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Braves continue OF hunt with Brantley off board

Atlanta also seeking front-line starting pitcher, bullpen depth
December 18, 2018

ATLANTA -- Given they seem unwilling to make the long-term commitment Bryce Harper is seeking, the Braves had been evaluating Andrew McCutchen and Michael Brantley -- a pair of free agents who have since filled another team's need for an outfielder.The Braves did not value McCutchen as highly as the

ATLANTA -- Given they seem unwilling to make the long-term commitment Bryce Harper is seeking, the Braves had been evaluating Andrew McCutchen and Michael Brantley -- a pair of free agents who have since filled another team's need for an outfielder.
The Braves did not value McCutchen as highly as the Phillies, who gave the 32-year-old former National League MVP a three-year, $50 million deal. Nor did they have some of the same advantages as the Astros, who agreed to a two-year, $32 million deal with Brantley.
When financial terms of Brantley's deal were reported Monday night, some Braves fans questioned why their team did not make a similar or slightly more significant deal for the 31-year-old outfielder, who has played more than 90 games just once over the past three seasons.
Before getting too worked up about this development, it's important to remember that unlike Georgia, Texas does not levy a state income tax. So for Brantley, a $32 million deal with the Braves would have been less lucrative than the one he is set to gain from Houston.
Given Brantley's recent health history, the option to occasionally utilize him as a designated hitter also gives the Astros a comfort boost over the Braves.
Brantley finished third in balloting for the 2014 American League MVP Award, then returned from two injury-tarnished seasons to hit .309 with 17 homers and an .832 OPS over 631 plate appearances (143 games) for the Indians this year. He still has the ability to be a valuable asset.
But the stock for Brantley, who is six months shy of his 32nd birthday, is also influenced by his .684 OPS against left-handers this year and the fact he was limited to 101 games across the 2016-17 seasons.
The Braves have the financial means to match the average annual value given to McCutchen ($16.7 million) and Brantley ($16 million). But in relation to these two outfielders, there was a sense the Braves could gain better value by addressing each of their remaining needs: a front-line starter, bullpen depth and, of course, an outfielder.
Remaining funds
Although the Braves have not publicly indicated their projected 2019 payroll, they have said it will increase to the point they will no longer be in MLB's bottom third. Even after signing Josh Donaldson ($23 million) and Brian McCann ($2 million) to one-year deals, it's believed they still have at least $30 million left to spend.
When Braves chairman Terry McGuirk recently responded to Donaldson's signing by saying the team has the financial means to make another similar short-term investment, he glowingly spoke about general manager Alex Anthopoulos' long-term focus and desire to budget funds. This budgetary practice could lead Anthopoulos to allocate up to $10 million of his remaining funds toward moves that could be made to upgrade the roster during the 2019 season.
How much is available next summer will be determined by how much is spent this offseason. And how much is spent over the next few weeks and months will be dictated by the fluctuations of the trade and free-agent markets.
When asked if he has prioritized any of his remaining needs above another, Anthopoulos has said he is simply looking to find the best value. Now that the Yankees have a full rotation, some of their trade talks regarding Sonny Gray may be slightly different than they were over the previous few weeks. If Craig Kimbrel's market drops to a point where he would be willing to accept a three-year deal, the Braves would be among the teams that may suddenly come into play.
The Braves will also continue to monitor the markets for A.J. Pollock, Nick Markakis and Carlos Gonzalez. Having already declined Arizona's $17.9 million qualifying offer, Pollock is another recently injury-plagued outfielder who is seeking more than the Braves are willing to offer in years and dollars.
Markakis and Gonzalez would be less expensive, but both veterans appear to be short-term fallback options who may be targeted by Atlanta once Anthopoulos gets a better feel for how market changes will affect his other pursuits.

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