Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker met with the media at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday and looked back on the team’s 2022 season before casting an eye to Spring Training and 2023.
“I’m very proud of our season and what we did and what we accomplished and where we came, how we fought back and the fact that we won our fifth division in a row,” Snitker said. “I’m extremely proud about everything that happened. I told the guys. You fight to get in the playoffs because you never know what can happen. In a couple of months, we’re going to go back to spring training and get ready to do it again.”
Snitker has long said that one of the first things that he tells his players during spring camp is that the goal is to win the division. Because doing so gets you into the playoffs and once there, anything can happen.
“I think that’s where it’s at. Until you get there, you don’t have a chance. I tell them the first meeting in spring training, our goal number one is to win the division, not to win World Series,” Snitker said. “Win the division, because until we get in the door, we don’t have a chance to do the other.”
It has been pretty quiet for the Braves during the Winter Meetings. Alex Anthopoulos did a lot of his heavy lifting during the 2022 season when he locked up Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Michael Harris and Spencer Strider to long term extensions. Snitker acknowledged that having most of the roster in place heading into the spring is a stark difference than when he took over the job as the team’s manager.
“No, you’re right. I told the guys a couple years ago. We worked really hard to get to where we come to spring training and there’s not a lot of jobs,” Snitker said. “That’s a good thing because when I first got here, we were putting will work for food signs out on the interstate trying to get guys to come in here. We worked really hard to get this where it is and we’ve set the bar pretty high for ourselves. They’ve done a great job organizationally and locking up some really quality young talented players. I feel really good with where we’re at.”
There Braves do have a couple of question marks that will need to be addressed prior to next season. Most notably, at shortstop where Dansby Swanson is a free agent this offseason. Snitker didn’t offer any insight on the possibility of Swanson’s return, but acknowledged that the possibility of losing a guy like Swanson, who grew up in the organization, is tough but it is part of the business of the game.
“Yeah, no it’s tough,” Snitker said of Swanson. “It’s tough because you do get attached to those guys. My God, we spend a lot of time together. They’re quality individuals. I love him to death, but it is, that’s part of the business. We all know that we get in here, and it is part of it. Time will tell which way we go, but I’ll always root for that kid.”
If Swanson does head elsewhere, the Braves currently have a couple of internal options in Vaughn Grissom and veteran Orlando Arcia. Grissom provided a spark with his bat down the stretch while playing second base after injuries to Ozzie Albies and Arcia. Grissom has spent most of his time in the minors at short although there are longterm questions about whether he will be able to stick at the position. Grissom is spending some time this offseason working out with infield coach Ron Washington.
“It's good,” Snitker said of Grissom spending time with Washington. “They’re spending time down there. It’s not going to hurt. I’ll tell you that. I think anytime somebody can get that individualized instruction is really good for the individual player.”
Snitker however was noncommittal about the plan for shortstop should Swanson leave and said that they would let the process play out in the spring.
“We’ll go to spring training,” Snitker said. “We have Arcia, we have Grissom. We’ll let them play and we’ll see where it goes. We got 30 games to decide which way we want to go. For me, I’m going to put my eyes on the whole situation before I make any determinations.”
The NL East gets stronger
While it has been a quiet week at the Winter Meetings for the Braves, both the Phillies and the Mets made significant splashes. Philadelphia locked up Trea Turner on a massive 11-year, $300 million deal.
“You know what? Good for him. He’s a great player,” Snitker said of Turner. “He’s fun to watch. He’s a great player. You watch, he plays the game the right way. I got a lot of respect for that kid.”
While the Mets lost Jacob deGrom, who signed a five-year deal with the Rangers, they filled the spot by adding AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander.
“We talked about that last year,” Snitker said of the division. “Those teams are going to continue to push and get better and they have resources. That’s the way it is. A really good division and it’s the same boat that we were in a year ago. We got to play the games. We knew going in last year that these teams were going to get better. I feel like we are too. We’re going to be another year older, another year more experience with some really talented young players and I think we’re all really excited to get to get to work again.
Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka and the fifth rotation spot
Atlanta will head into the spring with its starting rotation largely in place with Max Fried, Kyle Wright, Spencer Strider and Charlie Morton. There will be a competition for the fifth starter spot with Ian Anderson and Mike Soroka leading a talented group. Snitker talked about the team’s pitching depth and how it gives them options to navigate a long season.
“Yep, that’s a great thing. That depth, you can never have too much pitching depth,” Snitker said. “When you look at the group of guys that we have that are going to be competing for that job. A guy like Ian and Mike, those guys have been in Rookie of the Year conversations. They’ve pitched big games, World Series, championship games. So that’s good. You never know what the injury bug is going to do. You just can’t have too many of those guys. They’ve all got experience too. That’s the thing, they’ve all made starts and have shown improvement.
Bryce Elder and Kyle Muller are two other names to keep an eye on as well. Guys like Darius Vines and Jared Shuster may not be that far behind either. All of that group still have minor league options remaining, which will give the Braves and Snitker added flexibility.
“Those options in the bullpen are invaluable,” Snitker said. “The options in our starting rotation. If we want to go with six for a while or depending on how the schedule goes. Or if a guy needs a little blow and you can manage your roster to bring somebody in, those options are invaluable.”
Snitker also provided updates on several players that were dealing with injuries at the end of the 2022 season. A broken foot and fractured finger limited Ozzie Albies to just 64 games this past season, but Snitker said that everything is good with him now and he is gearing up for the spring.
“I saw Ozzie the other day. He’s doing great,” Snitker said. “Exactly what he needs to be doing. He was fired up. He had a good look about him. Very confident and everything went great. Matzek was doing good. He was feeling good. It’s going to be obviously a while before he’s ready. All those guys, they’re at the stadium every day working out. So I’ve seen them a few times.
Matzek underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of the season and will miss all of the 2023 season. The Braves signed him to a two-year deal this offseason so he will be gearing up for a return in 2024. Another reliever that could play a big part in the bullpen could be Kirby Yates who made it back from Tommy John surgery last season, but was sidelined again at the end of the regular season.
“I haven’t seen Kirby, he’s back home,” Snitker said. “We wanted to kind of get him activated at the end of the season, but it just wasn’t possible. He threw in Gwinnett at the alternate site. I think he had a good feeling that he could have a normal offseason. The poor guy just didn’t want to rehab for the winter. So I think it was good that he felt that he was able to throw. He felt good about it, where he could go into the offseason with some normalcy.
Ronald Acuña Jr. made it back to the field after a torn ACL, but battled lingering soreness. He still put up great numbers, but wasn’t at the MVP level that he showed in 2021. Acuña is currently playing winter ball and appears to have turned the corner. Snitker said that he would be surprised if 2023 isn’t a big year for Acuña.
“It will be great. I’ve seen the videos when he’s out there running around,” Snitker said of Acuña. “I just think probably the time off. Even the small smatterings of what he’s doing now. I think just having a normal offseason for those guys, I think is huge for them. Just let their bodies regroup, do the normal, their weight lifting and conditioning and all that. Then come to camp. I’d be a real surprised if he doesn’t have a really big year.”