Soon, Major League Baseball will descend on Nashville, Tennessee Sunday for the start of the annual Winter Meetings. If you are unfamiliar, the four-day meetings are a staple of baseball’s offseason. It is a gathering of Front Office executives, agents and sometimes even players, with face-to-face meetings that shape the offseason. The meetings will also include the Contemporary Era ballot results for the Hall of Fame, the annual Draft Lottery, and the Rule 5 Draft.
Baseball’s offseason has gotten off to its new normal: a slow start. Still, we’ve had a bit of activity to close out the fall. The Philadelphia Phillies brought back Aaron Nola on a seven-year deal worth $172 million. Sonny Gray inked a three-year deal from the Cardinals worth $75 million. That deal also includes a $30 million mutual option for a fourth season.
The Atlanta Braves haven’t made a splashy addition, but haven’t exactly been quiet either. They began the offseason by signing Pierce Johnson and Joe Jimenez to extensions. They also signed hard-throwing right-hander Reynaldo López to a three-year deal worth $26 million. Lopez may be given a chance as a starter, but at the very least is another hard throwing bullpen option. Atlanta also acquired lefty reliever Aaron Bummer from the White Sox in a six-player deal that included Michael Soroka and Nicky Lopez going to Chicago.
The Braves have also cleared a little bit of money from the books by dealing Nick Anderson and Kyle Wright to the Royals in a pair of separate deals. The deal for Wright brought back right-hander Jackson Kowar, who could possibly also figure into the bullpen picture, if he shows some semblance of improvement over what’s been a terrible major league career so far.
While there has been plenty of activity, question marks do remain. Atlanta is still on the hunt for a starting pitcher to add to its rotation. They also must address the left field position after declining the $9 million option on Eddie Rosario’s services for the 2024 season.
Free Agent Landscape
Despite some of the early signings, there are still big free agents available. The biggest of these is Shohei Ohtani, who is expected to garner a record-breaking contract. Japanese starter Yoshinobu Yamamoto has also drawn major interest and could land a deal in excess of $200 million. Cody Bellinger had a bounce back season for the Cubs in 2023 and is one of the best position player free agents available.
There are still a number of rotation options out there for the bidding. NL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell is still on the market, as are Jordan Montgomery and Eduardo Rodriguez. Other options include Marcus Stroman and Lucas Giolito. It is unclear if the pitching market starts to move this week, but it wouldn’t be surprising for a couple of guys to come off the board.
Braves in good shape, but have needs to fill
Atlanta will head into the Winter Meetings knowing that they largely have their position player core locked up long term.
The Braves biggest priority is clearly the starting rotation. It is always a good thing when you can line up Max Fried and Spencer Strider at the top, but Atlanta needs to bring in at least one more reliable arm to slot into the middle along with veteran Charlie Morton. Fried is slated to become a free agent at the end of the 2024 season, so adding a starter with additional team control beyond next season would appear to be a priority as well, though the Braves could always pivot on a short-term deal they find especially to their liking.
Atlanta was linked in varying degrees to both Nola and Gray before they elected to sign elsewhere. The team has also been mentioned as a possible trade destination for White Sox starter Dylan Cease, who is one of the better and more obvious trade options available.
The team will have to address left field at some point, but that could be on the back burner until the rotation is settled. Alex Anthopoulos said earlier this offseason that the team would consider using Vaughn Grissom in left, which would seem like a possibility if he isn’t included in a trade for a starter. There are plenty of left field options available, ranging from somewhat pricy to relatively cheap. Given the state of the rest of the lineup, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see them try to save some money in left field.
The money situation is also something that needs to be addressed. The Braves were a luxury payor for the first time in franchise history in 2023 and are slated to be in the luxury tax range again next season. Being subject to making luxury tax payments entails additional penalties to the Braves should they choose to sign a free agent that received a Qualifying Offer. Additionally, it is unclear if Atlanta would be willing to spend its way into the second tax tier, which is around $257 million. Cot’s Contracts currently has the Braves’ Competitive Balance Tax payroll at just over $237 million.
The voting results for the Hall of Fame Contemporary Era ballot will be announced on Sunday, December 3, at the start of the Meetings. Those on the ballot include Cito Gaston, Davey Johnson, Jim Leyland, Ed Montague, Hank Peters, Lou Piniella, Joe West and Bill White.
The second annual Draft Lottery will be held on Tuesday, December 5. The Athletics, Royals and Rockies all have an 18.3 percent chance of landing the first overall pick in the 2024 Draft.
The Rule 5 Draft will take place on Wednesday, December 6. The Braves chose not to protect anyone this year and seem to have few candidates that might be taken.