The Atlanta Braves nailed their rebuild. If it wasn’t for the Dodgers, Atlanta would be the perennial National League favourites. They have offensive star power, and they have an embarrassment of pitching riches.
Back in the NLCS for the first time since 2001, Atlanta have the makings of a dynasty. It took a lot of losing from 2014 through 2017, but the rebuild was hasty compared to many others. Their postseason drought was just four seasons. They have now won the National League East three times in a row, the first time they have achieved such a feat since the early 2000s.
The Braves have done this without flamboyant post-rebuild spending. They haven’t blown the farm up for short-term trades. This team is loaded for 2020, but it’s in great shape for 2025, too.
Atlanta ranked 14th in 2020 payroll, behind the Angels, Giants and Phillies. Part of this is the benefit of cost-controlled stars, part is shrewd dealings. Neither of those are down to luck, though. This is a well-run organisation, a front office which has found value, and which has repeatedly nailed its draft selections.
Former first round picks Mike Soroka, Austin Riley, Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson are already key members of the MLB roster. Anderson and Wright will be starting in the NLCS, Soroka would be if he was healthy after a Cy Young contending season in 2019.
It hasn’t only been the draft, however. Atlanta have acquired top prospects from the international market in William Contreras and Cristian Pache. Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies have graduated from highly rated international prospects to legitimate MLB stars.
Smart trades were made. Sean Newcomb had been a good piece – he came in the Andrelton Simmons deal. Adam Duvall was a valuable pickup from the Reds. Chris Martin is a more than solid bullpen arm – the Braves only parted with the yet-to-deliver Kolby Allard. Mark Melancon has proved a sensible addition.
Where their division rivals have splashed on free agents, Atlanta have been more restrained. The Josh Donaldson contract was a masterstroke, a low-risk gamble. They didn’t overpay to keep him. Marcell Ozuna was 2020’s veteran bounce back signing. He has delivered too, leading the National League in total bases. Will Smith was expensive, but he’s a proven, elite left-hander.
At times, it’s felt like the Braves missed opportunities to spend more and strengthen their roster. The front office have, more often than not, been proved right over the last few years. They have been sensible, and the result is a roster and farm system that can compete for the next half decade or longer. Keeping hold of Freddie Freeman, the probable NL MVP, through the rebuild was obviously crucial, too.
Their biggest spending has been locking up Acuna and Albies. Those two deals already look like bargains. More pacts like those will be required to keep the fruits of this rebuild together. It might get expensive, but it’s a worthwhile price to pay for how good this team can be.
Anderson, Max Fried, Soroka and Wright have the potential to be an all-time rotation. The Braves farm still has plenty to offer too – they were ranked eighth in MLB Pipeline’s pre-season rankings. Pache and Drew Waters are on their way to join an offence as dangerous as any in baseball. Freeman is still only 31 – he has years left at the top.
The Braves have the financial flexibility to chase an ace or an All-Star bat if they want. Or they could stick with their current philosophy and bring in minimal-risk, high-upside veterans to supplement their core.
Either way, this is a team set up to be a factor deep into the postseason for years to come. We might have to get used to seeing the Braves and Dodgers battle it out to represent the National League in the Fall Classic.