No one yet knows how the story of the Atlanta Braves 2023 season will end. The team is pacing to be one of the best regular season teams in franchise history. The position players - which were reviewed in a separate article - provided both individual excellence and line-up consistency through the season’s first 135 games, setting numerous individual and team records along the way.
It’s been quite a different story for Atlanta’s pitching staff. In the rotation, injuries at the top of the rotation led to a team record-tying 16 different starting pitchers being used by the Braves before the calendar flipped to September.
The bullpen has also dealt with injuries throughout the season. But, as with the starters, they have managed to provide the team with overall above average performance despite the number of players who have cycled on and off the active roster.
Through August, 31 players have pitched for Atlanta this season - with Nicky Lopez appearing as the only position player pitcher.
There are a lot of questions as to which pitchers will be on the roster for Opening Day 2024. That means there’s a lot to explore as the 2023 regular season winds down.
With that perspective in place, it is time to take a look at the roster probabilities for Opening Day 2024 for Atlanta Braves currently on the roster. This isn’t going to include speculation on specific free agent signings nor trade targets.
No player will get a 100-percent chance of returning, because nothing in life is guaranteed, so that for what you will.
Spencer Strider was an All-Star and could reach the 300-strikeout mark for the 2023 season. He’s already broken records with his ability put-away opposing batters via the strikeout. The current co-ace of the staff, and runner-up in the 2022 NL ROY vote, has been locked-up by the organization through the 2029 season.
Bryce Elder was the second Braves starter to be named to the 2023 All-Star game, despite not making the team out of Spring Training and having solid performances when called upon as a starter in 2022. Unlike his fellow 24-year-old rotation-mate Strider, Elder is not a strikeout pitcher, but he has been effective, is young, and won’t be a free agent until 2029. Those factors could make him an attractive trade chip for the team, especially with several up-and-coming starting pitching prospects not that far away from arriving in Atlanta.
Despite being almost 40 years old, Charlie Morton continues to defy Father Time with excellent performance in the team’s rotation. Although he has walked more batters this season than since before his career renaissance in 2017, his is still averaging more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings. The Braves have a team option for $20M for Morton in 2024 and based on his performance, the only doubt about his return would be if he chooses to retire.
The staff co-ace, Max Fried, only made 10 starts through August due to injury, but when he has pitched, he’s shown why he was the NL Cy Young runner-up last season. He will pitch in his age 30 season next year - which could mark his final campaign in Atlanta. Could the Braves look to move him before he hits free agency? Sure, but given that they are in the midst of a championship run, that seems highly unlikely.
Kyle Wright seemed to establish himself last season after starting 30 games and finishing in the top 10 of the NL Cy Young award voting. Injuries hit Wright early and saw him make only five starts before landing on the 60-day IL. He may return by season’s end and if he is healthy, is likely to be penciled in the rotation next Spring.
A bevy of players have made multiple starts for Atlanta this season. Rookies Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd both got chances coming out of Spring Training but struggled. Shuster has made 10 starts, with Dodd making five. Michael Soroka finally returned to the majors after three years of injuries and pitched in six games while making five starts. Soroka has several more years of control, depending on the timing of a possible return to Atlanta this season, and is only 25 years old. Top pitching prospect AJ Smith-Shawver has also made five starts for Atlanta, despite being only 20 years old. The latest pitching prospect to make his debut was Darius Vines, who also missed much of this season due to injury.
Allan Winans also made his debut this season, although the 27-year-old might not be considered a prospect, he pitched relatively well in his three starts. Former Braves prospect Kolby Allard returned to the organization this season, and after missing time with injuries, made three starts before going back on the injured list. Other than three relievers who each made a single start, the only other pitcher to see action as a starter was former Rays pitcher Yonny Chirinos. He struggled in five starts after being claimed off waivers by Atlanta and is currently on the injured list.
It is possible that any of those depth arms could return next season, but it is also possible that any number of them could be used in trades, and a few could be released. If Morton does return, and the rest of the rotation is healthy, there doesn’t appear to be an open rotation spot heading into Opening Day. We all know that you can’t have enough starting pitching and chances are that Atlanta will need at least four or five pitchers to make multiple starts next season beyond the assumed starters.
With that being said, the prognostication for the field will factor in risk and the possibility that one of the pitchers could make the team as a long-reliever or that the Braves could opt to use a six-man rotation for several weeks.
If Morton retires, then bump the Field up to 80-percent. There’s enough talent and depth that the team could stay in-house to fill his rotation spot.
The Braves have skirted around a few minor IL stints and a couple of longer-term ones to maintain a consistent bullpen although they have shuffled a number of players on-and-off the roster. The reality is that’s going to be the case every year and that makes projecting the bullpen challenging.
After coming over from the Angels in a trade last season, Raisel Iglesias stepped into the closer's role this season - once he returned from injury - and has turned in a typical Raisel Iglesias season. He’s under contract for $16M per year through 2025 and is a near-lock to return next year.
With Iglesias unavailable coming out of Spring Training, A.J. Minter returned to the closer’s role for the first time since 2018. Unfortunately for him, he dealt with negative, short-sample-size outcomes not matching inputs. He’s the team’s primary high-leverage lefty and has been effective since his early-season bout with poor luck. He is controllable through arbitration for one more season.
Kirby Yates finally seemed to regain his control in the early days of Summer after struggling with it during his return from having Tommy John surgery several years ago. Although he has primarily been used in lower-leverage roles, the former All-Star closer has pitched well enough earn three saves and get occasional high-leverage opportunities. It is plausible the team could pick-up the 36-year-old’s $5.75M option for next season, especially given it comes with a $1.25M buyout.
This past offseason, the Braves traded for Tigers reliever Joe Jimenez and the right-hander been one of the team’s few relievers to avoid the injured list. He is a free agent after this season and seems unlikely to return despite pitching effectively for most of the season because it is likely the market for his services will be robust.
Collin McHugh returned to the Braves bullpen this year after a successful 2022 season as a flexible, multi-inning reliever. This year, he has not produced the same high-quality results as his strikeout rate has declined and his walk rate has increased. He has a $6M team option for next season, with a $1M buyout. As with Yates, it is plausible that the team could bring him back, but that seems unlikely at this point.
Michael Tonkin surprisingly made the team out of Spring Training this year - his first time pitching in the big leagues since 2017. He seemed to be the obvious candidate to lose his roster spot, when the time came, but instead he took advantage of his opportunities and has served as the Braves designated long-man, pitching almost two innings per appearance while carrying a 0.980 WHIP into September. He’s under team control through 2026 although he is 33 years old. He’s the type of pitcher that has value but is also replaceable. Despite his success this season, his return is no guarantee.
Three pitchers started the season with Atlanta - were all effective - and have all missed significant time due to injury.
Left-hander Dylan Lee was activated to the main roster on September 1 after being on the 60-day IL. He pitched in 20 games before injuries sent him to the IL. Off-season minor league signee Nick Anderson appeared in 35 games before the oft-injured pitcher also ended up on the 60-day IL. Lastly, 39-year-old Jesse Chavez was pitching so well that there was a groundswell building for the journeyman pitcher to make this year’s NL All-Star team. Unfortunately, a line-drive to the leg knocked him out of action and he has yet to return. That’s a shame, because in 31 games he was striking out more than 11 batters per nine innings and had a WHIP of 1.034.
Lee and Anderson have multiple years of team control left and are good bets to return. Everyone loves Chavez, who is in his fourth tour of duty with Atlanta, but he will be a free agent after this season and could retire or might pitcher forever.
The Braves picked-up two bullpen arms around the trade deadline in Brad Hand and Pierce Johnson. The three-time All-Star Hand has struggled in nine appearances with Atlanta and could find his roster spot in jeopardy before the season’s end. Johnson, on the other hand, was lights-out in his first 15 games for Atlanta allowing only one earned run in 14.1 innings. Hand has a $7M option that will surely be declined in favor of a $500k buyout. Johnson, although appearing to have team control remaining, will be a free agent after this season due to a contractual stipulation related to playing professionally in Japan earlier in his career. He could be a candidate to return if the price is right.
Other relievers to appear for Atlanta - who are still in the organization - include Ben Heller who has made 17 appearances after being claimed off waivers from the Rays; Danny Young who pitched in eight games before being released by Atlanta and resigned to the minor league deal; and Daysbel Hernandez who made his debut this season before going on the IL. Seth Elledge did get called up to Atlanta but did not appear in a game before being released and signing back with the organization on with a minor league deal.
There are a handful of other pitchers who are in the organization that have some experience at the Major League level and who could possibly factor into a bullpen spot later this season, but that seems highly unlikely.
The Injured Guys
Ian Anderson has missed this season due to injury. He is still on the 40-man roster but was not placed on the 60-day IL because he had been optioned to Triple-A and appeared in one game before being shut down. His availability for Opening Day 2024 is doubtful.
Tyler Matzek, a key member of the Braves bullpen from 2020 through 2022, missed this season due to injury but signed a deal in the offseason that could keep him under team control through 2025. Is availability for Opening Day 2024 is uncertain.
Lastly, Huascar Ynoa also missed this season due to injury. He’ll be 26 next season and, if healthy, could be a candidate to take on a spot in the bullpen despite working primarily as a starter during parts of four seasons with Atlanta. His availability for Opening Day 2024 is also uncertain.
How close to pat the Braves chose to stand is yet to be seen, but the organization is not without a number of internal options if they opt to only make marginal roster modifications in the offseason.