Aggressive Braves make a gamble, finally add to rotation in trade originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
After winning 205 games the last two seasons only to bow out in the Divisional Round at the hands of the Phillies each time, the Braves have been aggressive in trying to improve one of MLB’s best rosters.
Atlanta exceeded the luxury tax for the first time in 2023, paying a penalty of $3.2 million, and its payroll has increased significantly this offseason. The Braves had MLB’s 13th-highest payroll in 2021, rose to eighth in 2022 and seventh in 2023. They’re currently third at an approximate $240 million, an increase of $35 million from last season and $53 million from the year before.
It’s a far different approach for an organization that was in the bottom-third of baseball in spending as recently as 2018.
The Braves pursued Aaron Nola but the Phillies re-signed their homegrown starter before Thanksgiving. They were unable to land Tyler Glasnow from the Rays, Dylan Cease from the White Sox or Sonny Gray in free agency. Despite missing out on those chances, Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos has been busy this offseason.
The team’s biggest hole was starting pitching. Two seasons in a row, the Braves had a very good regular-season rotation but were thin by the time the playoffs arrived, either because of injury, workload or both. They made a gamble Saturday, completing a trade with the Red Sox to acquire left-handed starter Chris Sale in exchange for 22-year-old infielder Vaughn Grissom, a highly-touted prospect who hadn’t been able to carve out a consistent role with the Braves, partly for defensive reasons.
The Braves will be on the hook for just over $10M of Sale’s $27.4M salary. The upcoming season is the final guaranteed year of Sale’s contract, though there is a 2025 club option at $20 million that will likely be exercised if he stays healthy and pitches well.
Sale will be 35 on Opening Day and doesn’t have upper-90s heat in his back pocket like he did in his prime, but he still bounced back from three consecutive injury-plagued seasons to average 94 mph with his fastball in 2023. He was crushed in his first five starts but excelled in his next 15, pitching to a 3.16 ERA with 95 strikeouts, 19 walks and a .197 opponents’ batting average.
During that stretch, he missed more than two months with a stress reaction in his shoulder. That’s the risk-reward of Chris Sale: He can provide top-of-the-rotation production but his body…