The 2023 Atlanta Braves are rounding out the final month of the regular season with chance to be one of - if not the best - regular season team in franchise history. Having set the franchise record for home runs before the end of August, and with numerous individual and team records sure to be broken before the post-season begins, the 2024 season is probably the not top-of-mind for most fans at the moment.
Which means this is the perfect time to talk about it.
The offensive performances of the 2023 incarnation of the Braves continues to draw comparisons to the 1998 and 2003 teams. That 1998 squad won a team record 106 games and the 2003 won 101 while both featuring potent offenses. Neither of those seasons were flukes - as a quick look at the win total for each team shows. Below is the win total for the season before and the two season after each of those squads:
1997: 101 wins
1998: 106 wins
1999: 103 wins
2000: 95 wins
2002: 101 wins
2003: 101 wins
2004: 96 wins
2005: 90 wins
Unfortunately, none of those teams won the World Series, and only the 1999 team made it there only to be swept by the New York Yankees in what would be the organization’s last World Series appearance until the 2021 team won it all.
Based on historical perspective, there’s no reason to think that the 2024 won’t again flirt with 100 wins, especially give the assumed stability of the roster as we head into the middle of the decade.
With that perspective in place, it is time to take a look at one person’s prognostication on the roster probabilities for Opening Day 2024 for Atlanta Braves position players currently on the roster. This isn’t going to include speculation on specific free agent signings nor trade targets.
This list will briefly run through each position and at the end of each position, with a guess at the Opening Day roster possibility for each player. No player will get a 100-percent chance of returning, because nothing in life is guaranteed, so take that for what you will. Pitchers will be reviewed in a separate article.
A year ago, Atlanta seemed to be in a great position behind the plate with veteran Travis d’Arnaud returning with youngster William Contreras coming off of a break-out season and long-time backstop Manny Pina providing the team insurance as the third catcher.
Contreras has established himself as one of the best catchers in the National League, as seen by him posting 4.0 fWAR through the end of August. But, as we all know, he’s done that with Milwaukee after the team some-what surprisingly traded for Oakland catcher Sean Murphy in a deal which also send out Pina.
Murphy has been excellent, putting up 4.5 fWAR by the beginning of September while becoming a first-time All-Star. In signing an extension with Atlanta before the season, he’s controllable through the 2029 season.
The team obviously thinks highly of d’Arnaud - and the feeling is mutual - because the 34-year-old and the team agreed to continue their relationship through at least 2024. Now the team’s obvious back-up, he likely isn’t going anywhere next season.
Chadwick Tromp is the quintessential break-in-case-of-emergency third catcher. The Braves can control him through 2027, if they choose to do so, but he could just as easily be released so his roster spot could be used for another player.
Matt Olson will never be Freddie Freeman. That’s because he’s Matt Olson. He may never hit .300, but he will continue to be a threat to hit 40 home runs for the next few seasons and is flirting with 50 home runs this year while putting up what may be the best offensive season of his career. He was extended after he was acquired by Atlanta last year and is under team control through the 2030 season.
Austin Riley has slugged more than 30 home runs each past three seasons and he’s only 26 years old. He hasn’t produced at quite the same level offensively as the prior two seasons with wRC+ of “only” 122 at the time of this writing, but he’s an All-Star caliber player who is happens to be signed to the longest-term control with Atlanta as the Braves have him through the 2033 season.
Sometimes, it is easy to forget that Ozzie Albies is only 26 years old, given he’s been with the major league team since 2017. After suffering through an injury riddled 2022 campaign, Albies is on pace to hit 30 home runs for the second time in his career despite missing some time with a hamstring issue. He’s another All-Star caliber player and the poster child for players signing an extension early in their careers.
The Albies contract is incredibly team friendly, to say the least, as he’s under control through the 2027 season at only $7 million per season. It is mainly for that reason that Albies could be the player shockingly traded from this core a la Martin Prado after the 2012 season. Albies is affordable for every team, and his production, age and contact would likely make him a target if Atlanta looked to upgrade another position or the starting rotation. He’s a key contributor on-and-off the field, so it seems unlikely, but baseball is a business.
Although he has struggled offensively in the last month, Orlando Arcia has exceeded expectations after surprisingly being named the team’s starter before the end of Spring Training. He’s had a career year offensively and has been steady defensively; great value for the money he is being paid this season. After signing a modest extension that keeps him under team control through 2026, Arcia could provide the team with exceptional value if he is able to repeat his performance again next season. However, given the modest financial commitment the Braves provided him, he could just as easily slide into a utility role if the team decided to upgrade the position. Likewise, it’s possible he could be used as part of a trade package because, like Albies, he would fit any team’s budget, while seemingly providing additional value in the clubhouse.
Atlanta cycled through a number of 26th-man infielders in 2023 including Ehire Adrianza, Nick Solak, Charlie Culberson, Luke Williams and Braden Shewmake. Those five players had, through the end of August, played in a grand total of 11 games garnering 17 plate appearances. Solak is no longer with the organization and only Shewmake would seem to have an outside shot at returning in 2024.
Vaughn Grissom is technically not a prospect given he exhausted his rookie status in 2022, but he is the team’s top position player “prospect” and has appeared in 23 games this season for Atlanta, so far. He’s still only 22 years old so even though he appears to have little left to prove offensively at Triple-A, his defensive shortcomings may limit his value with Atlanta. Much like Jeff Blauser a generation ago, it is also possible that Grissom’s third season on the big-league roster could be the one when he becomes a full-time starter. At the same time, he could also hold the most trade value given his youth and team control through 2028. What happens to him by next season may be the most curious story of the offseason.
Nicky Lopez was a trade deadline pick-up by Atlanta, coming over from Kansas City. With Albies sidelined, Lopez stepped in for the majority of the playing time. An elite defender at multiple positions, he’s provided surprisingly good offensive in 43 plate appearances, although his track record doesn’t support him maintaining those results. Offense is not what a team cares about with Lopez, given his outstanding defense up the middle and ability to play bother corner infield positions and the outfield. The Braves could control him through 2025, and he’s exactly the type of player a championship contender like Atlanta needs on its roster. But like with Arcia, he could have value for a team needing a solid glove up-the-middle and could be part of a trade package.
Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Michael Harris II - most teams would love to have one of either of them, but the Braves have them both.
Acuna, Jr. is doing things no player in baseball history has done and has a real shot at a 35 HR/70SB campaign all while spending most of the season as the front-runner for the NL MVP award. He’s under team control through 2028 at annual salary that is at least $0.50 on the dollar cheaper than market rate. And he’s still only 25 years old. If only injuries and the pandemic didn’t cost him almost two seasons thus far in his career.
Harris II struggled with injuries early in the season - so much so that he was hitting below .200 coming into June. The last three months have lifted him back the being the same player that won the NL ROY Award last season, one the Braves extended to maintain control through the 2032 season. He’s only 22-years-old and has the potential to be a 30HR/30SB guy next season while providing above average defense patrolling centerfield.
After a slow start as the team’s primary left fielder, Eddie Rosario has rebounded back to being Eddie Rosario. When he’s hot, there’s no one a team would rather have at the plate in a critical situation. When he’s cold, he seemingly couldn’t get a hit against a team with all their fielders playing Uno instead of baseball. Overall, his 2023 season has him slightly above league average offensively while producing at a level in-line with his career averages. He will forever be a legend in Atlanta for his 2021 post-season heroics and the Braves hold an option on him for next season at an affordable $9M. Left field is an area the team could look to upgrade and/or same some money, so he probably has about the same odds of returning as he does of not.
Acuna, Jr: 99-percent
Harris II: 99-percent
Kevin Pillar joined the team as a non-roster invite for Spring Training and ended up making the team as a reserve. He’s appeared in 65 games and has worked his way into some starts against left-handed pitchers over Rosario, but he will be 35 years old next season and hasn’t offered too much on the field outside of a little power and solid defense. He will be a free agent after this season.
Early in the season it was former Rockie Sam Hilliard that saw significant action, especially during Harris II’s absence. He’s been on the IL for quite a while and has appeared in only 40 games, the last of which was on July 18. The team does have the ability to keep him under team control through 2026, although it is doubtful that they would do so.
Deep reserve outfielders Eli White and Forrest Wall combined to appear in 10 games and gain 20 plate appearances this year while each getting the proverbial cup of coffee with Atlanta coming into September. White will be 30 next season and Wall will be 28, with Wall offering elite stolen base production during his minor league career. White could be under team control through 2026 and Wall made his debut this season. That isn’t a factor for either’s future with the organization. Wall, specifically, could make the team as a fifth outfielder given his value as a pinch-runner - a role that brought him back to the Braves when the rosters expanded on September 1.
Marcell Ozuna’s off-the-field issues will always be a cloud over this tenure with Atlanta, and when he came into May with a .397 OPS the prevailing question wasn’t if he would rebound it was when he was going to be released. To his credit, he has rebounded in a big way, reaching 30 home runs this season for the first time since 2017 and has lifted his OPS to .872 coming into September. His contract, which pays him $18M next season with a club option for 2025, is no longer an albatross. Given that he is basically a DH only - and will 33 next season - he might not have a lot of positive trade value if the Braves looked to move him, but for the first time since he re-upped with Atlanta after his monster 2020 season, he might have some actual trade value outside of a swap of dead money. His offensive turn-around during this season may be the biggest surprise of the year.
All things considered, Atlanta could run it back with the same starters and key reserves next season. If that’s the case, there might be only two roster positions in question - fourth outfielder and the last bench spot.