Have Braves reached their championship window?

Joe Patrick
February 11, 2019 - 3:52 pm
Atlanta Braves general manger Alex Anthopoulos

© Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

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Let’s talk about windows. Not the kind you soberly look through on another dreary Atlanta day from your office — I’m talking about championship windows. I’m talking about the fleeting moments that any given team has at realistically winning a trophy. 

These days, windows drive sports media narrative: Will the Braves spend on a big-money free agent? Will the Falcons mortgage their future while they still has a few good years out of Matt Ryan? Why aren’t the Hawks tanking for a better chance at the NBA’s No. 1 draft pick?

Never before have fans had more information at their disposal regarding what is happening at the executive level.

When I wrote last week about the Marlins dealing their prized catcher J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies, I heard the frustration from Braves fans loud and clear: This team should be spending money now (as they were lead to believe they would). This team must make the most of MVP-candidate Freddie Freeman’s prime years. This team is exciting, playing in a sparkling new stadium that’s generating revenue out the wazoo, and the front office needs to acknowledge that it’s time to double down and capitalize on this opportunity — this window.

There’s only one problem: Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos’ interests aren’t completely aligned with fans. Yes, both parties want the Braves to be successful, but they might have different notions of how that word is defined. It’s likely that a successful season in Anthopoulos’ mind is quite different from many fans who are looking at the Braves as having entered a championship window. Sure, a championship is never likely, but the Braves should try.

The perception is that they’re not.

Another characteristic about these windows is that none of us ever know when they’ll slam shut. For fans, it leads to some emotional complexities involving fear, paranoia and frustration — something we’re clearly seeing from Braves fans at the moment with the team roughly $10 million under last year’s Opening Day payroll.

The FOMO is real.

This is not all to say that Braves fans are wrong and need to sit down and be quiet while Braves executives do their jobs. Not at all. In fact, one can argue that those Braves executives were partially responsible for creating the sense that the team would indeed be pushing the envelope financially. Nearly a year ago today, team president Terry McGuirk told the AJC’s Tim Tucker, “There will be very few teams that have as much to spend in the marketplace next winter as the Atlanta Braves.”

And yet, here we are. Despite the Braves generating increased revenues upwards of $100 million per year from the Turner Field days (according to Tucker), it’s had no apparent effect on what Braves fans care about the most — the roster.

But for as frustrating as it may be for fans, there are legitimate reasons for being fiscally conservative at the moment. The Braves, with a top-3 farm system, are stocked with young talent that could potentially break out as major league players in 2019. While it’s difficult to envision now, some of those players could play a crucial role on this year’s club, or at least need time to be evaluated properly. Anthopoulos has shown his hand in signing Josh Donaldson and Chris McCann to 1-year deals — keeping risk low and opportunities available from some of the Braves’ brightest prospects. 

We shouldn’t confuse fiscal conservatism with lack of ambition.

Anthopoulos is an ambitious guy and will want to add a championship as much as anyone. And all reports indicate that the team is still planning to dip its toe into the free agent market (something we’ll look at later this week) to patch up some glaring holes, particularly in the bullpen. It’s simply a matter of choosing the right time to strike.