ATLANTA -- Less than 24 hours after the Braves were eliminated in Wednesday’s Game 5 loss to the Cardinals in the National League Division Series, general manager Alex Anthopoulos and his staff began preparing for what will be a very busy and influential Hot Stove season.
Here are some of the primary things you need to know as the Braves enter the offseason.
Which players are free agents?
Third baseman Josh Donaldson, left-hander Dallas Keuchel, outfielder Matt Joyce, infielder Adeiny Hechavarria, catcher Francisco Cervelli, left-hander Jerry Blevins and right-handers Darren O'Day, Anthony Swarzak and Chris Martin.
Donaldson re-established himself as a Most Valuable Player award candidate and was a great clubhouse fit. He has interest in possibly returning, and Anthopoulos has already said, “When both sides have interest, that’s a great starting point.”
The abundance of young Major League-seasoned or near-Major League-ready starting pitchers lessens the likelihood of Keuchel returning. But understanding the importance of having proven veterans capable of filling innings during the regular season, the Braves might not want to part ways with both Keuchel and Julio Teheran, whose $12 million option would likely be the more affordable choice.
The Braves will show some level of interest in re-signing Joyce, Martin and O’Day. Martin’s exit from Game 1 was arguably the most influential moment of the NLDS. O’Day lives in Atlanta, and he would have interest in continuing to play for his hometown team.
Are any of them likely to receive qualifying offers, and what is the deadline?
Donaldson will be the only member of this free agent group who will get the qualifying offer. The former MVP will not accept this one-year offer, which will be worth slightly less than the $23 million he received this season. But the offer must be made for the Braves to gain a draft-pick compensation if Donaldson were to sign elsewhere.
Which players have options, what’s the dollar figure and impact on payroll, and when does it need to be decided upon?
Right-hander Teheran ($12 million, $1 million buyout), outfielder Nick Markakis ($6 million, $2 million buyout), catcher Tyler Flowers ($6 million, $2 million buyout) and outfielder Billy Hamilton ($7.5 million, $1 million buyout).
The Braves will have until five days after the conclusion of the World Series to decide whether they will exercise any of these options.
Hamilton’s buyout was assumed to be a 2020 cost when he was claimed off waivers in August. The likelihood of Flowers’ option being exercised increased with Brian McCann’s retirement and the fact Alex Jackson has not yet shown he’s ready to be an everyday option at the big league level.
Don’t the Braves need to exercise Teheran’s option just to ensure they have somebody to start on Opening Day? But seriously, Teheran possesses legit regular season value as an innings eater. There’s a chance the Braves will end up paying the $12 million option if they are not able to trade him.
You can’t discount the significant value Markakis has brought to the organization as a whole over the past five seasons. But you also certainly have reason to question why the soon-to-be 36-year-old outfielder remained cemented in the lineup’s fifth spot during the NLDS. Instead of focusing only on the .598 OPS (postseason included) he produced after returning from a fractured left wrist, you must account for the .798 OPS produced before the injury was suffered on July 26. The value of the $6 million option would be enhanced if the Braves planned to platoon Markakis with Joyce, Adam Duvall or possibly Austin Riley.
Who might be a non-tender candidate, and when does the club have to make that decision?
This winter’s arbitration-eligible players are Duvall, right-hander Shane Greene, right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, infielder Charlie Culberson, shortstop Dansby Swanson, infielder Johan Camargo, left-hander Grant Dayton, right-hander Luke Jackson and catcher John Ryan Murphy.
All arbitration-eligible players must be tendered a contract by Dec. 2. Those non-tendered will become free agents.
Before possibly giving Greene a $6 million-plus salary, the Braves will evaluate a number of metrics, including the unsustainable .239 batting average he surrendered on balls in play and the 3.79 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark he posted while constructing a 2.30 ERA. With $14 million already committed to closer Mark Melancon, Greene has to at least be considered a potential non-tender candidate.
Over the past two seasons, Anthopoulos has shown us the value of stockpiling and preserving depth. His decision to tender Duvall last year was rewarded. Expect Jackson to be handled the same way this winter. Jackson’s inconsistency is maddening, but his swing-and-miss stuff warrants at least a chance to return to Spring Training with a non-guaranteed deal.
Who needs to be added to the 40-man roster this winter to avoid the Rule 5 Draft, and do they have a crunch for roster spots?
Outfielder Cristian Pache, catcher William Contreras, left-hander Tucker Davidson and right-hander Jasseel De La Cruz will need to be added to the 40-man roster to be protected from being selected in December’s Rule 5 Draft. Pache is the game’s No. 11 prospect, per MLB Pipeline. Each of the other three players rank among the Braves’ top 14 prospects.
What kind of help do they need, and will they be active in free agency? Who might they target?
We know the Braves will attempt to re-sign Donaldson, and we know they will be searching for a catcher. Their pursuit of an outfielder will be influenced by the decisions made regarding Markakis, Joyce and Duvall. Pache and Drew Waters could arrive at some point next year. So, this would not be considered an offseason priority.
Even if the Braves were to exercise Teheran’s option, there may be a desire to add an experienced starter to a rotation that will include Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Foltynewicz. Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson are knocking on the door. But there’s a chance the Braves use some of this starting pitching depth as currency to trade for a need. If so, look for Zack Wheeler and Madison Bumgarner to be linked to Atlanta this winter.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.