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Braves discuss Soroka, Ozuna, Freddie, more

@mlbbowman
October 20, 2020

ATLANTA -- Mike Soroka was the first person Braves manager Brian Snitker saw when the team returned to Truist Park on Monday, less than 24 hours after losing to the Dodgers in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. The familiar face created further reason to get excited about

ATLANTA -- Mike Soroka was the first person Braves manager Brian Snitker saw when the team returned to Truist Park on Monday, less than 24 hours after losing to the Dodgers in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.

The familiar face created further reason to get excited about what 2021 might bring.

“This guy was so excited about next year, he was about to burst because he saw what could happen,” Snitker said. “I know it killed him not being with us.”

A little more than two months after tearing his right Achilles tendon, Soroka is wearing shoes and walking without any assistance. Exactly when he might be cleared to pitch again next year remains unclear.

'Something special': Braves look ahead to '21

But given what Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson just did while helping the Braves to within one win of a World Series appearance, there is excitement about the Braves adding their ace back to this young but talent-rich rotation.

“We know Mike is going to do everything he can [to be ready for Opening Day],” Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos said. “The work ethic is off the charts. We just want to make sure he doesn’t overdo it and try to come back too soon.”

Monitoring Soroka’s progress will be just one of the many tasks Anthopoulos and Snitker handle as they spend this offseason trying to build upon this year’s success. They spent a portion of Tuesday recapping the 2020 season and answering questions about how '21 might look.

Here are some of the highlights:

Ozuna’s future
Marcell Ozuna provided the Braves more than expected after signing a one-year, $18 million deal. His return hinges on the designated hitter staying in the NL and, of course, his cost, which will be influenced by what will likely be strong demand.

“Marcell was amazing for us. He was awesome. I’d love to have him back," Anthopoulos said. "I certainly plan on having discussions. But just a day after we got back, there is uncertainty in so many areas. I’m not trying to be cryptic or to foreshadow. We’re going to have to work hard to get as many answers as we can from a revenue standpoint, a [designated hitter] standpoint, all of those things. But there’s no doubt he was tremendous for us. He fit in great, and we’d love to have him be a part of what we’re doing going forward.”

Payroll
Exactly how this year’s reduced revenue stream will impact payroll remains to seen. But the allocation will be significant, as the Braves have to account for a group of free agents that includes Ozuna, closer Mark Melancon and right-handed reliever Shane Greene. One positive will be removing Cole Hamels' one-year, $18 million deal from the books.

“In terms of what we’ll have for 2021, if I had a number, I wouldn’t tell you just from a competitive standpoint," Anthopoulos said. "But we haven’t had that discussion, and there’s a lot of uncertainty. Will we have fans? What will the revenues be? But those are questions for the world, and likely all of sports. We’ll have to work through that uncertainty. But the focus and the goals will be the same. We want to put the best team on the field that we can and get back to a position to win a World Series.”

Acuña’s wrist
After the Braves swept the NL Wild Card Series against the Reds, Ronald Acuña Jr. revealed his left wrist was continuing to bother him and had done so since he returned from the injured list on Aug. 26. The 22-year-old outfielder ended up hitting .217 with a .703 OPS in 12 postseason games. Acuña wasn’t at full strength, but the team doesn’t believe he’ll need more than a few weeks of rest.

“He’s banged up. He played. He’ll never make excuses. He’s tough as nails," Anthopoulos said. "The wrist was good enough to play. He was getting a lot of treatment, but it wasn’t anything that was going to do any more damage to him. In fairness, no one is a hundred percent at that point. Acuña definitely grinded through the wrist. But it still allowed him at times to do some great things."

Freeman’s extension
Freddie Freeman is a few weeks away from possibly being named the NL Most Valuable Player Award winner. There’s also a chance he could receive a contract extension at some point this winter. The four-time All-Star will be entering the last season of his eight-year, $135 million contract.

"He’s someone we plan on and expect to have as a Brave for a long time," Anthopoulos said. "I know he plans on that as well. When that time comes, hopefully, it will be the first time you hear about it. Like with any contract, we’re going to work real hard to keep that quiet, because we don’t want daily questions of the players, manager and coaches. It just makes it hard to get deals done. He’s a key part of this organization. The hope and the plan is he’ll be a part of it going forward."

Support from afar
As the Braves spent the regular season’s final week and the first week of the postseason staying in the Omni Hotel located beyond Truist Park’s center-field wall, they felt the energy of fans who gathered to watch games in The Battery, the mixed-use development outside the stadium. They continued to feel the love while spending the past two weeks playing in Houston and Arlington.

“I got texts and they were showing images of The Battery on the [video board where we’re were playing]," Snitker said. "I think all of the players felt it and were appreciative. Even in April and May, when we weren’t playing and the weather was so good, I was thinking, ‘God, that place would be rocking down there right now.’

“All the texts I got about what we were doing and what we meant to the city, I think all of the players fed off of that. The Braves Nation is a strong thing, and it’s a really cool thing.”

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.