The Braves were bounced from the playoffs over the weekend.
You may have heard about it in real time, or you may just now be waking up from a 72-hour, "We finally beat Bama" bender filled with cigar smoke and orange-tinted moonshine.
And if the latter is the case, where are we watching the Georgia game?
But a year after capturing the imagination of every Southerner who remembers fondly the two great Dales in a 3 and making all of us believe that Skip Carey was watching down with a styrofoam tomahawk in one hand and a Budweiser in the other, the Atlanta Braves wilted.
Now comes another difficult offseason centered around a very popular player and clubhouse leader who is headed to free agency.
Starting there, let's look at three offseason issues for the game's best GM, Alex Anthopoulos, and the Braves leadership to contemplate:
You know. Anthopoulos knows. Every elderly lady from Memphis to Moultrie who spends the summer months bouncing between the kitchen, tent revivals and listening Chip Carey knows.
Shortstop Dansby Swanson is a free agent.
In the "we must have Dansby back" categories: He had a career year. He is a linchpin guy who has proven to be a top-of-the-order hitter. Even AA said he was a much better teammate.
In the "do we really need Dansby" categories: His career year came as a 28-year-old, which is statistically proven to be the peak physical season for MLB players, so analytically this may be the best he's ever going to be. His career year came after an offseason in which Dansby admittedly trained harder than he ever has -- a wise move heading into a season that will have millions if not tens of millions of dollars difference because of his production.
So if the ledgers balance, the issue becomes cost.
At what cost will Dansby return to the ATL? If Dansby wants $25-plus million per -- kids, remember his career year in 2022 was .277 with a rather paltry .329 OBP -- are the Braves ready to have their highest-paid player be a guy who is a one-time All-Star whose best MVP finish before this year was 18th?
And could that $25 million be better served in a pitching staff -- be it starter or an upgrade at closer, or even both -- considering the signed options who could play shortstop like Ozzie Albies or Vaughn Grissom.
Good thing Anthopoulos is so good at his job, and even the elderly ladies know that AA has earned a wide margin of belief that if he lets Dansby walk we have to think it was the right call.
For the fans of Dansby and those wanting his return, there is a silver lining. In a recent interview team president Terry McGuirt said he hopes to "have a top-five payroll" in baseball.
The Braves are eighth and have arguably the best ballpark set-up financially in the game.
Cash is rolling in, even if the regional TV deal is not ideal.
So if the Braves add to the $188 million payroll, Swanson becomes even more doable.
But there are other positions, especially on a pitching staff that was confounding at times this season, especially in the 'er' months down the stretch.
Spencer Strider is signed long-term and has ace, top-of-the-rotation stuff. Max Fried is a stud, and the team has two more arbitration seasons for the soon-to-be 29-year-old lefty. Mike Soroka can't stay healthy. Charlie Morton showed his 39 years this season, despite currently being the highest-paid player on the roster. The bullpen was a roller coaster, even if they had the fourth-best ERA in baseball as a group. (Side note: That's a hard stat to believe, right, because it sure did not feel like the Braves' pen was the game's fourth best.) Plus, closer Kenley Jansen will have to be either re-signed or replaced.
That will take dollars. And sense.
We know AA has the latter. How much extra of the former will he get this offseason?
3. So, about the outfield
We know Michael Harris is going to be a fixture in center for the foreseeable future. We know Eddie Rosario is under contract for the next two years.
And we know that Marcel Ozuna and Ronald Acuña Jr. are signed as well. But the questions about the three the Braves put in the grass loom.
> Will the Braves tolerate the Ozuna sideshow? He has had multiple run-ins with the law, including a long suspension for domestic violence. He is owed $16 million for 2023 and '24. He is terrible defensively. And his once bombastic bat has morphed to a whisper.
> Should we be concerned about Acuña? The lack of hustle that was clear on the inside-the-park homer in the elimination game against the Phillies. There have been whispers that Acuña is already unhappy with his long-term, team friendly deal as stars like Juan Soto are going to ask for three times as much. And an unhappy superstar can be a franchise-killer in almost any sport.
> The changing rules of the game will make athleticism, especially among guys in the grass, more important than at any time since the PED revolution. There will be more chances and benefits to stealing bases. There could be defensive alignments that call for the left fielder to move into short right-field (where the shifting infielder currently stands) and readjust the two remaining outfielders accordingly. That does not help Ozuna at all.
And it only adds to the list of questions for AA in the coming weeks.