Was Kenny Rogers talking about playing cards or constructing rosters when he sang, “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em?”
Over the past few offseasons, we have heard Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos reminisce about the lesson he learned when he signed Francisco Cordero to join the Blue Jays’ bullpen just before the start of the 2012 season.
Cordero signed a one-year, $4 million contract on Feb. 1, 2012, approximately two weeks before the start of Spring Training. The reliever had entered the offseason hoping to gain a multiyear deal with an average annual salary of approximately $10 million. His cost dropped as the beginning of the season approached and Toronto wanted a reliever, especially after Koji Uehara nixed a deal that would have sent him from the Rangers to the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays weren't interested in Cordero during the early portion of the offseason and only gained interest when it appeared they might be getting a bargain. The reliever posted a 5.77 ERA over 41 appearances for Toronto and was traded on July 20 to the Astros, who released him on Sept. 10.
What does this have to do with the Braves’ current offseason plans? Well, while we don’t know where Dansby Swanson might end up, I don’t expect Anthopoulos to get into a bidding war to keep the shortstop. He has entered the offseason with a sense of what he might pay Swanson, and I don’t expect him to budge much.
Instead, he’ll stick with his gut feeling like he did with Josh Donaldson and likely wishes he did with Marcell Ozuna.
Anthopoulos wisely took a chance on Donaldson before the 2019 season and opted not to double down on the third baseman the following winter. This led him to ink Ozuna to a one-year deal, which proved masterful during the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
The Braves toyed with acquiring Nolan Arenado from the Rockies and attempted to sign either Joc Pederson or George Springer before the 2021 season. But when those options evaporated, Anthopoulos signed Ozuna to a four-year, $65 million deal on Feb. 5, approximately two weeks before the start of Spring Training.
By appearing to go against his gut and double down on Ozuna, Anthopoulos found himself with a financial burden that will exist for two more years.
In last week’s newsletter, I predicted Swanson will end up returning to the Braves. While I still believe this will happen, I don’t believe the Braves will make the highest offer. It will come down to how much Swanson is willing to leave on the table to continue playing in Atlanta.
It would have seemingly been fair to give Swanson approximately $15 million per year at the start of this season. Now many pundits are projecting he could make $20-25 million per season. That’s a significant increase based on one year. Anthopoulos will now attempt to trust his gut while moving toward what will be this offseason’s biggest decision.