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Quiet offseason shouldn't nix Braves' potential

Anthopoulos won't 'force a trade,' setting up Atlanta's prospects to prove value
February 7, 2019

ATLANTA -- When Braves chairman Terry McGuirk said this offseason was a prime time for the organization to make significant roster additions, he acknowledged the value of the fact that general manager Alex Anthopoulos' aggressive nature is matched by his ability to patiently navigate toward the execution of a long-term

ATLANTA -- When Braves chairman Terry McGuirk said this offseason was a prime time for the organization to make significant roster additions, he acknowledged the value of the fact that general manager Alex Anthopoulos' aggressive nature is matched by his ability to patiently navigate toward the execution of a long-term plan.
As the Mets, Nationals and Phillies have made multiple upgrades, Anthopoulos has thus far limited his offseason activity to giving Josh Donaldson a record one-year deal and bringing to fruition the desires of Brian McCann and Nick Markakis to play for the Braves.
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Adding a former American League MVP Award winner and two highly respected and accomplished veterans to a talented young core could prove quite beneficial this year and more importantly in the future, when the Braves will still possess the value of those prospects who drew trade interest this winter. But Anthopoulos understands why Atlanta's fans have spent most of the past couple months anxiously awaiting another significant acquisition.:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
"I love it, and I respect [the anxiety], but at the end of the day, I know all they're going to care about is whether we have a winning team or not," Anthopoulos said. "I've been there, where we've had the big offseason. That creates a halo effect. But once the bell rings and the games start, that's all that matters.
"A year ago at this time, there wasn't a lot of movement and there wasn't a lot of activity. The only big deal was the Matt Kemp [trade]. But ultimately attendance was up and TV ratings were up because the players were doing their thing on the field. We just need to make the right decisions for the organization. The rest will take care of itself."
While the Braves appeared to be ahead of schedule as they captured last year's National League East crown, it should also be remembered their success was influenced by the disappointment experienced throughout the rest of the division. The Nationals woefully underperformed, and the Phillies were an ill-constructed club whose defensive woes prevented them from exceeding expectations. The Mets produced the division's best record over the final three months, but they performed more like a cellar dweller through the end of June.
Instead of allowing last year's success or the improvements by division rivals to wreck the benefits of the recently completed rebuild, Anthopoulos has never lost sight of the possibility that addressing a current need could diminish the club's long-term value.
"We just don't want to force a move," Anthopoulos said.
As Anthopoulos assessed his club this winter, he recognized he has something special with the presence of three NL MVP Award candidates -- Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman and Donaldson -- and a pitching staff that will continue to improve as its coveted prospects develop. He showed interest in closer Edwin Díaz, who ended up with the Mets, maintained due diligence on the J.T. Realmuto front and debated whether it was worth trumping the multiyear offer Michael Brantley got from the Astros.
"We've made players available in trades," Anthopoulos said. "But we have no problem hanging on to players. We're not going to force a deal."
Though catcher William Contreras has become one of the more desirable players within Atlanta's rich pipeline, much of the available trade focus has centered on the organization's young arms. Mike Soroka, Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint each rank among MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospects, and the high-quality depth in the pitching department creates a chance to deal from an area of strength.

But without a suitable trade that could create both immediate and long-term value, Anthopoulos has opted to preserve this depth with the hope it will prove valuable this summer and beyond.
"We like our internal options because we think there is upside," Anthopoulos said. "I think that is why we targeted the position-player side, because we just didn't think our internal options had the same upside and depth. We do think guys like a Soroka or [Max Fried] or Toussaint or Kyle [Wright]. We wouldn't be surprised if they go out like [Mike Foltynewicz] or Sean Newcomb last year and have big years. They have the stuff and the experience.
"I know sometimes everybody wants the established starter. But like I said last year, with some of these young talented players, they just need an opportunity. We won't be surprised if they have good years."
Though the lack of a proven front-line starter beyond Foltynewicz is concerning, the Braves' rotation is more formidable than it was at this point last year, when Aníbal Sánchez wasn't even on the radar. The added year of development experienced by Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Acuna will fortify an offense that has already been strengthened by Donaldson's presence and a capable bench.
The value of what was or wasn't done this winter will be realized over the next few years as the Braves examine the value of their young core and prospect crop. But what has already been done this winter gives the defending division champs reason to believe they're capable of staying on top.
"It's too hard on paper in the offseason to crown a NL East champion," Anthopoulos said. "You can certainly look at the talent and know who has a chance to win the division. But I think all four clubs [Braves, Mets, Nationals and Phillies] are really talented. I think if you can just stay close when you get to July, that's where having financial flexibility and a bunch of prospect capital to move will certainly be to our advantage."

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