The Braves have had more success in extending young, core players than any team in recent memory, but for a second straight offseason they’re facing the potential departure of a longtime regular who’s helped to anchor the infield. Dansby Swanson, like Freddie Freeman before him, reached the open market without signing an extension, has rejected a qualifying offer and is now free to field interest from the game’s other 29 teams.
Atlanta reportedly offered Swanson an extension in the neighborhood of $100MM at some point over the course of the season, but the widespread expectation is for him to outpace that guarantee by a comfortable margin. (MLBTR predicted a seven-year, $154MM contract on last week’s Top 50 free agent list.) One of the biggest questions on the minds of Braves fans is just what the team will do at shortstop. Can Swanson be retained? And, if not, where does the team turn? The market offers a trio of high-end alternatives in the form of Trea Turner, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts.
As Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports, however, it’s unlikely that the Braves will make a legitimate play to sign any of the big free-agent shortstops other than Swanson. President of baseball ops Alex Anthopoulos went out of his way to mention Vaughn Grissom and Orlando Arcia as in-house alternatives at last week’s GM Meetings, and Rosenthal adds that the Braves are generally reluctant to add a major salary that “takes up too high a percentage of their payroll” — including oft-speculated fit Jacob deGrom.
Braves fans were understandably heartened by CEO Terry McGuirk’s comments about Atlanta growing to have one of the game’s five largest payrolls, but what McGuirk didn’t stress was just how close the Braves already are to reaching that territory before making a single addition. Last month at MLBTR, I pointed out that for the Braves to make even one high-priced acquisition, they’d need to exceed the luxury-tax threshold; making a pair of big-name additions — or signing one premier free agent and, say, extending Max Fried — could shatter the threshold and send the team barreling into at least the second tier of luxury penalization.
As things currently stand, Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez projects the Braves to be less than $5MM away from tier one of the luxury tax . They’d be a first-time luxury payor, so the penalty on the first $20MM by which they cross that threshold would “only” be 20%. The penalty on the next $20MM would jump to a 32% tax.
We’ll get back to the shortstop quandary, but it’s worth digressing and taking a deeper look at just what the luxury tax realities might look like for the Braves.
To put this into more specific context, we can use deGrom as an example. Many believe that the four-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young winner could secure an average annual value of $40MM or more this winter. A $40MM AAV on deGrom would push the Braves’ luxury-tax bill up into the $268MM range — an overage of roughly $35MM. The 20% tax on that first $20MM would come out to $4MM, and the 32% tax they’d be paying on the next $15MM would be another $4.8MM.