We kick off a new Atlanta Braves roundtable series with a look back at the offseason. Alex Anthopoulos and company came into the offseason looking to add to a team that had suffered through two straight losses in the division series. Did he succeed?
What are your thoughts on the offseason at large? Was it a success?
Kris Willis- I would grade out the offseason with a solid “B” for the Atlanta Braves. Locking down Josh Donaldson to a contract would have probably netted an A, I can understand their reservations on offering a four-year contract. Signing Marcell Ozuna and landing him on a team-friendly deal was strong pivot. I liked the Cole Hamels signing but this was the fourth or fifth straight offseason where we heard they were looking at a substantial upgrade for the rotation that never emerged. They did address the bullpen and that now looks like a strength instead of a big giant question mark.
Ivan - Given where the Braves started the offseason, they didn’t really need to do much to have a “successful” offseason, where “success” is defined as “primed the team for an interesting, competitive season.” Of course, if your definition of “successful” is “only made good-to-great moves” or “made the team a World Series favorite,” your mileage may very much vary here. They made some good moves and some bad moves, and I wish the prudence that they exercised in getting the good moves was also espoused to avoid the bad moves (can you imagine waiting out the market to sign Ozuna cheap, but not waiting out the market to sign relievers? what?), but overall, they mostly got to where they were trying to go.
Scott Coleman - I’d give it a solid B right now. Ideally the FO would’ve added more thump than Ozuna and d’Arnaud to a lineup that was extremely top-heavy last year and lost Donaldson, but there has also been minimal movement among position players this winter. Let’s hope Kevin Seitzer can tap into Ozuna’s potential and set him up for a big payday in 10 months. Spending big on the bullpen is a risky proposition but they had to do something — this was arguably the worst bullpen in baseball for four months last year. Cole Hamels for a year is fine although the best-case scenario is a #3 starter with a risk of oblique injury. Ultimately the FO elected to be safe (and smart?) and minimize their risk this winter instead of making a riskier, bolder proposition. I can’t really fault them for it, but I guess I was hoping there would be a little more. Perhaps something happens in the next month to move the needle a bit more.
Eric Cole - Pretty easy B to B-plus for me. The team increased payroll significantly and were aggressive in free agency particularly on the bullpen side. I actually like the Ozuna deal given the circumstances (and am still surprised that he signed a one year deal at all although in hindsight, it does make some sense given that he can rebuild value and hit the market without a QO next offseason) and the improvement in the bullpen on paper is real. I do wish that third base and, to some extent, the outfield were more settled situations, but the Braves find themselves with very decent options now as opposed to wondering how they were even going to put together a lineup that could compete against top level pitching. There is also the question of investing that much of payroll into something as volatile as bullpen arms, but these are minor quibbles. The Braves did well and I suspect that they could make a splashy move at the trade deadline as well to improve at specific areas...depending on how the season goes. This is a better spot to be in than having to really, really hope for an in-season trade to realistically compete offensively.
AB - Braves are better at catcher, better in the outfield, better in the rotation, better in the bullpen (I guess?) and notably worse at third base. The front office did an excellent job with one-year deals. Unfortunately, a Josh Donaldson signing didn’t work out. Signing him would have required dead money, to which this organization seems allergic. There are much worse things to be.
Loading up in the bullpen is odd. But from his comments this offseason, he seemed upset at the options for relief at the deadline last year. Maybe that’s why he struck early with Will Smith. He might be too hard on himself. He gave up money and Kolby Allard, but his bullpen acquisitions last year, as well as getting bench upgrades in August, fueled a murderkilling run down the stretch. So I don’t understand the fixation on relief and his PTSD. He made really good moves.
Daniel H-K - I would grade this offseason an A. Anthopoulos did a fantastic job strengthening the weaknesses of this team and the Braves should be considered a top 5 team in baseball heading into the season. I actually like signing Ozuna better than I would have liked giving Donaldson what he got for a number of reasons. One is that the difference between the production of Ozuna and a Markakis/Duvall platoon and the difference between Donaldson and a Camargo/Riley pairing is fairly comparable according to projections that I’ve seen. I also think that the Camargo/Riley pairing has substantial upside, given that Camargo put up a 3 WAR season with a 116 WRC+ in 2018 on only 524 plate appearances and looked really good at the end of last season after making some adjustments in Gwinnett, and Riley has shown what kind of power his bat can bring. The one year contract keeps the #financialflexibility for next offseason and actually cost a little bit less in draft capital than signing Donaldson would have, as well as not blocking prospects in the same way that a Donaldson signing would have. Hamels was also a really nice guy to add for both production and teaching the young guys. I loved bringing back Chris Martin, the Darren O’Day deal was a bargain, and obviously Will Smith is a huge addition to what is now one of the league’s top bullpens. Overall, this team is leaps and bounds better than it was entering the season last year and it sounds like there is still money to make another impact move, whether before or during the season.
Shawn Coleman- I would give this offseason a B+ overall, with the hope that by Spring Training it turns into an A+. The aggressiveness Alex Anthopoulos showed in addressing the team’s biggest needs, both quickly and thoroughly, was eye opening and inspiring. This team certainly is better than it was entering 2018 and 2019, and has clearly established itself as one of the best teams in the National League.
However, the offseason still does not feel completely satisfying. While these moves have been sensible and effective, their collective significance does not seem to be at its maximum level. The one thing that made many feel the Braves were a true title contender at times last year was the quality of their offense. Though resigning Josh Donaldson would have been a solution, his departure is not the issue. As Anthopoulos alluded to at Chopfest, the Braves have the resources to truly make the needed moves to go “over the top” for a title run. Though the signing of Marcell Ozuna helps, I am left wanting more. If the resources are there, and the timing is clearly right, I feel our offense needs one further addition for this to truly be an amazing offseason and for this team to be a true title contender. Now that Donaldson is off the table, Atlanta should continue with their aggressive mindset and bring in another difference making talent that can truly make this team stack up against anyone in the playoffs.
Anthony Traurig: I think that the front office has done a pretty good job of building a roster that, on paper, seems about the caliber of last year’s team. I really like the one-year deals for Hamels and Ozuna. However, I do think some of the money that went towards the bullpen might have been better invested in another starting pitcher or an upgrade at third base. More than anything, though, I am glad to see the team loosening the purse strings at the right time.
How one ultimately views this offseason comes down to expectations coming off last season. I think that last season’s roster was capable of winning it all, but many things would’ve needed to break their way. One more frontline starter or bat to provide depth to the lineup could’ve catapulted them. With the Ozuna signing, I see this team about in the same situation as last year. As it stands now, I’d grade this offseason as a B+, but one more significant move to the rotation or lineup to put this roster over the top would get them an A and two gold stars from me.
Cory McCartney: The Braves made moves to go out and address their perceived needs and it resulted in the biggest Opening Day payroll in franchise history — but they may not have been the over-the-top maneuvers to get them to the World Series. The bullpen is unquestionably elite and the Will Smith signing was a bold, aggressive start to the winter, however, the Cole Hamels signing still feels like an unnecessary move given the starters in place and the options in the system. While Travis d’Arnaud was a nice source of power behind the plate last year, he hasn’t hit above league average since 2015. Marcell Ozuna was a logical move with Josh Donaldson bolting for Minnesota — and a cost-effective one on a one-year deal — but it’s hard to not see the Braves taking a step back at third with Johan Camargo and Austin Riley.
Brent Blackwell: Whether the offseason is a success really just boils down to what the goal was. If it was to create a super-team, laser-focused on bringing home a world series in 2020 without regard for the long-term contention of the organization, this was a failure. If it was about personally pleasing me and checking items off my arbitrary, selfish Christmas list, it was a failure. But if the goal was to win the NL East for the third straight year while keeping the team’s longterm options healthy, it seems like an undeniable success. Atlanta has made this offseason all about mitigating weak spots in a team-friendly fashion; the team added a competent catcher, a reliable veteran starter, a bevy of excellent bullpen arms, and, most recently, an outfielder whose bat, already strong, might be due for further improvement. It’s hard to find a true weakness on the roster at the moment. The left side of the infield might be the relative weak area of the roster, but it’s still projected for league average production and happens to be oozing with talent. It’s easy for me to sit with arms crossed, demanding Gerrit Cole or even Josh Donaldson, because it isn’t my money and it isn’t my job. This offseason may not put the Braves over the top for 2020, but as the Dodgers, Yankees, and Astros found in 2019, having a super-team still doesn’t shield you from the same old crapshoot that every October provides. The Braves have done a fine job of increasing their odds of getting a spot at that craps table for the third straight year, and they’ve done so without meaningfully limiting their ability to play at future tables. If that’s not a successful offseason, I’m not sure what is.
Demetrius Bell: Well, I already had the Braves at a “B+” the last time that this question was asked. Even after the Ozuna signing, I’m still at a “B+”. Adding Ozuna (or Castellanos, or any other big bat available via trade or free agency) was a must and they went out and did it. There’s still plenty of concern about the situation at third base and it’s definitely a little scary to have to depend on Austin Riley coming back up and “getting it” immediately and/or Johan Camargo proving that his terrible 2019 season was a fluke and not a continuation of the way he ended 2018. Still, the Braves have addressed the rotation, the bullpen, and the lineup and done so with players that are fully capable to fill the roles that they’re expected to. That isn’t a great offseason but it’s a very good one and that’s basically all you can ask of a team with the expectations that the Braves have.
Dillon Cloud: The offseason was a success in that the Braves mitigated risk while making meaningful additions to the 2020 roster. Marcell Ozuna and Cole Hamels may not be the high-profile additions that fans dream about, but they should be productive for a Braves team that is already among the top contenders in the National League. Adding Will Smith while retaining Chris Martin, Darren O’Day, and Shane Greene should create a much more reliable mixture of relief arms for this season, though the amount of money tied up in the bullpen is certainly eye-popping given the usual course of action for Atlanta. The Braves already have a core in place, so low-risk complementary pieces on short-term deals may create the most favorable set of circumstances going forward.