ATLANTA -- Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos knows we're going to do the math, or what he refers to as reverse engineering, to get an idea of how much money the Braves have to spend this offseason. He's just not going to confirm any calculations or weaken his negotiating power
ATLANTA -- Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos knows we're going to do the math, or what he refers to as reverse engineering, to get an idea of how much money the Braves have to spend this offseason. He's just not going to confirm any calculations or weaken his negotiating power by providing a ballpark estimate.
But earlier this week, when Anthopoulos said the payroll will increase for the 2019 season, he indirectly confirmed the Braves will have more financial flexibility than they've had since they exited the 2008 season.
Anthopoulos' task is to use this flexibility to make impact gains.
"We will have a good amount of money to work with," Anthopoulos said. "As you guys can understand, for the world to know exactly what we have to work with would make it a very difficult world to negotiate trades and free-agent contracts."
Well, depending on your accounting method, we know the Braves' payroll rested somewhere between $130 million to $140 million this past season. How significantly this figure increases remains to be seen. But without any increase, Anthopoulos still has the flexibility to shop Machado Boulevard, Harper Avenue or whichever free-agent neighborhood draws his interest.
The Braves are committed to paying $51.2 million to five players -- Freddie Freeman ($21.5 million), Julio Teheran ($11 million), Darren O'Day ($9 million), Ender Inciarte ($5.7 million) and Tyler Flowers ($4 million). When accounting for arbitration-eligible players, you must consider the likelihood all of them won't return. So Adam Duvall can be projected to be a non-tender much more confidently than Dan Winkler.
But by using MLB Trade Rumors' projected arbitration costs, we can estimate the Braves will spend approximately $22.4 million on these five arbitration-eligible players -- Kevin Gausman ($9.2 million), Mike Foltynewicz ($5.5 million), Arodys Vizcaino ($4.8 million), Jonny Venters ($1.5 million) and Charlie Culberson ($1.4 million).
If the Braves opt to tender Winkler and Sam Freeman, neither is projected (per MLBTR) to gain a salary greater than $1.6 million through arbitration.
While there's a chance at least one of these relievers is non-tendered, to account for the greatest estimated figure, let's place the arbitration cost at $25.4 million. Add this to the $51.2 million of contractual commitments and the Braves are still approximately $59 million shy of $135 million, which would represent a 4 percent increase if using $130 million as the figure for the 2018 payroll.
So it appears the Braves will have at least $60 million to address their multiple needs -- a catcher, a corner outfielder, bullpen depth and a frontline starting pitcher.
"We're not going to just walk in the store and buy because we have money in our pockets," Anthopoulos said. "If we don't find the right deal with something we like, there's still other opportunities to shop. There could be opportunities next season. If you start signing guys to big, long deals, if you feel good about the deal, you do it now. I wouldn't force a deal right now that would limit you in years from now."
In other words, the Braves won't be among the teams offering Bryce Harper or Manny Machado an eight- or 10-year deal.
"I don't think with our club, with what we have, that the value is going to be there in the free-agent market," Anthopoulos said. "It doesn't mean it won't. We'll certainly explore it. But if I could sit here in the middle of October, I'd say it's more likely we go the trade route. It's not ideal to give up young assets, but it's also not ideal to do a deal you don't believe in -- that may look good for a year or two, and then in years three, four and five, it does not."
This mindset might also lessen the likelihood of the Braves taking a chance on reuniting with closer Craig Kimbrel. But before thinking about Kimbrel or any other potential free-agent acquisitions, the Braves will thoroughly scour the trade market with the hope of filling their needs with the addition of someone like Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto.
Armed with one of the game's top farm systems and fortified by the comfort of having an abundance of Major League-ready pitchers who could join Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb and Gausman in the rotation, the Braves have the capability to make multiple significant trades.
Time will tell whether they are willing to include the likes of Austin Riley, Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Touki Toussaint or any other young player not named Ronald Acuna Jr. in a package for Realmuto, who has two arbitration-eligible seasons remaining.
The Braves have not ruled out the possibility of re-signing veteran outfielder Nick Markakis or veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki. But regarding Suzuki, it appears they are looking for somebody like Realmuto, who can serve as the primary catcher, while Flowers can move into a more traditional backup role.
Once the Braves get a feel for the availability Realmuto and other potential trade targets, they'll have a better feel for how and where to spend their remaining funds.
Through the leadership he provided over the past four years, Markakis left an indelible mark on the Braves organization. But as he approaches his 35th birthday, the Braves have to at least explore outfield options before committing to a reunion with the highly respected veteran outfielder.
While Anthopoulos has indicated the trade market as his preferred route, D-backs left-hander Patrick Corbin will likely be among the free-agent starters who draw his interest. Foltynewicz's progress combined with the rise of many prospects strengthened the potential of Atlanta's rotation. But there's room for improvement when Anibal Sanchez is the best option to start Game 2 of a postseason series.
As for the bullpen, there's certainly a need for a closer. Vizcaino's durability will remain a concern and A.J. Minter's late-season back problems prevented him from proving he is ready and capable for that role. But while a Kimbrel reunion would make for a nice story, instead of committing $17 million to $18 million to him, it might be more valuable to allocate those funds to multiple bullpen pieces.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.