The Braves have had more success at bringing on young regulars than any team in recent times, but for a second straight offseason, they face the potential departure of a longtime regular who helped anchor the infield. Dansby Swansonhow Freddie Freeman reached the open market before him without signing an extension, has turned down a qualifying offer and can now attract interest from the other 29 teams in the game.
Atlanta reportedly offered Swanson an extension close to $100 million Sometime later in the season, but the widespread expectation is that he’ll beat that guarantee by a comfortable margin. (MLBTR predicted a seven-year, $154 million deal on last week’s Top 50 Free Agents list.) One of the biggest questions on the minds of Braves fans is what the team will do at the shortstop. Can Swanson be held? And if not, where does the team go? The market offers a trio of high-end alternatives in the form of Trea Turner, Carlo Correa and Xander Bogaerts.
As reported by The Athletic’s Ken RosenthalHowever, the Braves are unlikely to make a legitimate play to sign any of the major free-agent shortstops other than Swanson. Baseball Operations President Alex Anthopoulos went out of his way to mention it Vaughn Grissom and Orlando Arkia as internal alternatives at last week’s GM meetings, and Rosenthal adds that the Braves are generally reluctant to add a larger salary that “occupies too high a percentage of their payroll” — including the often-speculated eligibility Jacob de Grom.
Braves fans were understandably heartened by CEO Terry McGuirk’s comments that Atlanta is growing into one of the game’s top five payrolls, but what McGuirk failed to emphasize was just how close the Braves are to reaching that territory before they have one make only addition. Last month at MLBTR, I pointed this out that in order for the Braves to make even one high-priced purchase, they would have to cross the luxury tax threshold; make a few big-name signings – or sign and renew a Premier Free Agent, for example Max Fried – could shake the threshold and plunge the team into at least the second tier of the luxury penalty.
As things currently stand Jason Martinez Projects from Roster Resource the Braves are less than $5 million away from step one of the luxury tax. They would be paying luxury for the first time, so the penalty on the first $20 million they exceed that threshold would be “only” 20%. The penalty for the next $20 million would escalate to a 32% tax.
We’ll get back to the shortstop dilemma, but it’s worth digressing and taking a deeper look at what the realities of the luxury tax for the Braves might be.
To put this in more specific context, we can use deGrom as an example. Many believe the four-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young winner could average $40 million or more this winter. A $40 million AAV on deGrom would push the Braves’ luxury tax bill into the $268 million range — about a $35 million surplus. The 20% tax on the first $20 million would be $4 million, and the 32% tax they would pay on the next $15 million would be another $4.8 million . So, to sign deGrom for a $40 million AAV, the Braves would have to be willing to pay a total of $48.8 million — at least for the upcoming season. With Justin Verlander Look for a comparable offer to that of Max Scherzerall of which can be applied to him as well.
Swanson’s case is similar but not quite as extreme. Taking the $22 million AAV on MLBTR’s predicted contract as an example, Swanson would push the Braves a little over $17 million over the luxury tax alone. That would make our projected $22 million AAV more akin to paying $25.4 million this season. And of course, Swanson’s signing to that sentence would mean that any subsequent significant pay increases would push the Braves to the second tier of punishment, subjecting them to the same 32% rate mentioned in the deGrom example.
The other wrinkle is that such a signing would continue to skyrocket the team’s luxury bill in future seasons. The Braves already have about $135 million in luxury commitments 2024 Payroll, two years later, and that doesn’t include potential club option pickups for veterans like Charlie Morton, Kirby Yates and Collin McHugh — It also does not include arbitration salaries for Fried, AJ Minter and Kyle Wright. Paying the luxury tax for consecutive seasons would cause these penalty rates to increase as well (30% in tier one, 42% in tier two, etc.).
Certainly there are opportunities for the Braves to lower their current luxury price point and create further breathing room, although getting there won’t be easy. There is little hope of finding a team willing to cover even a small portion of the $36 million that is still owed Marcell Ozuna by 2024. Atlanta would likely welcome the opportunity to forfeit the $9 million owed Eddie Rosario in 2023, but that’s also a lot easier said than done after he hit .212/.259/.328 in the first season of a two-year $18 million contract. A recent source of Twitter speculation among fans – a possible trade in Ronald Acuna Jr. – is Not something the Braves are considering, according to Rosenthal.
Leaving the long digression aside, let’s get back to the shortstop question. If, as Rosenthal suggests, the team are likely to be “out of the picture” for Correa, Turner or Bogaerts should Swanson leave, what could that mean for their 2023 prospects at shortstop?
Grissom and Arcia are internal candidates, as hinted at by Anthopoulos, but Grissom’s racquet withered after a hot start to his rookie season in 2022. He still finished with a terrific batting line of .291/.353/.440 in 156 plate appearances, but Grissom batted .420/.463/.660 in his first 54 plate appearances and just .220/.294/.319 in his last 102 trips to the plate. He completely skipped Triple-A en route to the Majors, and scouting opinion is divided on his long-term prospects at shortstop. Once one of the game’s top prospects, Arcia was about a league average hitter in a part-time role last year but carries a .233/.288/.356 (70 wRC+) slash over the past five years.
The free agent market has some modest stopgap players that could help propel Grissom into the full-time role at shortstop. Elvis Andres was released by the A’s over the summer, but it was more about preventing his 2023 vesting option from happening than his game. He had a strong finish after signing with the White Sox, hitting a combined .249/.303/.404 with 17 homers and 18 steals between the two clubs. Jose Iglesias continues to hit for average and rarely hits out — .291/.325/.408, 13.1% strikeout rate since 2019 — but defensive metrics have deteriorated over the past two seasons for the soon-to-be 33-year-old. old friend Andrelton Simmons is also a free agent, but he’s batted just .216/.277/.261 in 536 plate appearances since opening day 2021.
Neither of these free-agent options are going to inspire Braves fans much — aside from the possible nostalgia of a Simmons reunion — but they do emphasize the fact that it’s a thin crop beyond the “Big Four.” So the trade market might be a tastier approach for Anthopoulos. Cleveland’s Amed Rosario is a clear commercial candidate with just a year to go to free agency and a rising (by Guardian standards) price tag. He is projected of MLBTR staffer Matt Swartz, who is set to make $9 million next year, and a low-wage Guardians club deep in MLB-ready prospects in the middle infield could be looking to cash in on the 27-year-old. as I recently examined in more detail.
The Yankees seem poised to move on Isiah Kiner-Falefa now that Oswald Peraza is ready for a peek into the majors. The Reds would probably be open to deals Kyle Farmer, which Anthopoulos is certainly familiar with, dating back to his Dodgers days. Arizona’s Nick Ahmed and St.Louis’ Paul DeJong are experienced alternatives that could be had for pennies on the dollar, as the D-Backs and Cardinals would certainly welcome the chance to lose just a portion of the $10M and $11M respectively that are on their contracts remain. Both are buy-low options at best that have performed poorly in recent seasons. Any of Kevin Neuman (pirates), Nicky Lopez (Royals) or the often injured Adalberto Mondesi (Royals) could probably be up for grabs in a deal, but each has some obvious red flags.
To be clear, there’s no indication that the Braves are looking to just stand still this winter. A Swanson reunion remains highly plausible, even if previous extension attempts with his representatives – the same agents who represent Freeman for what it’s worth – have yet to bear fruit. It would push the Braves into luxury territory for the first time in franchise history, but based on McGuirk’s comments about a potential top-five pay club, that’s something the front office will have the green light for, at least as far as Swanson is concerned.
What seems far less likely is a lavish spending spree, with the Braves making waves in the free-agent market on multiple occasions. If Swanson signs elsewhere, most of the Braves’ heavyweight might very well come through the trade market and the mid-tiers of the free-agent market.