This being Alex Anthopoulos’ first season here, it also constitutes his first excursion as Braves general manager into the July market of deadline buyers/sellers. Not to overstate the obvious, but the moves he makes -- or doesn’t make -- these next 2½ weeks could change the dynamics of the National League East race, a race almost nobody figured would include his Braves.
During the Braves’ final series before the All-Star break, Anthopoulos sat in the home dugout at SunTrust Park and shared his thoughts on the market, the season and -- oh, yeah -- a certain big-name rental. Part 1 of this conversation begins here.
This might be an unfair question, but if you knew over the winter that this would be a 50-win team at the All-Star break, would you have done something differently?
Great question. I think it’s completely fair. I go through the winter all the time, and I even talk about it with our staff. I like reviewing our process. We document whatever opportunities were there – trade proposals, free agent signings, numbers. I look back and say, “Is there anything that was presented to us this winter that we should have jumped on, that we should have been more aggressive on?” To be fair, right now there’s not one. Normally I’d say there’s one that I can’t discuss that, if we could go back, we would change. But there isn’t at this time – yet. Two months from now, that might change. I like to look back and see if there are any holes in our process and anything we need to change. But no, for the most part, I think (we addressed) everything the way it was kind of lined up.
Obviously the big deal was the (Matt) Kemp deal. We wanted to clear a path for (Ronald) Acuna, and Nick (Markakis) or Matt would have been the one to sit, and that would have been tough. Obviously we want the center-field defense (with Ender Inciarte). And also freeing up our books for 2019 was pretty important. And getting starting innings out of Brandon McCarthy was pretty important, and having a guy like Charlie Culberson under control for a while was, too. But I do look back and say, “Was there a free agent we would have gone out and acquired now knowing what we know?” We’re clearly active in the trade market; we’re clearly looking to add. I don’t know that there’s one thing that was presented to us that jumps out at this stage.
A report from Mark Feinsand of MLB.com held that the Braves are close to your maximum on money this year. Is that true? If so, should we take that as a sign that you might not be able to get what you think you might need in the next few weeks?
I’ve seen those reports as well. I would say that’s not accurate right now. This is something I learned from my time in Toronto. In 2014, we were in it at the trade deadline, and we had maxed out our payroll in the offseason and really tied our hands. Going into 2015, by design we saved some money on the side in the offseason. You get to January and February and there’s deals with guys available and people were clamoring that we should jump and collect all these guys, and we withstood the temptation to do that. At the trade deadline – as much as people talk about all we added; we added Ben Revere, (David) Price and (Troy) Tulowitzki – we didn’t add to our payroll at all. We stayed within the numbers we had. So we’ve set some money aside from a big-league payroll standpoint, so we definitely have (it) for this moment.
Because we didn’t know what the won-loss total would be. We didn’t know what to expect. We thought things could break right if guys had good seasons. “Mike Foltynewicz is talented; he could be an All-Star.” We had no idea if it would come together. Sean Newcomb the same way. We think, “Ozzie Albies is a great young player and Dansby Swanson should be better (than in 2017), and Nick Markakis can get better.” But we had no idea it would all come together and we’d be at this point. But if it happens, we’d better be ready.
So we saved some money and we have that available, and now – as the byproduct of the results – attendance is up, everything is up, the organization is doing much better. I deal with (Braves chairman) Terry McGuirk when it comes to this stuff. We’ve had conversations about it. We have money beyond what we’ve saved because of how well the club has done. I’ve been given very specific instructions, and I can shop in any aisle. I can at least have a conversation. I can tell you right now in all the discussions and all the players we’ve discussed, there’s no single player that we can’t afford. Where ultimately we’d have an (in-house) discussion is if we’re looking at adding three or four big-league guys at big contracts. That’s when maybe the numbers start to add up and we’d have to evaluate it. But one or two guys right now would not be a problem at all.
The possibility of landing Manny Machado from Baltimore has been around all year. I understand the lure – adding a big-time talent to a 50-win team – but I’m sure you have to ask, “How much do I want to give away for three months of that big-time talent?” Would you consider bringing a player like that here if you thought there was no chance he’d stay beyond November?
Obviously I can’t discuss specific players, but I can definitely talk about bats. I can talk about rental players, and you can extract from that what you want. Without getting into specifics about players, I’d say 90 percent of the players that are actively available right now are rental players that we’d have for two to three months. Certainly not ideal for us, especially since it’s going to require trading away young talent; we’re likely not going to be taking anything away from the big-league team. That’s certainly not the model that we want to pursue. That said, we also want to take advantage of having a good season in 2018.
We would prefer not to go after rentals unless the acquisition cost just makes so much sense for us. There’s a lot of pain that has gone into putting together this young talent. We’re not ready to throw that all away just because of one season. That said, I do think we owe it to the players and the fan base and the organization to make this team better, one way or another.
As a GM, you have to feel you’re under pressure now.
No doubt. No doubt. Any GM who tells you he isn’t is lying. It’s an unwritten rule. It’s not stated, but it’s understood (among players) that, “You can do your job as a front office in the offseason, but in-season, if we do our jobs and put ourselves in position come July, then you in the front office need to do your job again.” That’s not explicitly stated. Players won’t come up to you and tell you that, but you know they’re thinking it. Every single one of them is. That’s just reality.
That’s why we saved some money. Because you want to be in that position to go do some things. So I guess I would say the following: When it comes to players that are going to be free agents – not ideal, because they can be out the door two or three months from now. The acquisition cost has to make sense, which obviously is a sliding scale. Where you might stretch a little bit and give a little bit more than you want is where you might feel you’re one piece away from being a World Series contender. If you feel that’s the final piece, you might pay the premium – whether they’re out the door or not. Or, from the long-term perspective, if you have designs on pursuing that player in free agency, there is real value to having someone in your clubhouse, in your facility, in your organization, getting to know you and what it’s about. When it comes time for free agency, that should give you a leg up on the competition because there’s a familiarity.
This is me attempting to be pragmatic, but if it were Washington – the consensus preseason favorite to win your division – that was ahead of you now, would you feel differently about your chances of catching that team than, say, Philadelphia?
No, because I really do believe you have to worry about yourself. We’re very aware of what teams in our division are doing. We want to win the division like everyone else does. You need to do that before you can start thinking about playoffs and how deep you can go, but the point of getting into the playoffs is to win the World Series. You’re not just concerned about one team in your division or two teams. You’re starting to say, “OK, how do we line up come playoff time against other teams?” Do you feel you can get out of the NL? Do you feel you can get to the World Series? Once you’re in, you’re playing to get to the World Series. That’s really the long-term goal. That’s when you talk about trading for a rental. If you’re really going to pay a price that you’re uncomfortable with, you’d better believe that one piece is that final piece and you’re complete in all other areas, and that’s the one piece that you need to really finish off your club.
I don’t concern myself if it’s Washington or Philly – they’re all good teams, they’re all competitive. And with two months to go after the deadline, a lot can happen. We tend to lose sight of that. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen it here. Things can change. A season can go sideways. You’d better evaluate your own team correctly and know what you have.
Coming tomorrow: Anthopoulos on his starting rotation and -- oh, yeah -- his bullpen.