The Atlanta Braves have won a combined 205 games over the past two seasons and have been eliminated by the Philadelphia Phillies each year in the NLDS. It looks like there are two paths forward from here. The first is to change the rules of baseball so that the division winner gets a little break, but not too much of one, in order to pave a path for the best teams in baseball to go deep into October.
The second option is to make some additions to the roster and go out and beat the Phillies, and whoever else is in their way.
Atlanta has Silver Sluggers on the corners of the infield with Austin Riley and Matt Olson earning the honor on Thursday, so no upgrades needed there. Ronald Acuña Jr. is likely to win the NL MVP award. Sean Murphy and Marcell Ozuna are in the running for the All MLB Team. There aren’t a ton of holes on this roster that need fixing.
David O’Brien reported that the Braves payroll will increase in 2024, past where it ended up in 2023 at $205 million. With the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) being set at $237 million for 2024, that seems like the point that Atlanta would not cross, in theory.
They’ve already re-signed relievers Joe Jiménez and Pierce Johnson to multi-year deals, bringing back two of their highly effective arms. Adding another high-end starter for October could serve them well. With the departure of Eddie Rosario, Atlanta will also need a left fielder, though O’Brien is also reporting that Vaughn Grissom could be in the left field mix, or that at least that option has been discussed.
Let’s take a look at four moves the Atlanta Braves could make this winter that could help get them past the Phillies in 2024.
Related: Top 2023-24 MLB free agents
Milwaukee Brewers offer a pair of options
According to Ken Rosenthal, the Milwaukee Brewers could be open to moving “virtually any players on its roster.” With the departures of Craig Counsell this offseason and David Stearns stepping down a year ago, the franchise is in transition mode. They don’t have a manager at the moment, one of their two aces, Brandon Woodruff, is expected to miss most of the 2024 season. Things are looking good for The Crew, so this looks like a great time to unload some talent now, and then build up again.
At the top of the mountain there is starter and perennial Cy Young candidate Corbin Burnes, who has posted ERAs of 2.43 in 2021, 2.94 in 2022, and 3.39 this past season. In his one postseason outing in 2023 he gave up four runs in four innings to the Arizona Diamondbacks, but had allowed just two runs across 15 innings in his other postseason work.
The problem is, the Braves system isn’t rated terribly highly on MLB Pipeline, coming in at 27th out of 30 teams. If the Brewers are going to be selling Burnes, they’re going to want a ransom that Atlanta may be unwilling to pay.
That could in theory shift the focus to Christian Yelich, who ranked fourth in wRC+ among qualified left fielders with a 122 (100 is league average). That would be a pretty good boost over Rosario’s 100 wRC+, and both players held their own defensively. The biggest difference here would be the contract. Rosario’s $9 million option was declined by Atlanta, and Yelich is set to make $26 million per season through 2028. Yelich will also entering his age 32 season.
That may be too much of a risk for Atlanta to take that could have ramifications to their payroll for years to come. But because of the financial aspect, their farm system could potentially get this deal done if the Braves were willing.
Atlanta Braves enter free agent ace
Jordan Montgomery just won the World Series with the Texas Rangers, and without his playoff run the team may not have even made it that far. He ended up with a 2.90 ERA in six postseason outings (five starts), and that was actually a bit lower, just over two, heading into the Series. FanGraphs has Montgomery pegged for five years and $105 million, which works out to $21 million per season. While the Braves may not be willing to go all the way up to the CBT threshold, after Montgomery’s performance in October, could they really afford to just pass on him?
Not only was Monty a big reason for the Rangers getting to the World Series, but he has also been a workhorse during the regular season the past three years, throwing 157, 178, and 188 innings while his ERA has dropped from 3.83 to 3.48 to 3.20.
The one big caveat here could be what Montgomery ends up signing for. While FanGraphs has him on the lower end, MLB Trade Rumors projects him for six years and $150 million. At $25 million per season, that would potentially eat up all of Atlanta’s payroll flexibility this winter.
Eduardo Rodriguez heads to Atlanta Braves
If Montgomery proves to be too costly, then Eduardo Rodriguez could end up being a solid backup plan. The left-hander finished the season with Detroit with a 3.30 ERA and with a projected contract of four years and $76 million, he could be more in Atlanta’s range both in terms of years and dollars. That contract works out to $19 million per season, which would also allow for a little extra flexibility to grab another piece or two.
A lot was made over Rodriguez choosing to stay with the Tigers instead of accepting a trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the MLB trade deadline, but what it should say is that he wants to play where he is comfortable. He wouldn’t need to be the ace in their rotation, but he’d still be playing a pretty pivotal role in the rotation behind Spencer Strider and Max Fried.
Teoscar Hernandez can bring the thump
One thing we are coming to learn about postseason baseball is that teams that hit home runs tend to win more games. While Atlanta led all of baseball in dingers through the regular season, when it came time for the playoffs, the Phillies hit 11 while Atlanta managed just three.
One free agent that won’t break the bank but will also provide an upgrade would be Teoscar Hernández, who bopped 26 bombs with Seattle this season and held a 105 wRC+. While that is just five percent better than league average, it’s also five percent better than Rosario in 2023. The thing with Hernández is that 2023 was actually a down year for him. In the three previous seasons he’d put up a wRC+ of 142, 132, and then 130. He’s basically a lock for at least 20 homers and also surpassed 30 back in 2021.
His strikeout rate is a bit high at 31.1%, so he’s not a perfect player, but he still represents an upgrade over what the Braves had in 2023. Defensively, he played right field for the Mariners and was exactly average. Throw him in left, with his arm, and he should do just fine.