Braves still reading their hand in free agency poker game

Joe Patrick
February 19, 2019 - 10:02 am
Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos during the MLB annual spring training media day

© Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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Another week goes by, and yet again the Braves front office is showing no inclination toward signing any of the numerous All-Star-caliber free agents still available on the market.

With pitchers, catchers, and some position players having already reported to the Braves’ spring training camp at Disney’s Wide World of Sports over the weekend, it seems clear that Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos, for now, doesn’t want to up the ante in the game of poker being played by front offices around the league.

The reason for the conservatism could be that Anthopoulos doesn’t quite know the cards he’s holding in his hand. With at least four young, dynamic pitchers competing for one or potentially two spots in the starting rotation, it makes perfect sense for Anthopoulos to be patient this spring and see who emerges from the group as the most capable of being a key contributor for the Braves this season. Perhaps there are two or even three from that group. With so many near-major-league-ready starting pitchers in the stable, the Braves front office is rightfully being very careful before deciding which players are expendable via trade. But thanks to these desirable assets, tthe Braves hold a stronger position in the trade market than the free agent market.

Unfortunately, this measured approach doesn’t jive with some of the rhetoric fans have heard over the last year from Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk and even Anthopoulos himself, who's quipped about “shopping in every aisle” and generally raising expectations regarding the Braves’ payroll.

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While fans certainly have a legitimate claim to their grievances just as the front office has reasons for taking this type of approach, both sides want to win. The difference between these two groups is determining when is the right time to strike — to make a move that vaults the team into a new tier. It’s about going from good to great — not good to better — and doing so in a sustainable way that doesn’t leave the franchise back in the doldrums in a few years time.

Despite the Braves apparent unwillingness to come to an agreement with a top free agent, I personally believe Anthopoulos and McGuirk that the club is willing to spend — a point they reiterated to The Athletic last week. And just because they aren’t spending in the free agent market doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to add significant numbers to the payroll by way of a trade.

I discussed this and more with Jon Chuckery and Randy McMichael Monday morning, plus more on Braves happenings as spring training begins.