MLB Free Agency is off to a slow start, but that shouldn’t be terribly surprising. Unlike the NBA and the NFL, Major League Baseball’s offseason is a more deliberate affair and the free agent market won’t likely get moving until Shohei Ohtani’s market starts to shape up.
Where the Atlanta Braves fit is yet to be determined. The team returns a powerful young offensive core along with budding ace Spencer Strider. The rest of the rotation is littered with question marks. Max Fried has performed like a top of the rotation arm since 2020, but made just 14 starts in 2023 due to injury and is entering his final season of team control. Kyle Wright is slated to miss the entire 2024 season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
The Braves brought back Charlie Morton by exercising his $20 million option, but he just turned 40 and missed the Division Series due to a finger injury. Bryce Elder was an NL All-Star, but slumped badly at the end of the season. The Braves do have some intriguing young arms in AJ Smith-Shawver and Hurston Waldrep, but they would no doubt benefit from having more time at Triple A.
The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the Braves are willing to spend for a free agent starter. While Atlanta has locked up its young core over the last several seasons, no player is making more than $22 million annually. However, Rosenthal reports that the Braves are willing to go higher for the right pitcher.
One of the remarkable things about the Atlanta Braves is that none of their players signed long-term has a salary of more than $22 million. But for the right starting pitcher in free agency, the Braves are willing to go higher.
In the report, Rosenthal draws a line to Phillies free agent starter Aaron Nola who has a good relationship with Braves pitching coach Rick Kranitz. Nola will turn 31 in June and is ranked as one of the top free agent starters available depending on the outlet. He has been a workhorse over his career logging at least 180 2/3 innings in each of his last five full seasons. He did have an up and down regular season in 2023 posting a 4.46 ERA and a 4.03 FIP, but rebounded in the postseason. Early Steamer projections have him at a 3.71 ERA and a 3.66 FIP in 198 innings.
If the Braves do pursue Nola, it might be the innings that are most attractive. Atlanta has had to mix and match their rotation for several seasons now and having a durable and reliable option in the top half to go along with Fried, Strider and Morton sounds appealing.
If the report is true and Atlanta is willing to chase a top starter like Nola, then that should also put them in the market for others such as Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery and to a slightly lesser extent Eduardo Rodriguez. There is also 25-year old Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto who may require a more significant financial investment when you factor in the length of his contract along with a posting fee.
Whether this materializes into a significant free agent signing or not, the Braves clearly have to address their rotation in some manner. Fried’s pending free agency suggests that they should probably seek an option that can help for multiple seasons rather than just applying a band aid for 2024.