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Alex Anthopoulos discusses Chris Sale extension, Jarred Kelenic on SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio

Alex Anthopoulos was recently a guest on MLB Network Radio where he discussed the thinking behind Chris Sale’s extension and whether or not the Braves will platoon Jarred Kelenic in left field.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Atlanta Braves Photo by Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves have been one of the most active teams this offseason in trying to strengthen their core for another World Series run. Atlanta has shored up its bullpen, traded for a new left fielder in Jarred Kelenic and most recently, acquired veteran lefty Chris Sale to the rotation in a trade with the Boston Red Sox.

Braves President of Baseball Operations Alex Anthopoulos was a guest Sunday on SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio and discussed Atlanta’s offseason with hosts Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette. Anthopoulos ran through the club’s thinking for going after Sale and said that he was someone that they have checked in on before. He did discuss the thinking behind the decision to give Sale a two-year, $38 million extension.

[On the decision to give Chris Sale an extension]

“We didn’t need to do it obviously. We had we had an extra year control in the form of a club option which obviously that’s valuable right? We could just watch him for a year and make the decision at the end of 24 and we can exercise or decline the option for 2025,” Anthopoulos said when asked about Sale’s new deal. He added that discussions on the new deal began just a few days after the trade was announced on December 30.

“We ultimately felt like we believe in this guy. We think it’s important for our clubhouse because you know a big part of the appeal to Chris is yeah of course what he’s going to do on the mound, but the whole clubhouse piece for us is huge. To have a guy like this. We love the way he goes about it. We love the way he competes. We love the example he’s going to set very much like we love what Charlie Morton does. The more we talked about it after the New Year, we felt pretty confident that there’s a good chance we’re going to exercise that option and having that third year control as an option year we felt made a lot of sense for us.”

Anthopoulos didn’t mention it, but reworking the deal for Sale also reduced Atlanta’s CBT number for 2024, but he added that it was important to send the message to the clubhouse that Sale was going to be part of the group for multiple seasons.

“One it tells Chris, hey we believe in you, we want you to be here, but it also tells our clubhouse that hey he’s now a core piece. He’s going to be here for the next two to three years. If he throws really really well, we now have an option for a third year rather than having to start over. So I see the merits of not doing it and doing it but ultimately from a clubhouse standpoint, from a stability standpoint, we thought it was important that when he walks in the door everyone knows that he’s here to stay and he’s not just a one and done.”

The other significant move that the Braves made this offseason was acquiring young outfielder Jarred Kelenic from the Seattle Mariners. The Braves took on the contracts of Marco Gonzalez and Evan White, both of whom have since been flipped to other teams. Kelenic was once one of the top prospects in the majors, but has failed to realize his potential at the big league level. Anthopoulos believes that a getting a fresh start in Atlanta and bringing him into the Braves’ culture can unlock Kelenic’s potential.

“I think the biggest thing is that he’s shown flashes of performance. Granted that it hasn’t been for a long period of time, but his minor league performance has been very good,” Anthopoulos said. “I remember Dansby Swanson when I first got here. Obviously was the first overall pick in the draft. I think he had a sub .700 OPS the year before I got here. I think he was right up there in terms of errors and now he’s as good a defender as you’re going to find at shortstop. With some of these guys, they just take a little bit more time.”

“I think the big part is that he’s not coming in here as big face of a trade or someone we’re counting on to carry the offense or hit in the middle of the lineup. We don’t have any specific fix or change for him. We’re going to learn him and work with him but I also think our group of hitters, they’re very conscientious. They work together well. Players make others around them better and sometimes it’s not always a coach.”

Anthopoulos was asked if the Braves would seek a right-handed hitting complement to pair with Kelenic in the outfield which is something I wrote about on Sunday as well. However, Anthopoulos said that wasn’t something that they were focused on and they think playing every day for Kelenic is important from a development standpoint.

“Right now in terms of finding a platoon for Jarred that’s not a priority for us,” Anthopoulos said. “If something was to emerge with it where there’s a no brainer move, sure we would consider it, but because we’re talking probably having him hit 7, 8, 9 somewhere at the bottom. If he’s hitting ninth with our lineup and our depth and how strong our offense is, we can afford developmental. He’s a 24-year old kid and there’s a lot of value to not having him be a platoon guy. Just letting him get every day at-bats There’s definitely an appeal to doing that. that doesn’t mean we would stay that way, but that’s definitely a conversation that Snit and I have had and we see the merits from a development standpoint.”

Anthopoulos was also asked about the bullpen. The Braves spent a lot of time this offseason adding to the bullpen, particularly with left-handed pitchers. They acquired Aaron Bummer from the White Sox and snagged Ray Kerr from the Padres in a deal that also included Matt Carpenter who was later released. Stocking up on lefties wasn’t by accident either after a shoulder injury to Dylan Lee essentially left A.J. Minter as the team’s only lefty reliever standing in 2023.

“I think generally speaking finding left-handed relief options is hard. I’ve had a hard time the last few trade deadlines being able to get guys and we wanted to load up if we could this offseason,” Anthopoulos said. “Getting a guy like Ray Kerr who’s got years of control, he’s got good velocity, he’s got an out pitch curveball, he’s got options left. If you look at A.J. Minter, he’s been great for us but I think he led the NL in appearances in 2022. He would have led the NL in 2023 but he had a short IL stint and there’s the old scouting adage that if you only have one left-hander in the bullpen it’s like you have none because you’re probably going to kill him and that’s ultimately where we were. A.J. did a great job for us. He’s the only guy we had. Now we’re back to having a lot of depth with Dylan Lee, Tyler Matzek, Ray Kerr and Aaron Bummer, we’re deep from the left side.”

The Braves added a number of hard throwers to the bullpen mix, especially if Reynaldo López ends up there instead of the bullpen. Still, adding more left-handed depth was needed and something that could pay off in 2024.

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