t extend him during the season, the shortstop can field that interest from other clubs if he hits the open market.

Players officially become free agents the day after the end of the World Series. But they can’t sign with a new club until five days after the conclusion of the World Series. The Braves, in this case, would have a five-day exclusive negotiating window to keep Swanson. Rival clubs, however, can reach out to Swanson’s representatives during that five-day period.

Will the Braves’ payroll rise again?

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in early October, Terry McGuirk, the Braves’ chairman, told the story of the team’s ascension to baseball’s elite tier. Many components factored into this, but perhaps none more than the organization’s payroll. Better players usually means more winning.

For years, McGuirk said the Braves wanted to have a top-10 payroll.

Now?

“My goal now,” McGuirk said, “is to get to be a top-five (payroll team).”

In 2022, the Braves ranked eighth in baseball with a payroll around $188 million. Could this rise again? It appears it will, though that remains to be seen.

To understand all of this, you must know about what McGuirk calls the “virtuous circle.”

What that means: Through Truist Park and The Battery, the Braves are making much more money. More money means higher payrolls, which means better players, which leads to more fan excitement, which usually means more people filling Truist Park. And on and on.

There is a natural conclusion here.

McGuirk laid out the cycle like this: “Better team, more winning, more excitement, up from 2.2 million (in attendance) to 3.1 million this year, more money through the cycle, payroll will go up again next year.”

McGuirk also added something that is encouraging for fans: “There are finite ends to everything. But I would say, for a great number of years ahead, I see no ending of the glide slope upwards in how this works.”

That doesn’t mean the Braves’ payroll will increase by a significant margin each year. It simply means the Braves’ business model is working.

Will Marcell Ozuna be on the roster in 2023?

Over the weekend, Philadelphia fans, whose reputation precedes them, yelled lots of things – some that cannot be printed here – at Braves players. They chanted the names of the Braves’ starting pitchers in hopes of throwing them off. They yelled at players from the stands. They even mocked the Braves by doing the chant heard at Truist Park.

One chant was unlike the others.

“DUI! DUI! DUI!” Phillies fans chanted in unison as Marcell Ozuna stepped to the plate in Game 3.

In August, Ozuna was taken into custody on Beaver Ruin Road and booked into the Gwinnett County jail shortly after 4:30 a.m., a Norcross police spokesman told the AJC at the time. In addition to the charge of “DUI less safe,” he also is facing a charge of failure to maintain lane.

The bigger picture is this: This was Ozuna’s second arrest in two years. The Braves put a lot of effort into creating a positive environment and fielding a team for which fans can root.

Does Ozuna fit into this? The Braves will have to answer that themselves.

Or they can look at his play. In 2022, Ozuna posted a .687 OPS, though he did blast 23 homers. He became a designated hitter for them once they had enough options in left field. Since the start of the 2021 season – excluding this year’s postseason – Ozuna has hit .222 with a .675 OPS. His defense is subpar.

The Braves have a case for not wanting him on the roster for his play alone.

The catch here: The Braves still owe Ozuna $37 million over the next two seasons – $18 million in 2023, $18 million in 2024 and a $1 million buyout if they don’t want to pick up his $16 million club option for 2025.

Could the Braves trade him? Sure, but it might be a lopsided trade to try to get rid of him and that contract. They could also just eat the contract – though teams hate doing that – and use the roster spot on someone else in 2023. Or perhaps they think he can contribute and is a positive presence in their clubhouse, in which case he would return.

How big of a splash will Anthopoulos make this winter?

Anthopoulos is one of the general managers who is fun to follow throughout the offseason and around the trade deadline – for all baseball fans. (Except if your favorite team is one of the Braves’ NL East rivals).

The Braves’ roster, on paper, seems really good. Any team can improve, and we’ll see what target areas Anthopoulos attacks.

Might he try to add a frontline starter like Jacob deGrom? The price will be high, but the Braves’ payroll could increase, as we discussed.

And what about left field? Robbie Grossman is a free agent, but a platoon between him and Eddie Rosario worked relatively well. Perhaps Adam Duvall, a free agent at season’s end, returns. Maybe Grissom moves out to left field and the Braves feel they’re set there with their in-house options.

Might Anthopoulos hit the trade market for any needs?

This seems like it should be a relatively quiet offseason for the Braves. They have a young core. They have many players under team control for a long time. That should theoretically mean they don’t have as much to do as other teams.

But this is Anthopoulos we’re talking about here.

There is always something to do and another way to improve.

Will Kenley Jansen return?

In 2022, the Braves’ bullpen ranked fourth in baseball with a 3.03 ERA. The lineup terrorized pitchers and the starting rotation shined, but the bullpen was as strong as any part of this year’s team.

One reason: The Braves, down the stretch, had two proven closers in Kenley Jansen and Raisel Iglesias.

Despite blowing seven saves – fans often remember these – Jansen led the NL and ranked second in baseball with 41 saves. After blowing a save in Seattle on Sept. 11, he closed the regular season by surrendering only one run over his final 11 innings.

After the Braves acquired Iglesias with minutes to go before the deadline, he allowed one earned run over 26-1/3 innings – yes, you read that correctly – over the rest of the regular season. He is under contract through 2025. He can be the closer.

But having both Jansen and Iglesias allowed Snitker to deploy Iglesias in high-leverage spots while saving Jansen for the ninth.

Of the Braves’ closer plans for 2023, Anthopoulos on Sunday said: “How all that plays out is yet to be determined. But no, there’s no plans as of this moment. We have Iglesias under contract, who is a fantastic reliever that has experience doing all kinds of roles. But if we could get a guy like Jansen back, that would be phenomenal.”

Something to note: Jansen doesn’t work quickly on the mound, and might need to adjust with the pitch clock set to be implemented next season. Pitchers will have 15 seconds to throw a pitch with no one on base and 20 seconds if there’s a runner on base.

Baseball Savant has a tempo metric that measures the median time between pitch releases. Jansen was the third-slowest pitcher in baseball this season, according to that metric.

©2022 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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