After early exit, how do Braves approach '24?

October 14th, 2023

ATLANTA  --  Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos can’t change the maddening fashion in which this year’s incredible season concluded. But he is already evaluating ways to avoid experiencing similar postseason disappointment in the future.

“Nobody has an exact formula, otherwise somebody would be winning every year,” Anthopoulos said. “That’s what makes baseball great, you’re constantly looking for answers.”

How did a team that produced an AL/NL record .501 slugging percentage total just four extra-base hits while losing three of four games to the Phillies in the National League Division Series?

How did this team that matched the AL/NL single-season record with 307 homers get outhomered, 11-3, by Philadelphia? 

How can a squad that averaged 5.8 runs per game during the regular season tally just eight runs over four games in the postseason? 

“We didn’t have issues with runners in scoring position during the year,” Anthopoulos said. “Over four games, we didn’t come through.  To try to extrapolate from that more than what it is, I don't think would be a responsible thing to do.”

The Braves went 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position. The Phillies, meanwhile, went 7-for-32 in these situations. Looking at this, it’s remarkable Atlanta might have forced a Game 5 had Ronald Acuña Jr.’s bases-loaded flyout traveled just a few feet farther in Thursday’s seventh inning.

How can Acuña and Matt Olson combine to go 6-for-30 with just one extra-base hit? Don’t ask the Dodgers. Their MVP candidates, Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts, went a combined 1-for-21 in their NLDS loss to the D-backs. 

There will be debate about whether teams that received a bye through the Wild Card round were negatively impacted by a five-day stretch without games. There may also be debate about whether the NLDS should be a seven-game series. But Anthopoulos is one of many in the Braves' organization not looking for an excuse. 

“Josh Donaldson said it best back in 2015, when I was in Toronto,” Anthopoulos said. “He said, 'It’s not the try league, it’s the get-it-done league.'”

Quite simply, the Braves didn’t get it done. But they should have another shot, as their lineup and rotation should look much the same next year. Anthopoulos also confirmed Brian Snitker will return to serve his ninth season as the team’s manager.

Kevin Pillar is a free agent and Eddie Rosario has a $9 million club option. So, the Braves will need to address who will play left field in 2024. Anthopoulos said Vaughn Grissom could be used in a utility role, creating the possibility he could see time in left.

Kyle Wright will miss the 2024 season after undergoing right shoulder surgery earlier this week. His absence could create opportunities for AJ Smith-Shawver, Darius Vines, Allan Winans or Jared Shuster. But the current question regarding the starting rotation is whether the Braves will exercise Charlie Morton’s $20 million option, or at least attempt to work out another deal with the veteran hurler.

Morton, who will turn 40 on Nov. 12, missed the NLDS because of an right index finger ligament strain suffered on Sept. 22. He’s made at least 30 starts for Atlanta each of the past three years and has posted a 3.77 ERA in the process.

“I know he was hurt at the end of this year, but you look at the body of work and all the starts he’s made here over the past few years,” Anthopoulos said. “Beyond that, he’s always been incredible teammate.”

If Morton returns, he would rejoin Max Fried, Spencer Strider and Bryce Elder within the rotation. Smith-Shawver, Winans, Vines or Shuster could provide depth, and Ian Anderson becomes another candidate after he makes his recovery from Tommy John surgery at some point next year. 

When the Braves lost to the Phillies in the 2022 NLDS, Fried (virus) and Strider (oblique) were both weakened by ailments. This year, Morton was sidelined and Elder was on fumes at the end of his first full big league season.

So will this impact whether Anthopoulos pursues a top starting pitcher this winter?

“I'm going to be very guarded with our potential offseason plans,” Anthopoulos said. “One, we’re clearly not even there yet. We’re less than 24 hours into the offseason. But that’s fair. Those are real things that happened two years in a row. It’s something we’re definitely going to have to talk about.”