Atlanta Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos didn’t need much time to strike with the first move of the Winter Meetings. The Braves acquired former top prospect Jarred Kelenic along with Marco Gonzales and Evan White from the Seattle Mariners Sunday night. Anthopoulos spoke to the media again Tuesday in Nashville and said that he and the rest of the front office are still exploring ways to make the current team better.
“Yeah, like everything else, we’re definitely having conversations like everyone at this time,” Anthopoulos said. But I don’t, and I said this when we spoke on Sunday, I didn’t know if we’d get something done and then later that night we got something done. So when you’re at the meetings, you have a bunch of things, conversations, balls in the air, concepts you’re talking about. If you don’t have them done, both sides know you’re kind of willing to be in a certain area. So that might move along, but it’s tough to anticipate if we’re going to get anything done.”
The Winter Meetings have historically been a place that a lot of player movement takes place. These meetings so far have not seen a lot of activity. Still, they serve as an opportunity for clubs to lay the ground work on potential trades and signings. The Braves went into the offseason with some specific needs, but Anthopoulos said that it is more of a situation where they target specific players than a specific position.
“We have certain positions that are set, accounted for. I can tell you this, obviously, I know a ton gets put out there about us and so on. I can tell you all offseason, Aaron Bummer was a specific target,” Anthopoulos said. “We weren’t looking for a left-handed reliever. We had talked to the White Sox about Aaron Bummer during the trade deadline. We tried really hard to get him at the trade deadline and we couldn’t get it done, but that was what we worked on. We didn’t work on left field, we worked on Jarred Kelenic. That’s the only position player that we worked on. We’ve obviously worked on a starter. So anyone speculating anything beyond that is someone who decided to make stuff up. But that’s it. We worked on Bummer specifically, we worked on Kelenick specifically and then we worked on a variety of starters, both trade and free agency. Any speculation, rumor, anything else that we worked on positions outside of that, completely fabricated, completely false, completely made up.”
The Braves have been linked to several players this offseason. They were rumored to be in on Aaron Nola before he opted to return to Philadelphia. Lately, they have been included among the teams that are chasing White Sox starter Dylan Cease. Under Anthopoulos, the Braves have been notoriously tight lipped and kept things close to the vest. They haven’t always been successful, but at times the first news of a move comes with the team issuing a press release.
“I wouldn’t say I enjoy it,” Anthopoulos said when asked about the element of surprise. “I know that when it hits, my phone’s gonna explode. Can you confirm? Can you confirm? Anybody here? But then at that point, you’re calling players and so on, and you’re involved. We’re not trying to surprise anybody. If it’s done, the trade’s approved, the signing’s approved, but we need to get a hold of somebody first before we announce anything, and things start to leak, it is what it is. It’s just, the deal’s not done until it’s done and anything that can risk that. It’s just not worth it. It’s not about an element of surprise. It’s just making sure you get done what you’re trying to get done.”
The Braves were a tax payer for the first time in franchise history in 2023. They are already above the tax line for the 2024 season which adds additional penalties. Still, Anthopoulos insists that they have room to add and that they are still exploring ways to make the club better.
“I know everyone’s looking at CBT, this and that. We’re going to be over. That was expected,” Anthopoulos said. “That was a conversation with Terry McGurk. That’s not an issue. I’ve never divulged specifics on payroll, but I’ve still told you guys this. I focus on the cash amount. So what the actual cash is out the door, what that tax is going to look like. So the CBT number for us, other than being over, we don’t pay attention to it. We do pay attention to what the dollar value in taxes is, because that’ll have to be paid, and what the salaries are, because those will need to be paid.”
“We’re looking to add, we’re not looking to subtract,” he added. “Anything could change, but we have not talked about subtracting from our club. We’re looking to add. In terms of the core of our team, our outfield is set, we’ve been consistent with that. Our infield is set. Our rotation has room. Our bullpen is set, we still have a spot we could do something with and that’s kind of how we’ve gone about it.”
One thing that is hanging over the Braves this offseason is the contract status of Max Fried who will become a free agent at the end of the 2024 season. If the Braves do add a starter, it would be beneficial if that starter came with multiple years of control. Anthopoulos was asked how Fried’s situation was affecting the offseason.
“We’re always aware of where everyone’s at and their contractual status and contractual control. We have him under contract for 24. He’s not under contract for 2025. Obviously anything beyond that, we’re going to keep that private. I can go into all the comments about how great he is, but I’ve done that many times in the past. We’re worried about 2024 right now. We always have an eye on 25, but the focus for us is 24.”
Brian Snitker said Tuesday afternoon that there is always ways to improve, but that he was pleased with where the roster stands currently. Anthopoulos was asked the same question and had a similar answer.
“It’s a very talented club, and obviously, we didn’t do what we wanted to do in the postseason, that goes without saying,” Anthopoulos said. “But the regular season we had was obviously very strong. It’s always on paper at this time of year, so whether you buy into the projections, even our own, I always think that they’re high. Internal, external, we should have a competitive good club. What that means for win totals and postseason chances, a lot of other people can decide that. We know we have a good team right now, but you have opportunities during the offseason to make your club better because everyone’s engaged.”
One other persistent rumor during the Winter Meetings came MLB Network’s Jon Morosi who reported that free agent Shohei Ohtani was intrigued by the Braves as a possible destination. Anthopoulos was asked about that Tuesday and was quick to say that he can’t talk about any free agents.
“I guess I’d say I can’t talk obviously about any free agents at all,” Anthopoulos said. “What I can tell you is that we are very happy with our position player group. We had a very good offense last year. We’ve only pursued one position player this offseason. That was Jarred Kelenick and we were able to get a deal done. We have not explored any other position players in any capacity, at any time.”
The Ohtani to Atlanta rumors never seemed to make much sense and if you take Anthopoulos at his word, it is something that they haven’t explored.