Cleveland Guardians should take note of the Atlanta Braves roster approach
It was just a handful of years ago, in 2016, that the Atlanta Braves finished last in the National League East with a record of 68-93, concluding the year 26th overall in the MLB. That season was the second of three consecutive 90+ loss seasons. Now, just five seasons later, Atlanta is atop the baseball world and teams like the Cleveland Guardians should take notice.
The Guardians have yet to go through the turmoil that spelled the Braves’ organization, and hopefully they won’t, but how Atlanta approached the club’s roster is something all small market teams should look at. Now, Atlanta isn’t exactly strapped monetarily, the team has the eighth highest payroll in baseball, but how they have managed homegrown talent is admirable.
Seeing the future potential of some of their best players, the Braves paid up earlier than needed on some of their rising stars. Instead of waiting to sign any long-term deals, they paid more in the short-term to save money down the road while maintaining a strong, young core to the roster.
Take for example Ronald Acuna Jr. Despite missing a majority of the season, Acuna was still an instrumental piece of the team and an early MVP candidate before the injury. Turning just 24-years old in December, Acuna is still signed through at least 2026, with club options in 2027 and 2028, and his contract will never exceed $17 million in one season.
In fact, Acuna has yet to make over $5 million in one season. His salary will jump to $15 million in 2022 after totaling just $7 million over the last three seasons combined while being one of the best players in the game.
The 10-year deal started when Acuna was just 21-years old and has worked out for both sides. The Braves will get a bargain price for Acuna while Acuna started making more money earlier on in his career. It’s a similar approach to how Cleveland signed Jose Ramirez’s extension.
Acuna isn’t the only player that Atlanta has done this with. They used a near identical approach to signing Ozzie Albies in the same offseason. Albies was a key part of the World Series run and is an even better bargain than Acuna.
Albies’ deal is a bit shorter, going through at least 2025 with club options in 2026 and 2027, but it’s also cheaper. Albies’ contract will never exceed $7 million in a single season. Over the last three seasons, Albies has made a combined $5 million, which will coincidentally be what he will make in 2022 alone.
While others have obviously been strong contributors, Albies and Acuna have been two of the strongest players on Atlanta’s roster. Outside of Freddie Freeman, there might not be more recognizable names beyond Acuna and Albies.
So, what can the Cleveland Guardians take away from this? The same thing they can take away from Jose Ramirez’s contract. Paying more now to sign players long-term is worth it. The only problem is, it might be too late.
Signing these types of contracts before the arbitration process kicks in should increase interest. For example, Shane Bieber probably wouldn’t be interested in making $10 million a year for the next five years when he can make in the range of $3-8 each of the next couple years before cashing in over $30 million a season. There isn’t enough of a difference there.
However, for players that are still under team control and have yet to hit arbitration, a $3 million offer might be a lot more intriguing over the $575,000 or so they would get on the rookie deal. Players like Emmanuel Clase, Aaron Civale and Myles Straw fall into this window.
All three have shown high potential and while they might not be locked in as superstars like Acuna or Albies, they have shown enough to be etched into the club’s future plans. In 2022, Clase is set to make $575,000 and won’t enter arbitration until 2024. Civale and Straw are in a similar position with both set to earn $575,000 this season before entering arbitration next year.
Signing any of these three players to an extension now would be a benefit all around. They would most likely double their salary for the upcoming season and the Cleveland Guardians would save down the road while also potentially keeping them under club control for a longer period of time, depending on the length of the deal.
Locking in Cleveland’s core will be essential to this organization moving forward and making deals like this are the best way to go about it. It doesn’t break the bank now and saves money in the long run. The Atlanta Braves were able to do this to keep their World Series core. Now, the Cleveland Guardians should follow suit.