Despite humiliating postseason exit, the Braves are set up really well for the future
A look at why Alex Anthopoulos is the right GM to lead the Braves in their contending phase
The Braves' 2019 season ended in, frankly speaking, humiliating fashion with their ritual slaughter at the hands of the Cardinals in . But let that not detract from the larger picture. While the Braves haven't hoisted the trophy in almost a quarter-century, they are coming off a 97-win campaign in 2019 and back-to-back NL East titles. In related matters, they're well positioned to continue winning into the foreseeable future.
When your roster boasts the likes of Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Mike Soroka, Dansby Swanson, and Max Fried -- all age 25 or younger (much younger, in some instances) -- and complements the youth with Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Sean Newcomb, and others, then you necessarily have a promising future. This, of course, is to say nothing of other young to young-ish talents like Austin Riley, Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson, Cristian Pache, Drew Waters, and William Contreras. When it comes to the near-, mid-, and long-term, there's an embarrassment of riches in Atlanta and on the way to Atlanta.
The thing, though, is to surround that young core with the veteran pieces necessary to give the team the best chance of making and going deep into the playoffs. Fortunately for the Braves, GM Alex Anthopoulos has a history of doing just that.
Anthopoulos was of course previously the GM in Toronto leading up to and during their semi-recent renaissance. When Anthopoulos felt he had the necessary elements in place, he moved boldly to solidify the roster with a blockbuster trade for Josh Donaldson, who won the AL MVP award on the Blue Jays' watch. Then Anthopoulos made notable in-season trades for Troy Tulowitzki and then David Price. That's just a sampling of the moves he made in the service of giving his team the best possible shot to win the World Series. Given all the recent palaver about years of control and keeping payroll down, it's easy to forget that that's the point of all this -- winning the darn belt and title.
Not everyone feels this way, of course. According to most reportage, Mark Shapiro not long after taking over in Toronto chastised Anthopoulos for some of his later-for-now trades in Toronto. Somewhat related: Anthopoulos left the Jays not long after. Shapiro is no doubt skilled at making money for ownership (not that it takes much skill in MLB), but he's less adept at, you know, getting his teams to win baseball games. Lucky for the Braves, Anthopoulos since November of 2017 has been at their wheel.
This past offseason, for instance, Anthopoulos inked Donaldson to a one-year pact, and he was vital to the Braves' success. The mid-season signing of Keuchel stabilized the rotation down the stretch, and he also tended to the bullpen leading up to the deadline (albeit with mixed results). When you're the Braves, that's what you want. You want an operator who's willing to spend money and other resources to elevate the existing core.
The Braves are coming off a 2019 season in which their payroll ranked in the top half of the league for the first time since 2014. That's a promising sign as their contending window remains open, as Anthopoulos will need freedom to make those targeted investments. Bringing back Donaldson or finding a suitable replacement (Anthony Rendon is obviously the free agent prize at third base) is probably priority No. 1. Fortifying the rotation via free agency should also be on the to-do list. Implicit in all this is that Liberty Media, owners of the Braves, will spend at a level befitting a World Series contender. That's hardly to be assumed, especially in the current era of fetishized efficiency.
None of this is to say that Anthopoulos is the best exec in baseball today or even among them. He is, however, a thoroughly capable one, and his willingness to invest in the product and prioritize making the most of his teams' championship windows is sadly a point of distinction these days. That, though, isn't Atlanta's problem. In fact, it's the opposite.
In the NL East for 2020, the Nationals are poised to be hit with free agent losses, the Phillies and Mets will likely remain middling, and the Marlins should once again be among the worst teams in baseball. That makes the Braves the early favorites to repeat. Anthopoulos, though, is surely aiming higher -- as he should.
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