After watching his two biggest rivals compete for headlines at the Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego, Atlanta manager Brian Snitker says he’s ready to defend the National League East title.
“I’m proud of our season and what we did,” he said Tuesday of a 2022 Braves team that won 101 games before losing the Division Series to the wild-card Philadelphia Phillies. “You fight just to get into the playoffs because you never know what can happen. Until you get there, you don’t have a chance.”
Under Snitker, the Braves have won five consecutive division titles, the longest active streak in the majors.
The manager said the next edition of his young team will be another year older and another year more experienced.
“We worked really hard to get where we are,” he said. “A few years ago, we almost had to put out signs on the Interstate that said, ‘Will work for food.’”
An organization man who is now the oldest manager in the National League at 67, Snitker predicted pitching will be the backbone of the ‘23 Braves. Max Fried, Charlie Morton, Kyle Wright, and Rookie of the Year runner-up Spencer Strider are returning to the rotation, while Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka, Kyle Muller, and Bryce Elder will vie for the final spot.
“Ian and Mike have been in big games, including the World Series,” Snitker said. “You can never have enough pitching depth. You just never know what the injury situation will be.”
Young players with minor-league options remaining are valuable, he said, because they can be shuttled between Atlanta and Triple-A Gwinnett as needed.
That’s especially true for relievers. Luke Jackson was lost all season after needing Tommy John surgery, while Kirby Yates recovered slowly from the same procedure, which Tyler Matzek just had. With closer Kenley Jansen now a free agent, Raisel Iglesias is likely to succeed him in that role.
Snitker hopes Dansby Swanson returns but the free-agent shortstop is fielding lucrative offers from several teams, including the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.
Another free-agent shortstop, Trea Turner, signed an 11-year, $300 million contract with Philadelphia, while the Mets merely replaced one free-agent starter (Jacob deGrom) with another (Justin Verlander).
Turner, who beat the Braves often with his bat, speed, and glove while playing for the Nationals and Dodgers, is now certain to stay in the league longer because his contract contains a no-trade clause. But he won’t face the Braves 19 times a season under the new balanced schedule that will start in 2023.
“I like it,” Snitker said, alluding to the fact each team will play all 29 of the other teams. “I hated playing some teams 19 times. You don’t like playing that many games against your own division.”
Also new next year is the pitch clock, designed to speed up pace-of-play.
“I’ve seen it and thought about it, especially how it would work late in the game,” said Snitker, a former minor-league catcher, coach, and manager. “I think it’s going to be a big adjustment for some of the guys. But the young guys we brought up already played with a pitch clock and got used to it.”
Snitker revealed that All-Star second baseman Ozzie Albies is healthy again after suffering several injuries, including a broken finger, that kept him sidelined for the playoffs. He also conceded that Albies could have a new double-play partner.
“We want Dansby back,” he said of the current free agent, “but I realize that if he leaves, it’s a part of the business. A year ago, I went through the same thing [with Freddie Freeman, who left the Braves for Los Angeles after a 12-year tenure in Atlanta].”
Barring a signing or a trade, Snitker will go to spring training with a giant question-mark at shortstop. “We’ll have Orlando Arcia and Vaughn Grissom,” he said, “and 30 games to decide where we want to go.”
He noted that Grissom, a middle infielder in the minors who finished last season in Atlanta, is getting a crash course in shortstop play from Atlanta third base coach Ron Washington, a former major-league infielder.
“It’s not going to hurt,” the manager said. “Any time somebody can get individualized instruction, that’s a good thing.”
It’s also a good thing that former Braves slugger Fred McGriff finally reached the Baseball Hall of Fame, according to Snitker.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I was hoping to see him so I could give him a big hug.”
He did hug his son Troy, batting coach for the World Champion Houston Astros. “I was more nervous watching him than I was for my own games last year,” Snitker said with a smile.
Looking ahead, Snitker hopes for good health from Albies, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Kirby Yates, all of whom were hobbled to some extent last summer.
“I saw a few videos of Ronald running around and having a normal off-season,” said the manager of the slugger. “He’s letting his body regroup [from a torn Achilles suffered July 10, 2021]. I would be real surprised if he didn’t have a big year.”
That would also help the team thrive, he added. “The team is getting better,” he said. “You go into a big series with a really big team and it’s awesome. Those are fun games.”