with Grant McAuley

  • Grant McAuley

Braves’ Cyber Monday Spending Spree Sets Tone for Winter

Updated: Dec 3, 2018

Josh Donaldson by Keith Allison/Flickr

The Atlanta Braves emerged from a four-year rebuilding project as division champions in 2018. So, what do Alex Anthopoulos and company have in mind for an encore?

For starters, how about a longer stay in October?

Anthopoulos began his winter shopping with a decisive strike, signing the first premium free agent. And it was a man he knew all too well in Josh Donaldson. The Braves also reunited with longtime catcher Brian McCann. Both men inked one-year contracts this week.

This marks the second time that Anthopoulos has acquired Donaldson as part of an offseason plan to improve his club. It worked out pretty well for Toronto in 2015, when Anthopoulos swung a trade with Oakland to land Donaldson, who promptly morphed into one of the top sluggers in the game.

Donaldson turns 33 in December and is coming off an injury-plagued campaign which saw him miss over 100 games thanks to shoulder and calf ailments. Prior to that, his first three seasons in Toronto were a reign of terror that included a .946 OPS (on-base plus slugging) in over 1,900 plate appearances, highlighted by winning the 2015 American League MVP award.

For the first time since the glory days of the 1990s, the Braves entered the offseason with significant money to spend. That comes thanks in large part to divesting themselves of significant financial obligations from a series of bad signings and contract swaps over the past few years. While Liberty Media is unlikely to ever return Atlanta to one of the highest payrolls in baseball, there are indications that ownership will commit the necessary funds to allow the club to make impactful improvements.

This puts Anthopoulos in the unique position to add to an already talented roster.

And that’s precisely what he did this week.

Atlanta invested $23 million in Donaldson for 2019, the same salary he earned through a record-setting arbitration deal with the Blue Jays a year ago. After being sidelined for over 100 games in 2018, Donaldson looked both healthy and productive with Cleveland to finish the season and comes to Atlanta with significant motivation given the one-year arrangement. It’s a chance for him to rebuild some value and perhaps find a big payday in free agency next winter. It is also a chance for him to play meaningful baseball in October for the seventh time in the last eight years.

That is if all goes according to plan for all parties involved.

Another part of the offseason plan was bringing back McCann, wh0 will turn 35 years old the day before the Braves hold their first full squad workout of Spring Training (Feb. 20). The veteran backstop won a World Series with the Astros in 2017 but was hobbled by a bad right knee last season. After Houston declined a $15 million team option, McCann hit free agency and had one stop in mind.

Anthopoulos and his staff showed just how highly they value defense by helping the club go from one of the worst in baseball in 2017 to one of the very best last season. Though McCann’s pitch framing ability may not match platoon partner Tyler Flowers, it could see at least moderate improvement with continued work. More importantly, his health and the potential of adding a left-handed hitting catcher with power were other factors in getting the deal done.

At just $2 million for one season, McCann turned down the opportunity to explore the market for a more lucrative deal elsewhere. The lure of playing at home and returning to the organization that raised him played heavily in that decision. McCann gets a chance to renew some friendships and help a young team reach the heights he experienced with the Astros. His leadership was a critical element for that up and coming club getting over the top.

That did not go unnoticed and will not go unappreciated in Atlanta.

With over two months to go before spring training, Anthopoulos has several other needs to fill on his offseason shopping list. In particular, addressing the corner outfield vacancy created by Nick Markakis’ free agency, adding a top of the rotation starter and strengthening a bullpen that had some noticeable deficiencies in 2018.

The Braves obviously felt the offense needed more firepower. It was group that carried lofty numbers into the summer, but faded in September and ultimately in their NLDS battle with the Dodgers. Adding Donaldson will displace third baseman Johan Camargo, who is coming off a solid season and has the versatility to contribute all over the infield. It gives Brian Snitker the chance to mix and match and keep his team fresher over the course of 162 games. That is something that could really come in handy in October.

Not only does Anthopoulos figure to have sufficient funds to work with, but he also has significant trade chips thanks to Atlanta’s bounty of minor league prospects. Despite having a reputation as a bit of a wheeler-dealer from his Toronto days, Anthopoulos is far from impetuous. He’s focused on located the right fits rather than simply making a splash or going after the biggest, most obvious trade targets.

That being said, there are a host of big names on the free agent market and still more that are rumored to be available via trade. No longer rebuilding, Atlanta is entering a pivotal winter that could set the course of the franchise for years to come.

That is Anthopoulos’ charge. Set the course.