Day of Reckoning has passed, now Braves move to offseason tasks

 

Now that both the Day of Braves Reckoning and Thanksgiving have passed, it’s time for Atlanta and its new general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, to get this offseason started in earnest.

Brian Snitker (left) is back as manager and new GM Alex Anthopoulos is the new man in charge of baseball operations for the Braves. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

By the way, I’ve finally begun to spell his name correctly each time I write it, no longer juxtaposing that last “ou” and “o” as I did at least half the time in the first week he entered our sphere. Like spelling Francoeur – or, ahem, Coppolella — it’ll become second nature for all of us who do it frequently.

And since I began vacation last week shortly after writing my part of our coverage of the Braves being taken behind the woodshed and pummeled by MLB, let me just say now, a week or so later, that I think the punishment was, for the most part, warranted. Sorry, but I do. For those who’ve wondered if the Braves would appeal, just know that if they did, MLB could continue or resume that investigation if it wanted to try and find evidence of more infractions that it didn’t address in last week’s announcement and punishment. Because, trust me, there was more there that was looked into and left off the record by MLB.

Also, as I’ve previously mentioned, it’s not necessarily over. Lawsuits could be filed by those individuals who were banished temporarily or permanently by baseball, or those parties could disclose more information publicly if they believe they were unfairly singled out while higher-ups came away largely unscathed, those fortunate ones’ reputations perhaps dinged temporarily but likely untarnished (so far) for the long term despite this whole ugly chapter in Braves history.

But for now, let’s get to the business at hand, that being the offseason project that Anthopoulos and his assistants have in front of them if they want this Braves team to be more competitive in 2018 than it has been for the past three seasons. And let me just say, it would be wise for the Braves to make the decision now to add at least another $15 million to whatever they originally had planned for a 2018 payroll, because nothing will make people forget this offseason of discontent and the previous dysfunctional front office faster than a marked improvement on the field. On the other hand, nothing will remind them of it faster than another disappointing early season.

The Braves’ 2017 opening-day payroll was between $112 million and $126 million, depending upon who was doing the calculating. It ranked anywhere from 16th to 21st in baseball, again depending upon who was doing the figures and whether they were counting dead money, 25-man rosters or 40-man rosters, etc.

For 2018, the Braves currently have about $90 million committed to players, which includes the $18 million they owe of Matt Kemp’s 2018 salary (more on him in a bit) and the projected arbitration salaries of seven players led by Matt Adams, who figures to get more than $4.5 million and Arodys Vizcaino, who’s projected to get more than $3.5 million. Of course, the Braves could trade either or both of them (more on that in moment, too).

Going back to the need to bump up the payroll above whatever the original intent was – an amount we don’t know; the Braves have never said – and why that’s so important: You simply don’t want to start out the season poorly and have the conversation shift back to all the mistakes the Braves made and the 13 prospects they lost to MLB’s ruling and how the rebuild has been reset and you can’t count on prospects alone to turn this around and blah blah blah.

Nope, you – you being the Braves – really, seriously need to improve the product on the field for 2018 and do whatever you can to assure this team gets off to a good start and makes people want to come out to SunTrust Park to see the team, now that the novelty of the new park will have worn off for returning customers.

Anthopoulos showed in Toronto what he can do when given some financial support and pieces to work with. It’d be wise for Braves ownership/management to give him the wherewithal to at least be competitive from Day 1 in his new position. For the Braves, who need to see the big picture and understand that whatever the time frame was for the rebuild before, it’s more important now to be competitive in 2018, given the black eye that the organization received while being held up these past two months as pretty much an example of power, arrogance and ambition run amok.

No shortcuts. Just have a payroll at least in baseball’s top half and see what Anthopoulos came do with that and a farm system that, while it no longer figures to be ranked No. 1 with the loss of Kevin Maitan and a couple of other borderline-elite prospects among those declared free agents last week, will still be in the top three in baseball. That’s how many prospects that Coppolella and John Hart added to the system, plenty of them acquired within the rules.

So, what will the Braves do this offseason? What are the priorities?

Well, Anthopoulos made it clear at the GM meetings, the day after he was named to the post — the job has more power now, since he’s basically got the authority that Hart had as president of baseball operations as well as that held by Coppolella as GM — that he would not radically rush the rebuild, that he wouldn’t dive in and start making wholesale changes, that he would get to know the personnel before he did anything.

Understandable, and a prudent course of action in my opinion.

However, I’d guess it didn’t or won’t take him and his assistants, including two late-season hire Perry Minasian, long to realize the Braves have enough elite-level pitching prospects that they can trade one or two if – repeat, if – they believe that’s the best way to help fill another need – say, to deal for a controllable frontline starter or a third baseman to bridge the time between now and the expected arrival of Austin Riley.

And we all know the Braves have some surplus starting pitching, talking about the Wislers and Blairs, that doesn’t need to be retained in hopes that someday, somehow, they’re going to develop into the pitchers the Braves hoped they’d be. They’ve been passed by enough others now in the system that they’ve become expendable, and no, moving them to the bullpen doesn’t solve anything. Neither is a reliever. No more mediocre-at-best relievers needed.

Here’s what I gather from conversations to be the Braves’ offseason priorities at this point:

• Strengthen the bullpen by adding at least one or two proven performers.

• Look to acquire a third baseman, preferably one who can provide some power and hold down the position for a year or two until Austin Riley is ready.

• Add a starting pitcher, if not a controllable young standout who’d cost a lot in a trade, then a veteran who could eat innings a la R.A. Dickey last season. (They already declined Dickey’s option, but he’s probably retiring anyway.)

I think Anthopoulos will be careful about trading top prospects until he gets a real feel for who they are and what the Braves have for the long term, and I can’t blame him if that’s the case. You don’t want to start your career at the helm of a new team by trading away a prospect who ends up becoming a star elsewhere and reminding fans for a decade of how bad the trade was. Not that we’ve seen that happen here before …

Now, here’s what I’d do if I were calling the shots:

• Move Matt Kemp, trade him or dump him regardless of how much of $36 million the Braves have to eat of the remaining money over the next two seasons. Don’t wait to see how he shows up for camp; he reported in great shape last year and then ballooned during the season soon after the first in his series of hamstring ailments. So what would it even mean if he reports in great shape again? Trade him to an AL team, eat most of the salary, just move him. You don’t need the distraction in the clubhouse, especially with so many impressionable prospects in camp this spring. Moving him this winter opens a spot for super prospect Ronald Acuna, and if the Braves want to wait a few weeks to call up Acuna in April to assure they get another season of control, then they can go with Lane Adams and Danny Santana at the spot until then.

 

The Braves need to say goodbye to Matt Kemp, even if they have to eat all or most of the $36 million he’s owed over the next two seasons. (AP photo)

• Get a good third baseman who’s also a good clubhouse guy. Check into Todd Frazier, who’d be perfect – production and vocal leadership — if he’s not too costly and the commitment isn’t too great. Let Johan Camargo and Danny Santana handle utility roles, giving the Braves their best bench in years when combined with catcher Kurt Suzuki. Camargo could be the regular third baseman, yes, but he’s more valuable as a utility player and the Braves need more pop at third base anyway.

• See what it’d take to get Rays starter Chris Archer, and if it’s not entirely cost prohibitive then make a serious offer including at least one elite pitching prospect. Archer just turned 29 in September, has ace-caliber stuff, could benefit from a change of scenery and is under control for four more seasons at just $34 million including two option years. That’s $34 million, or about what the highest-paid starters in baseball get in one season. If you get Archer, you could strongly consider trading Julio Teheran. Again, change of scenery might help him; sell that idea to another team. And if you can’t or don’t want to give up the prospects to get Archer, then go after a solid free agent starter such as Alex Cobb.

• Keep Matt Adams as a pinch-hitter and backup first baseman (and absolute emergency-only left fielder) until summer, when you might be able to get something from a contender who has an injury or believes his pinch-hit bat could help put them over the top. Or, in the event the Braves are actually playing meaningful games at that point, you could always keep him the entire season. But if you can get something good this winter in a trade, by all means consider it. I just have my doubts what he’ll bring in return right now.

• Don’t just give away Nick Markakis to open a spot for Acuna; do that with Kemp, even though you’d have to eat a lot of Kemp’s salary. Markakis is great in the clubhouse and still at least a solid platoon-type outfielder for a contender, so if you want to trade him this summer there might be more of a market. If not, having him around can only help the likes of Acuna, assuming the Braves don’t add another outfield bat, which I don’t expect them to do.

• I think we would all agree, it’s been a long year in Braves Country. Here’s Todd Snider.

“LONG YEAR” by Todd Snider

Todd Snider

I came in off a dead end street. 
Walked in slow and took a back row seat; 
I knew I had nothing new to say. 
So many people looking so burned out 
I couldn’t help feeling bad about just
Having to be there anyway. 

A friend of a friend from work came in. 
I never have known what to make of him, 
He’d always seemed to be so insincere to me. 
You know I’ve always been afraid of a 12 step crowd; 
They laugh too much and talk too loud 
Like they all know where everyone should be.

It’s been a long,
A long, long year. 
It’s been a long,
A long, long year. 
How did I get here?

They were talking in a circle, I was by myself 
Everyone was telling everyone how they felt; 
It felt like so long since I’d been young. 
As the circle kept moving its way to the back 
I was wondering what I was going to say.
In fact, I still didn’t know
As it rolled off my tongue… 

It’s been a long,
A long, long year. 
It’s been a long,
A long, long year. 
How did I get here?

I didn’t say a word all the way to my car 
But a little later on that night at the bar 
I was telling everyone how strange my day had been. 
They said “Brother, all you need is another shot” 
So I threw one down and said “thanks a lot” 
As I thought to myself, “Well, here we go again”. 

It’s been a long,
A long, long year. 
It’s been a long,
A long, long year. 
How did I get here?