The 2019 season has not gotten off to the best of starts. The only team to be swept in the opening series, Atlanta is already behind the eight ball only a week into the season. Yes, it is very early on, but making a statement against a division rival is always better than getting swept. In addition, the offseason looked very different financially for both ball clubs. While spending money does not directly correlate to wins and losses, it certainly helps. Just look at the Phillies. Their owner was willing to spend as much money as it took to create a contending team, and so far, it has showed. Retaining their own and adding two big free agents has granted Philly the best record in baseball so far. The braves on the other hand, spent very little and are only 1 and 3 going into Wednesday’s game against the Cubs.
The Braves signed three free agents this offseason spending a whopping $29 million for the 2019 season. $23 million went to Josh Donaldson, $4 million went to Nick Markakis, and $2 million went to Brian McCann. That’s it. The front office did not make any long term deals, no big trades, nothing. Just these three players that are supposed to help the team defend their NL East title, while three of the other four teams in the division all made big splashes to get better. Yes, all three players are great locker room teammates, but at the current stages of their careers, it will be very difficult to push the Braves even to a wildcard spot.
Since the braves didn’t make any long-term free agent signings or trades, they must have retained their own young talent, right? Wrong. Yes, they just extended Ronald Acuna, but it is one of the most team friendly deals in the history of baseball. He is making $1 million this year and next, that’s it. This deal is pushing the payroll to $114.3 million for the 2019 season, good for 21st in MLB. Other than that, the Braves offered arbitration avoiding deals only. Some were good decisions like Kevin Gausman and Mike Foltynewicz. However, others were not. Three in particular have already been horrible and it’s been one week into the season.
The two pitchers are Daniel Winkler and Sam Freeman. The Braves gave Winkler $1.61 million and he is currently in AAA Gwinnett. In addition, Atlanta paid Freeman $1.575 million and they cut him before the season started. With all the pitching depth the braves have, why on Earth would the braves give the contracts to these guys if they were not sure they would even make the team? That really makes no sense at all. And the Braves have the best pitching farm system in baseball. Use those guys. They cost the league minimum. In addition, they need the big-league experience. Also, it will help them limit innings and not wear down their arm over the course of the entire season. Otherwise what are the Braves doing with all those arms? This is especially true when it has been very apparent that ownership is not going to expand payroll even to the $130 million mark, what it was last season.
The position player that has been a bad arbitration contract is Adam Duvall. The Braves gave him $2.875 million during the offseason to be at the best a fourth outfielder. He is currently in AAA Gwinnett with Winkler. When Atlanta traded for him last season, he was horrible. In 53 at bats, he had 7 hits, and only one for extra bases. Why would they expect a massive change in production this year? Duvall got every opportunity to produce in spring training, but never did. That’s when the Braves signed Markakis. Bringing a guy up from the minor leagues would have helped the club more, especially considering he would have cost the league minimum and not almost $3 million.
All in all, the Braves have made some very questionable decisions financially this offseason. After $46 million came of the books last year and ownership and the front office told fans they now have financial flexibility, nothing has changed. Payroll has actually decreased. The few free agent signings have helped, but they will not make this team an NL East contender. Couple that with the poor arbitration contracts, and many Braves fans are upset with the winter spending. It’s one thing to say payroll must decrease because they money is not there, but to say there is now money to spend, especially when revenue has increased and the team is owned by a company, is making fans very uneasy, and deservedly so.
Photo courtesy of ajc.com.