NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Atlanta Braves are hoping a busy winter will help take them to the next level.
While they know all about winning the World Series, having done so not long ago, the Braves would very much like to put the disappointment of recent Octobers behind them.
With a slew of pitchers added and a recent trade to address an outfield need, Atlanta is once again priming the pump for another postseason run.
“I think you can always probably improve or make changes that are beneficial to you,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of his club’s winter transactions to this point. “If we went to spring training tomorrow, I would feel really good about who we got in tow right now. I feel really good about our team again.
Of course, spring training is still over two months away for the Braves, who will report to their facility in North Port, Florida, in mid-February. Despite winning more than 100 games in back-to-back seasons and posting the best record in the majors in 2023, Atlanta was eliminated in the National League Division Series in consecutive seasons by the Philadelphia Phillies.
Not that losing in October is ever easy, but doing so at the hands of a division rival only serves to stoke the flames of baseball’s hot stove and has general manager Alex Anthopoulos searching for ways to improve the Braves’ World Series chances.
“I say the only thing Alex is ever guilty of is working tirelessly to make this thing better,” Snitker said.
Thus far, Anthopoulos has re-signed relievers Joe Jimenez and Pierce Johnson, signed free-agent Reynaldo Lopez and traded for lefty Aaron Bummer. All of those moves fortify the Atlanta bullpen, though Lopez will get the opportunity to start games for the first time since 2021. Anthopoulos will also continue his search for another proven starter this winter.
All of those pitchers could help the Braves win the arms race next season.
“I think it’s great because we know how important that bullpen is,” Snitker said. “Over the course of the summer, too, I love the arms that we’ve added.”
The Braves will also welcome back reliever Tyler Matzek, the lefty who played a huge role in the 2021 championship run but missed all of last season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
“I’m sure he can’t wait to get to spring training and get this thing going,” Snitker said of Matzek. “He loves to compete. He was around (last season). In all his absence, he wasn’t absent. He was there with the guys every day, and that’s a presence that you can’t replace.”
Anthopoulos’ moves to address the pitching staff were fast and furious, but finding a way to fill the void in left field was another item on his winter shopping list. Trading for the talented but unproven Jarred Kelenic represented a play for 2024 and beyond.
Kelenic, who is just 24 years old, still has five years of team control, something that factored heavily in the Braves taking on significant salary, as well as two players — Marco Gonzales and Evan White — they had no plans for in the five-player trade with the Seattle Mariners.
The Braves are hoping Kelenic, a career .204 hitter in parts of three seasons with the Mariners, will benefit from the change of scenery and add yet another potent bat to a lineup that was one of the best in major league history last season.
“Talked to a few of my scouting buddies here and people that have seen (Kelenic), and it sounds like he is a tooled-up really nice-looking player,” Snitker said at the winter meetings this week. “It will be good for him to get in with our group and like you say, our program and what we do and how we approach things. I think it will be really beneficial for a young, talented player.”
Kelenic’s arrival will also affect another of Atlanta’s young players.
Vaughn Grissom, who will turn 23 in January, has seen big league time in each of the past two seasons, but he has yet to carve out a regular spot in the Atlanta lineup. After a strong season at the plate with Triple-A Gwinnett, Grissom volunteered to learn a new position in the outfield during winter ball in Puerto Rico.
“He wants to go do that,” Snitker said. “The versatility and what he has going on, we all know the kid can hit. It will be interesting. It will be nice to see him down there and running around the outfield.”
Not only are the Braves filling needs on the active roster this winter, but they also need to add several new members to the coaching staff. Ron Washington, Eric Young Sr. and Drew French all accepted jobs with other teams, leaving Snitker with three vacancies on his staff.
“I told Alex, ‘That’s the price of success.’ I mean, people want your people, which (are) great opportunities for all those guys,” Snitker said. “It’s just like the players that we lost. These guys were — all three of them were very beneficial in our success, but I just always feel like we’ve created a situation where we’re not defined by one player, one coach. We’re going to fill those voids. It will still continue to be really good.”
After two early exits from the postseason, Snitker believes the Braves have a team that is capable of overcoming its recent disappointment and finding ways to once again translate their regular-season success into postseason glory.
“Last year, I thought we did the best we could as far as keeping the guys ready,” Snitker said. “They were engaged. Everything was great. But you know what? That adrenaline and all that baseball players play by is hard to ramp back up. We’re going to go to spring training trying to win the division and put ourselves in the same position this year. We’ll just have to try and figure out a better way to get things (to) keep these guys prepared.”
The expanded postseason format implemented in 2022 created a scenario that has caused the Braves to have to wait five days from the end of the regular season before beginning their first playoff series. Each time, Atlanta struggled to generate offense.
Since the format will not be changing, Snitker knows it is up to his club to do the adjusting.
“It’s what it is,” he said. “Anything can happen in playoff baseball, as we know, and I tell the guys, until you get a seat at the table, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You could take a day off and play and have the same thing happen. There’s just no rhyme or reason to the whole thing. We just have to do a better job of trying to stay ready.”