|Posted by theprincipality on April 5, 2023 at 2:50 PM|
In 23 years of watching baseball, I have come to the realisation that you always need to be moving and to be improving. Teams that have quiet offseasons tend to get caught out when the new season begins. The Braves have had a fairly quiet offseason. The only real move of any note was to trade William Contreras for Sean Murphy in the catching position. I found that quite surprising. Not only because I thought a straight swap for a promising young catcher was a sideways step, but because of the loss of Dansby Swanson at shortstop to free agency was not adequately addressed.
Swanson has been the everyday shortstop for the past 5 years. He had a stellar 2022 and given all his teammates were receiving long term contract extensions, it was a tad surprising that a similar move was not made to lock in Dansby for years to come. Once he hit free agency, the Braves were never going to compete with the Cubs' money and were relying on him taking a discount to stay in the city he loved. With slim pickings on the free agent shortstop market, Atlanta decided to go with internal options to fill the void.
Vaughn Grissom impressed in the second half of 2022 while filling in for Ozzie Albies. Defensively he is adequate but it was felt he needed longer in the minors at AAA Gwinnett to mature his bat. In the interim, Orlando Arcia will be the everyday shortstop. Again, Arcia is an adequate gloveman, with occasional power and a more proven option, having spent a number of years with the Brewers before he came to Atlanta. Either way though, the Braves are undoubtedly weaker in the position than they were in 2022.
I briefly mentioned the locking in of key players to long-term contracts. This is something that has been done for Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Michael Harris, Spencer Strider and now Sean Murphy. On the one hand, it controls costs in the early years and gives value for both player and club in the long term. However, we have seen time and time again that teams that do this tend to find that the years at the end of these contracts are high cost and low return. The Phillies did the same thing a decade or so ago and the Mets do it repeatedly.
Speaking of the Mets, with the new owner last season and the obscene amounts of money he brought, they have been able to attract the highest priced stars to the club. Both Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander both stand to earn upward of $43m this season. At the tail end of their careers, you have to question the logic of paying that kind of money, especially having let Jacob deGrom go. When you spend the amount of money the Mets have, you demand instant success. Last season they lost out to the Braves in the NL East and came in for some criticism. Admittedly they had a 10 game lead at one point, but you can hardly say they choked. They still won 101 games, which is more than enough to take a division in most seasons.
That brings me to 2023. Pressure will once again be on New York to deliver on the huge investment made. They have the talent and they also have the hunger, having missed out so narrowly last season. For Atlanta that means that they cannot afford to have another slow start to the campaign. However I think the team realises this fact. Spring training has been positive, with the Braves looking one of the slicker, more battle-ready teams. The pre-season power rankings (such as they are) have Atlanta winning the NL East and once again challenging for the World Series.
Despite losing a star player to free agency and failing to make any significant acquisitions, the baseball writers still think Atlanta has a young and talented core capable of delivering its 6th straight division title. The biggest reason behind this is a fully healthy Acuna. Acuna burst onto the scene as rookie of the year, then immediately followed that up 3 stolen bases shy of a 40-40 season. But the last three years have really robbed him of the prime of his career. In 2020 the season was shortened for Covid, in 2021 he lost a big part of the year to injury and in 2022 he was still recovering from that injury. Now that he has distanced himself from injury, big things are expected - and with two home runs in the first four games, he appears to be right back on track.
I do feel confident about the Braves this year. Should the core stay healthy they are a match for anyone. Opening day was a setback though. Despite the victory, losing Max Fried to injury is a massive blow. From all accounts though, it is not too serious and should only warrant a few weeks on the sidelines. You can't put a price on what Fried brings to the team and it is frustrating that the Braves haven't tried to lock him in to a longer contract, instead antagonising him by going through salary arbitration over the sake of a few hundered thousand dollars. Yes the Braves don't have Mets money, but the owners, Liberty Media, have deep pockets and can afford a little more for a guy who will keep the team both competitive and relevant.
As always at this stage of the season, time will tell what kind of year we will have, but we have to be encouraged by our strong start to the year. The trick is to keep it going and as Mark Bowman would say, keep ourselves from Metsing!
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