Just In: The deal signed by Alex Anthopoulos is possibly the greatest one….

The deal signed by Alex Anthopoulos is possibly the greatest one for Atlanta.

Atlanta’s president of baseball operations has built a winning team that’s set to have a long World Series window.

I’m not sure if everyone in Braves Country realizes exactly how lucky we are to have Alex Anthopoulos running the Atlanta Braves.

Anthopoulos joined the organization as general manager in November of 2017, at a demoralizing point in time: former general manager John Coppolella had been forced out after MLB concluded he flagrantly violated multiple rules regarding the international free agent signing process.

He was later banned from baseball for the infractions and his unwillingness to cooperate with investigators, only being reinstated in January of 2023 ($) (but still not working in the sport). The organization, fresh off of four straight losing seasons where they finished a combined 91.5 games back in the NL East and saw manager Fredi Gonzalez fired, was punished rather harshly by MLB for Coppolella’s missteps, including having 13 of their international signees granted free agency, serious and strict restrictions placed on international signings for the next three seasons, and a forfeiture of their 3rd round pick in the upcoming MLB Draft.

All factors which made the Atlanta job less appealing, in theory.

It was a big deal to hire Anthopoulos

But Anthopoulos came to Atlanta.

And understand this: Alex Anthopoulos didn’t have to come to Atlanta. He was coming off of a successful stretch as GM of the Toronto Blue Jays, where he won the 2015 Executive of the Year award from the Sporting News, as voted on by his peers. He voluntarily declined a contract extension and stepped down, for reasons still unknown, and was working as the vice president of baseball operations for the Los Angeles Dodgers at the time. His family reportedly liked living in Los Angeles, and Anthopoulos later admitted “I didn’t have any aspirations or desire to leave L.A.”

But he agreed to come to Atlanta, signing a four year contract in November of 2017. Anthopoulos said at the time that he was optimistic about the direction of the franchise despite MLB’s sanctions, citing the young talent both on the major league roster (Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuña Jr) and in the farm system.

So what changed?

The organization sold itself.

“I told my wife, ‘This is as good a job as I’m ever going to be able to find. I’d love to get it,'” Anthopoulos said. “That two-week wait, I was on pins and needles a little bit. I tried to play it cool, but it was tough. It was tough. I was still trying to do my work in L.A. and can’t say enough about them being able to support me, but I can’t say enough about the upside here and what we’re ultimately going to be.”

And it worked.

Anthopoulos quickly got to work, building a roster that went on to win the NL East in 2018 (and hasn’t lost it since) and a World Series championship in 2021.

Atlanta was so confident in what he’d done early in his tenure that they extended his contract prior to the 2020 season, promoting him to president of baseball operations and keeping him locked up through the 2024 season.

As the chief baseball executive, his Atlanta record is 505-354 (.588 winning percentage), with the 2021 World Series championship on his belt.

But what’s more impressive, perhaps, is the stability he’s brought to the major league roster.

The Atlanta Braves are believed to be the first team in the free agency era to have all eight position player spots locked up for three or more seasons, with the first starter’s vacancy coming up after SS Orlando Arcia’s club option is exercised for the 2025 season. (Travis d’Arnaud’s club option is for the 2025 season, but he’s not technically the starter.)

Atlanta Braves contractual control of the position players, as of December 9th 2023

(I like to call this “jersey security”, because you can buy virtually any position player’s jersey and know that not only are they locked up for a while, Atlanta’s not going to trade them, either.

And what’s potentially more impactful that just the long-term control is the financial security: None of those salaries exceed $22M across their duration, with several of them, most notably Ozzie Albies ($7M) and Ronald Acuña Jr ($17M), coming in well under the “market value” they’d receive if they were to have signed in the most recent free agency period.

Those cost savings and future financial certainty allow Atlanta the runway to take on bad contracts to get a talented player, like they did with Sunday’s trade for outfielder Jarred Kelenic.

(Doesn’t hurt that Anthopoulos was able to quickly flip both Marco Gonzales and Evan White, either.)

Alex has used multiple methods to build the roster

The Braves have gotten that long-term roster stability through a variety of methods, with one notable exception.

Atlanta’s traded for quality players that are on the market and signed them to undermarket extensions, such as Matt Olson (acquired and extended in 2022) and Sean Murphy (acquired and extended in 2023).

Atlanta’s drafted and then signed players to early extensions after their debuts, like Michael Harris II (drafted in 2019, signed in 2022) and Spencer Strider (drafted in 2020, signed in 2022).

Atlanta’s signed veteran free agents and extended them, often more than once, such as Charlie Morton (signed in 2020, extended twice) and Travis d’Arnaud (signed in 2019, extended twice).

The one place Atlanta hasn’t really spent any noticeable time is the top of the free agency market, with Atlanta declining to sign stars such as Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, and Jacob DeGrom when they came available on the open market in past offseasons. Not to say that Atlanta’s been entirely passive in that regard – they were widely believed to have outbid the Philadelphia Phillies for starter Aaron Nola this offseason, but he returned to Philly on a seven-year deal – but it’s not been a cornerstone of their player acquisition.

Alex Anthopoulos’ player acquisition strategy

As expected, Anthopoulos doesn’t go into detail on players that he targets, whether via free agency or trade, to the media. At the Winter Meetings, he specifically wouldn’t divulge which starting pitchers Atlanta’s attempted to acquire, just that they’ve made multiple failed attempts, via both trade and free agency, to bring in a starter.

But there’s some commonalities that we can uncover, if you dive into the transactions.

One notable trend is that Atlanta tends to target players from bad teams – this makes logical sense, to a certain point, as contenders are inherently less likely to make trades of major league players. But Atlanta’s targeted the worst of the worst teams in their trades and received quality performers for very little in return.

At the last two trade deadlines, Atlanta traded for Raisel Iglesias from the Angels (2022) and Pierce Johnson from the Rockies (2023). Both relievers, who had elevated ERA’s at the time of the trade (4.04 for Iglesias, 6.00 for Johnson), were some of the best relievers in baseball down the stretch for Atlanta (0.34 for Iglesias in 2022, 0.76 for Johnson in 2023) and are now under multiple years of team control.

And sometimes, Atlanta keeps going back to that well.

Atlanta’s received Matt Olson and Sean Murphy in two trades with the Oakland Athletics, a 1st round competitive balance pick, Nicky Lopez, and Jorge Soler in three trades with the Kansas City Royals, & Pierce Johnson, Brad Hand, and Sam Hilliard in three trades with the Colorado Rockies.

Not every trade has worked out for Atlanta – taking Jake Odorizzi from the Houston Astros in exchange for reliever Will Smith comes to mind – but a majority of Atlanta’s trades have been surprisingly impactful on Atlanta’s side and surprisingly…not on the trade partner’s side. Eddie Rosario came to Atlanta at the 2021 trade deadline from the Cleveland Guardians for Pablo Sandoval. Rosario went on to be MVP of the 2021 NLCS and spend two more seasons in Atlanta’s outfield, while Sandoval never took an official at-bat for Cleveland and is now playing in Dubai’s United Baseball League (although he did hit a six-run homer, so that’s cool, I guess.)

So what’s next for Alex Anthopoulos?

Good question. His contract is slated to expire after the 2024 season, and there’s been no public discussion about an extension. But the last time it was extended, in 2020, there wasn’t public discussion prior to the announcement either.

Just as in free agency and trade talks, this front office doesn’t leak.

His family reportedly likes Atlanta – Anthopoulos was discussing his son’s enjoyment at riding in the family car and listening in on trade discussions prior to his Winter Meetings media availability, reportedly asking if they could call Chicago White Sox GM Chris Getz again to do another trade.

(Another team recently targeted by Atlanta, the Braves made a 5-for-1 trade to get reliever Aaron Bummer from the White Sox and then signed former White Sox reliever Reynaldo López to a free agent contract this offseason.)

Just to clarify: there’s no news to report on an extension for Alex Anthopoulos at this time.

But whatever he asks for, either in years or salary, it’s probably worth it.


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