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Braves well-positioned to spend big in 2019

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Will the Braves return to the upper echelon of big spending teams in 2019?

The Braves have turned in three straight seasons of having a bottom 10 payroll in all of Major League Baseball. However, in 2019 the Braves look to be ready to spend big with most of their top prospects ready to contribute at the Major League level while still in arbitration. With the 2019 MLB Free Agent class being one of the best Free Agent classes in years the Braves find themselves in a very powerful position with only $35.2M on the books in guaranteed contracts.

Let’s look at how Atlanta might choose to spend their massive amount of payroll space. The Braves have held a below league average payroll since before 2011 choosing to stick around the $110M-$115M mark.

Arbitration and Pre-Arbitration Players:

First, you must account for the estimated cost of all the Braves arbitration eligible players which Baseball Reference estimates to be $38.5M. This $38.5M covers players like Mike Foltynewicz, Arodys Vizcaino, Sam Freeman, Dan Winkler among others and brings the Braves estimated 2019 payroll to $73.7M. It is also important to include other costs including those of pre-arbitration players estimated to be $6.81M bringing the final estimation for 2019 to be approximately $80.5M. This figure is a very rough estimate as some players could end up having their arbitration years bought out by the team or some could go to arbitration hearings to receive a larger contract. This projected 2019 payroll is also without Brandon McCarthy who has an $8,000,000 team option that the Braves could choose to decline or accept if he were to pitch well in 2018 or not.

Now, if those projections come to fruition and the Braves come into the 2019 Free Agent class with a payroll around $80M there are a couple of decisions that Atlanta would have to make. First, they would need to decide what the team’s outlook is, meaning whether the team looks ready to compete or not. Management would also need to review their arbitration eligible players referenced above to decide which guys are worthy of getting an offer and which guys are to be non-tendered. Finally, the team would need to assess the positions of need while also considering players in the pipeline that may be ready to compete for a Major League job in the very near future.

Spending Hypotheticals:

Hypothetically, let’s say the Braves decide that their cap for spending will go up from around the $110M-$115M mark it has been in recent years to last year’s league average mark of $152,596,848. This would mean that Atlanta could have nearly $72M to spend on free agents should they choose to do so in what looks to be a huge free agent class that includes the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw (if he decided to opt-out) and more tantalizing options. With first base seemingly the only position currently on lock down and with other spots that could be decided in 2018 it would be most natural to assume that Atlanta would look at all options in the Free Agent market but mostly centered around a power hitting outfielder and a heavy hitting third baseman.

This payroll flexibility opens a plethora of options for the Braves including the possibility of signing current NL East rival Bryce Harper who will most likely become the highest paid player in history after the coming season (however unlikely it is that Atlanta would offer). While Harper does fit the Braves need of a power hitting corner outfielder his price will most likely end up being much too high for any team with good sanity to be comfortable paying with the bidding estimated to begin at $400M and only go up. The Braves could settle for former Georgia Tech star Charlie Blackmon who would come at a much easier to stomach price which is projected to be more than Lorenzo Cain brought home in his 5 year $80M deal with the Brewers but still much less than Harper’s projected 12-year $400M deal. Teams will be wary of Blackmon’s home/road splits though as he clearly benefits from playing in the confines of Coors Park and this could cause the Braves to turn their attention instead to A.J. Pollock. Pollock could not completely regain his All-Star caliber form he displayed before his elbow injury in 2016 so his value has slid somewhat but he remains one of the more coveted outfield options in 2019 after producing 2 WAR in 2017.

Then again, the Braves could look to secure their third baseman of the future first with all the payroll options they would have in 2019. Third base is another loaded position with the likes of Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson becoming available on the open market. The Braves also will have to consider Austin Riley’s work in 2018 when deciding to go after a big name third baseman. Regardless of Riley’s play in 2018 it would be unwise to not try to go after an MVP candidate like Machado or Donaldson. Machado is projected to pull in a deal slightly less than what Harper is projected to receive at around a 12-year deal worth at least $300M and it would be interesting to see if the Braves would decide to go all in to have two MVP caliber corner infielders with Freeman already holding down first base. The other logical option is to go with a player more familiar with new Braves GM Alex Anthopolous in Josh Donaldson. Donaldson is definitely an older option at age 33 and could come at a lesser price because of that. If the Braves are looking to add to the team in more than one position Donaldson is the type of player they would consider.

It is also entirely possible that the Braves decide to tap into their rich pipeline to fill the holes in the field in 2019. Should they choose to do so the Braves could decide to fortify their bullpen for a Postseason run with big time closers like Andrew Miller and former Brave Craig Kimbrel hitting the open market. Other top tier options in the pen include Cody Allen, Kelvin Herrera, and Zach Britton for the Braves to pair with an already promising looking group of young reliever prospects.

With the frenzy already beginning for teams trying to offload payroll to participate in the 2019 Free Agent class the Braves find themselves in a unique position of payroll flexibility alongside a rich farm system that, when combined, could have the rest of the league shaking in their boots. Regardless of which direction Atlanta decides to move in 2019, fans should be ecstatic because the time for the Braves to return to the payrolls of the elite franchises in baseball is drawing near and fans who have stuck around through these rough couple of years will soon be rewarded with winning baseball and big-time players.