Anyone who follows the Braves in any capacity will tell you far and away their biggest need this off-season is figuring out the shortstop position. And the reason they’ll tell you that is because it’s true. Long-time shortstop Dansby Swanson will officially hit free agency shortly after the World Series concludes and the Braves will have a gaping hole at arguably the most important position in the sport.
And because of this, everyone’s focus has been on the four big shortstops hitting the open market this winter: Carlos Correa, Trea Turner Xander Bogaerts, and Swanson. The team has other needs of course, they could use another reliever, maybe another starter, possibly a platoon partner for Eddie Rosario in left field, DH, bench help, etc. But shortstop is everyone’s main focus. It’s the biggest need and produces the most questions. Which of those four do the Braves prefer? Which are interested in playing for Atlanta? How much will it cost? Are there trade options? What’s a reasonable number for Dansby? What will he be looking for? And on and on and on. The assumption all along has been the Braves will spend the largest chunk of their available money on a shortstop, and make smaller moves everywhere else with whatever is left.
And it all makes sense. But it does have me wondering, have we been looking at this off-season backwards? Do the Braves actually have to spend most of their money on a shortstop and then go smaller everywhere else with whatever is left? What if they just did it the other way around?
Left field was a black hole for the team pretty much all of last season, as was the DH spot. If the four big shortstops are all have massive contract demands and multiple teams interested, driving the price even higher, I do wonder if doesn't it make more sense to pivot to an outfielder and DH as the primary targets and go smaller at shortstop than what the consensus has been to this point.
And it’s not necessarily a concession. There is a scenario where you could actually build a better team going that route. If Anthopolous could find a way to rid the team of Marcell Ozuna and move Eddie Rosario to the bench, they could realistically go after a guy like Mitch Haniger for a full-time outfield spot and/or Michael Brantley for the DH spot. With your offense significantly improved, you could then get someone like Elvus Andrus as the stop-gap shortstop or even give Vaughn Grissom a look. Or maybe even a better scenario, sign Haniger and use Grissom as the primary trade chip to go get Willy Adames from Milwaukee.
I could certainly make the argument you’ve built a better team with that setup versus giving Dansby Swanson $160 million dollars or Trea Turner $250 million dollars and not having much room to do anything else. And even if you spent the same amount of money as you would buying one elite shortstop, the money is spread out over multiple players and most likely shorter years, reducing the risk substantially.
Of course, those are just names that could make sense. Not necessarily definite targets. The point is I think the Braves could implement a plan where they grab a dependable glove at shortstop who they could hide at the bottom of their lineup and use upgrades at LF/DH to improve the offense. It doesn't all have to come from one expensive shortstop.
And we've seen Anthopolous pull this maneuver before, everyone thinks he’s going to zig and he zags instead. Last off-season pretty much everyone assumed the Braves had to sign another starting pitcher to give the team more depth in their rotation and instead, Anthopolous focused his time and money on building a better and better bullpen. In 2019, no one had the Braves in the market for a third baseman after the season Johan Camargo (lol) had just had in 2018, but Alex wanted more offense and Josh Donaldson was best way he thought he could achieve that. And so that’s the move he made.
So it wouldn’t surprise me at all if, in Anthopolous’ opinion, a better path forward is not spending most of their resources on one of the top shortstops and instead spreading out those resources over multiple positions to achieve the same goal: a better 2023 team. Or he could sign one of the top shortstops immediately and all this is instantly becomes nonsense you wasted your time reading. He could do that too.
We’ll find out together.