What happened this offseason?

    Josh Donaldson and Alex Anthopoulos
    Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos (foreground) and Josh Donaldson listen to a question during a press conference Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, introducing the free agent signing in Atlanta. (Source: Alyssa Pointer/AJC)

    Braves fans are pissed.

    Braves fans are (still) waiting.

    Braves fans are pessimistic.

    Braves fans are optimistic.

    Braves fans are just confused.

    Yeah, we’re a mixture of a lot of things right now. Some of us are all of the above. And that’s pretty much where all of us here at 755 Battery Ave fit into the equation. If you have been following along with the 755Cast and our various personal Twitter accounts you know this has been a roller coaster of an offseason for us.

    It’s been a weird offseason for a number of reasons — the lack of activity after a big chunk of contracts coming of the books, the radio silence when it comes to being heavily tied to any of the big name free agents, the rumblings of potential trades that seemed to be more smoke than fire. It’s all come together to leave us bewildered about what is going on behind the closed doors of the executive level at SunTrust the past couple of months.

    But should we be outraged?

    We hit on this in the past 755Cast — what if this winter has gone exactly as planned and it’s the fan-based and media-fueled hype and expectations that have led us astray? What if this offseason was never going to be that make-or-break, all-out, guns-blaring off-season that sends the Braves to the next level?

    The 2018 season was a perfect storm of many things. The division went in the gutter, a number of key players had career years, and Ronald Acuña turned into Barry Bonds for a little bit. None of that was expected. That’s the one thing we’re all losing sight of in January 2019. Last year wasn’t supposed to happen. Last year was supposed to be the bridge from rebuild to contender. Last year was supposed to be the 78 win season. Last year wasn’t supposed to be 90 wins and a division title.

    And it became a harsh reality when the Braves met the Dodgers freight train in October. Every step of the way the young team was overmatched by the playoff veterans who had depth upon depth. Aside from one swing of Acuña’s bat (which itself was a gift after a very generous 3-0 pitch, by the way) the Braves were completely exposed.

    But there was still plenty to take away from what 2018 became. This team was ready. The first wave of prospects could compete. Regardless of how bad the division was, or how horribly the Division Series against the Dodgers went, this team proved they were ready for prime time. They may not have had the depth to stack up against organizations which have been stockpiling the league’s best for years, but the core was there.

    That leads us to where we are right now.

    If the 2018 Braves proved they were legit enough to win a crappy division, then the ensuing off-season was when they would make the jump from simply being in The Show, to being World Series contender.

    As we now know in the last week of January, it hasn’t happened yet.

    So, what happened? Were they actually legit? Did the Braves front office not let the surprising success of 2018 get in the way of their master plan?

    Well, that’s why we are here, so let’s get down to business.

    Where is the money?

    The biggest question of the offseason thus far.

    And it isn’t entirely directed at the fact the Braves haven’t been spending. Because there is also a huge question of just how much money the Braves even have available to spend. There has been tons of speculation from the day free agency began until today about just how much the team was going to be able to take on.

    Looking back on last season, the Braves sported an Opening Day payroll of around $118m according to Cot’s Contracts, and around $116m according to Tim Tucker at AJC. So that at least gives us a jumping off point.

    Immediately off the hip last year the Braves were rolling with $33m of dead money on the books from Adrian Gonzalez and Scott Kazmir as holdovers from the Matt Kemp salary swap with the Dodgers. Factor in Brandon McCarthy’s $10m and Nick Markakis’s $11m also coming off the books via retirement and free agency respectively and the Braves should have conceivably had in the area of $50m freed up simply from those four players.

    That number matches up almost perfectly with the $50m to $60m numbers that were thrown around by both MLB Trade Rumors and Mark Bowman heading into the offseason. Keep in mind, all of those numbers were assumedly projections to spend the entire offseason, so those projections should include any money spent on the open market along with arbitration.

    One big advantage the Braves had heading into this winter was the lack of jump in their guaranteed contracts for 2019. Between Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Ender Inciarte, and Tyler Flowers, only $4m would be added to the payroll. The only big jump year over year would be the addition of a full season of Darren O’Day, which is going to cost $9m — a bump of nearly $6m once you factor in the prorated $3m the Braves paid him to sit on the shelf for two months in 2018. Altogether that comes to approximately $10m being added to existing deals, which brings the available money down to $40-50m.

    The other variable when it comes to existing players is how arbitration cases would come together. Bowman stated he was conservative in his available money projection because he didn’t expect all eight payers to be tendered a contract for 2019. Surprising some, no one was left non-tendered, even the two many expected to be set free because of 2018 struggles — Sam Freeman and Adam Duvall. Of course, with their voodoo wizardry, MLB Trade Rumors nailed the Braves final arbitration numbers with their projections. Between Mike Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman, Arodys Vizcaino, Duvall, Freeman, Dan Winkler, Charlie Culberson, and a previously agreed upon deal with Jonny Venters, the Braves are due to pay $29m out to the arbitration eligible players. Taking into account the $10m paid out to those players in 2018, that’s a $19m lift — which brings the amount of money available to maintain the same $118m payroll to $21-31m.

    We laughed at the time, but that potential $30m brings us right to where DOB said we would be after arbitration was settled.

    And that $30m isn’t very promising to a fanbase that was expecting to have a ton of money available to spend on big name guys like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

    Ok, well, that explains where the money we know of is, but…

    Why isn’t there more money?

    That is the question we likely aren’t going to find an answer for, unfortunately. Even with Liberty being a publicly traded company and their recent quarterly conference call saying how well the Braves Group, including The Battery, are doing financially, we still don’t know where the added revenue is going.

    Pretty much all we’ve got from Liberty regarding the money going back into the Braves is from their November investor meeting, where they stated: “We believe the Braves team is setup for a winning season in 2019 and our financial success creates flexibility to make wise investments in the team”.

    Sadly, that doesn’t tell us much more than what we had already heard via Alex Anthopoulos, that the Braves would have a “good amount of money to work with” and stopped very short of saying how much money that would actually be.

    The argument for or against a hands-off corporate ownership is for another day, but right now we must bow to our media conglomerate overlords and only assume the most the team will have to work with going forward is what was pumped into the previous season.

    Bowman had thrown out a potential 4% hike, which could have brought the $130m payroll at the end of 2018 to $135m. But aside from that speculation, there hasn’t been anything to point towards that $130-135m number being any type of starting point for Opening Day 2019.

    Again, if anything, I would imagine the absolute most Braves fans should expect is that same $118m number with the possibility of taking on an additional $15-20m in-season. But, of course, we have yet to hear a concrete number, so who is to say.

    So, where is the money going now?

    As of today, it’s going to the trio of Josh Donaldson, Brian McCann, and Nick Markakis.

    And that’s it.

    Between those three, $29m is locked up in the 2019 payroll, which along with the pre-arbitration ML contracts, brings the payroll right to our $118m from the start of last year.

    Which is likely why we have heard so little about the Braves being in on Harper, Machado, Craig Kimbrel, or Dallas Keuchel.

    It is also the likely reason why the Braves ended up falling back to Markakis on a very team-friendly deal instead of going hard after one of the bigger outfield targets like Michael Brantley, AJ Pollock, or Andrew McCutchen. We heard their names tossed around, but in the case of Brantley and McCutchen reportedly the Braves weren’t willing to commit to a third year, and in the case of Pollock weren’t willing to surrender a second-round draft pick after the Diamondbacks qualifying offer.

    A lot of Braves fans were very put-off at the notion of not throwing around a multi-year deal to one of the outfielders, but given the age and injury history of those involved, it’s understandable in some regard. For a team that only committed a year to a reclamation project like Donaldson, it makes perfect sense to not budge from that stance when it comes to other similar players.

    What about everything else?

    Well, now that we know another free agent signing isn’t likely to happen, what is left?

    The trade market, it seems.

    One thing Anthopoulos has repeatedly said this off-season is the Braves were most likely to make additions via trade. But so far even that hasn’t happened. It is one area where we have certainly got a little glimpse into the goings-on, however.

    JT Realmuto is the big one. His is the one name that just won’t go away. It is the one name that we won’t let go away. The closer we get to Opening Day, the further it seems the Braves are getting from being the landing spot, however. The only one still seeming to stoke the fire with Atlanta being an option is Craig Mish. All the groundswell at this point seems to be pointing out west with the Dodgers and Padres, but Mish seems to remain steadfast the Braves are still sitting at the head of the table with everyone else continuing to play catch-up. And in recent days we’ve even seen some dark horses like the Astros and Reds pop up in rumors.

    But if the Braves and Marlins haven’t been able to solidify this deal yet, with all the names and activity around the possible deal, what is there left to work out? Could this potentially be the mysterious “70% deal” Anthopoulos alluded to during Chopfest weekend? Are the Marlins waiting on Ian Anderson to be thrown in with Austin Riley before they will say yes? At this point are they just using the Braves prospect capital to try and drive up the price from the Padres or Dodgers? The sentiment reigns true again — we just don’t know. Everything has been radio silence between the Braves and Realmuto for weeks, with a new name emerging almost daily now. Even Bowman and other members of the Braves media have turned their back on the deal, stating at times the two teams have gone weeks without any contact.

    Unfortunately, Realmuto is about all we have to hang out hat on in regards to the trade market right now, because ultimately he is the only one the Braves can afford with the finances where they are. Realmuto may not be on the Harper/Machado talent level, but he is an impact player who is due just south of $6m for the 2019 season — a number that fits very nicely into the Braves current payroll conundrum.

    While it has since come out the Braves were in on James Paxton and Edwin Diaz from the Mariners, it sounds like their efforts to bulk up the rotation and the bullpen were shut down pretty quickly by Seattle, likely because the Braves weren’t willing to part with a prospect the calibre of Justus Sheffield for Paxton and weren’t willing to take on more dead money in Robinson Cano like the Mets were with Diaz. The trade market takes two to tango, and if you’re dealing with someone like Jerry Dipoto that dance can get very complicated very quick.

    Speaking of the Mariners, reports also circulated the AA had also reached out to them about outfielder Mitch Haniger, but talks apparently went nowhere and Seattle again hung up the phone with little to no progress in any deal. Reports also came out around the same time Arizona had been contacted about David Peralta to fix the glaring outfield problem, but those talks seemed to meet the same fate. As with everything else this offseason, we don’t know what happened, what was offered, or how far the talks even got, so it is hard to pin blame on Alex, the other team, or anyone else involved in the discussion.

    The same can likely be said of any talks involving the reported three-way deal with the Yankees and Rangers that would have sent Sonny Gray to Atlanta. Something was there. Some kind of talks were had, but once more, nothing came of it.

    And then there is Nick Castellanos of Detroit. Detroit and Atlanta apparently engaged in some type of dialogue at or around the winter meetings, but talks died out quickly and it is unknown if anything has picked back up with Castellanos apparently wanting to get a deal made before heading to camp in a few weeks. The problem with Castellanos is he would also come with a $10m price tag. If we are already to the point where the Opening Day payroll is met, that could certainly take some backflips and other assorted tricks to work in somehow.

    So… what now?

    Here it comes again — who knows?

    It’s very possible that for the Braves to make any deals going forward, be it via trade or free agent signing, salary is going to have to be cut somewhere. Whether that means bundling in a Teheran and/or Ender with a handful of prospects to get someone like Realmuto or Castellanos, I’m not really sure.

    As much as we want to hope and pray that something is still out there, that all of this silence and lack of movement is building towards something, we are getting closer and closer to that simply not being the case. Months have turned into weeks at this point. And we are at the point in the offseason where the weeks will quickly be turning into days.

    Nothing else happening this offseason would be a huge disappointment. Heading into 2019 in the same place the Braves were at in October 2018 would be a huge disappointment. But recall what was said in the first few paragraphs above: 2018 was a surprise, 2018 wasn’t supposed to be what it was. This offseason has mirrored that. But all along the way, it was our own hype and belief that got us to where we are right now — both good and bad.

    So be pissed.

    Be confused.

    Be optimistic.

    Be pessimistic.

    Keep waiting.

    Or keep yelling into the ether.

    None of it is going to make the past three months make any more or less sense, unfortunately.