Inbox: Will signing Smith affect Braves' plans?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers questions from Atlanta fans

November 15th, 2019

Does the signing of mean the Braves are out on ?
-- @pwalker24

Absolutely not. You can’t make this kind of financial commitment to your bullpen and then ignore the gaping hole that would exist if Donaldson doesn’t return. By signing Smith to his three-year, $40 million deal on Thursday, the Braves actually provided indication they will spend more freely this offseason.

Accounting for signed players and projected arbitration figures, the Braves have committed between $95 million to 100 million for the 2020 season. They have not indicated where the payroll might rest. But when you consider Donaldson’s salary will likely be around $25 million and there’s still a need to add a catcher and a starter, there’s a possibility the Opening Day payroll could approach $140 million.

That being said, the amount Atlanta spends this winter will be heavily influenced by Donaldson’s decision. The Rangers have aggressively pursued him and could more comfortably give him an extra year because of the option to occasionally use him as a designated hitter.

If Donaldson doesn’t return, the Braves could pursue Mike Moustakas, who is also being targeted by the Phillies. Another option would be to put at third base until shows he’s ready to return to the Majors. This latter option would likely mean the Braves would look to replace Donaldson’s power by pursuing an outfielder this winter.

If the season started today, would be in right field, would be in center and would platoon with in left. This plan could easily be altered. The center-field free-agent market is quite thin. So, there’s reason to see what teams would be willing to offer for Inciarte.

Inciarte alone would not bring a significant return. But by moving his $7 million salary, the Braves could gain a little more financial flexibility to address their other needs. Acuña could man center field until Cristian Pache or Drew Waters are deemed ready.

With the team losing a Draft pick with the Will Smith signing, do you think that will keep them from signing a guy like Zack Wheeler or Madison Bumgarner?
-- @Koos_C

With the signing of Smith, the Braves lost their second-highest Draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool. Signing a second player who rejected a qualifying offer would lead them to also lose their third-highest pick and $500,000.

Even before Smith signed, it was starting to feel like Wheeler would not end up with the Braves. Given the Draft pick cost, the likelihood of Atlanta signing Bumgarner has certainly decreased.

There’s always a chance the Braves could opt to trade for a starting pitcher. But instead of targeting a front-line guy, they might simply try to add experience to their rotation by pursuing a free agent like Wade Miley or Rick Porcello. Like Miley with the Brewers in 2017, Porcello might benefit from a move to the National League.

However you look at it, as this offseason progresses, there will be greater reason to look back to the past offseason and critique the Braves’ decision to not trade for Sonny Gray or sign Charlie Morton, who wanted to return to Atlanta.

Can seriously be the primary catcher moving forward?
-- @JerryC_8709

No. The Braves brought Flowers back knowing he might not split playing time as evenly as he has over the past few years with and .

The general consensus is that Yasmani Grandal will sign elsewhere. If that’s the case, Atlanta will continue to be among the teams that keep tabs on the Cubs’ willingness to trade Willson Contreras.

How many slots on the 40-man roster will the Braves keep open ahead of the Rule 5 Draft for potential free agents?
-- @coachjwoodall

The Braves have 33 players on their 40-man roster and five prospects -- Pache, William Contreras, Tucker Davidson, Jasseel De La Cruz and Thomas Burrows -- who would likely be selected by another club if left unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft. Teams have until Wednesday to decide which of their Draft-eligible prospects will be protected by inclusion on the 40-man.

Of the five players listed above, Burrows would be the only one you could at least debate whether to protect. The 25-year-old lefty was sent back to Double-A Mississippi twice this year and there is an abundance of potential relievers in the system.

That being said, it wouldn’t surprise me if Atlanta decides to add each of the five guys and leave itself with just two open spots on the 40-man. Yes, there will be a need for more spots over the next few weeks and months. But you can always remove somebody like or possibly subtract via the trades that could be made.