Last week Braves president Terry McGuirk and general manager Alex Anthopoulos gave a sit-down interview with Jeff Schultz and David O’Brien of The Athletic. It did not go over well with Braves fans.
In the interview McGuirk and Anthopoulos walked back multiple past claims that the Braves would spend more money for the 2019 season and, as I detailed here, did so in a pretty condescending manner. It was difficult to take anything away from the interview other than the conclusion that (a) profit and cash flow are the team’s highest priorities; and (b) the team’s promises about what it plans to do in the future aren’t worth much. And it’s not just me saying that. McGuirk and Anthopoulos have been roasted by Braves fans, Atlanta talk radio and the Braves blogosphere since the interview went live.
No doubt aware of the blowback they created, last night McGuirk and Anthopoulos spoke to O’Brien once again. But unlike last time, they were not challenged substantively on any point. Indeed, the entire column reeks of McGuirk and Anthopoulos saying “HEY! We got a lot of bad press from our interview last week, so let’s try to fix it!” I am not exaggerating here. It’s as if O’Brien hit “record” when they began talking, hit “stop” when they stopped, transcribed the thing and published it with minimal additions.
The thing is, though: McGuirk and Anthopoulos did absolutely nothing to fix the damage they did in the last interview. Indeed, in my view, they kept digging and made it worse.
Mostly, McGuirk and Anthopoulos want Braves fans to know that they tried to sign or trade for a WHOLE LOT of players! They talked about Sonny Gray and J.T. Realmuto and Michael Brantley and Edwin Diaz and use the column to explain why they did not sign or trade for any of them. They paired this with rehashes of their “we’ll spend when the time is right” and “we’ll spend wisely and not recklessly” philosophy and Anthopoulos’ now infamous “we can shop in any aisle” quote. All of which are typical front office platitudes, but which the events of the past year have shown to be hollow. As I noted last week, McGuirk said last March that the Braves would spend a lot of money this offseason and their payroll is actually lower now than when the 2018 season ended. While an unexpected monster signing tomorrow may change things, it’s hard to escape the notion that the front office BS’d fans hard, got called on it last week, and are now trying to reestablish the BS anew.
O’Brien helps them here in detailing every transaction the Braves have made, with Anthopoulos characterizing it as “$56 million in guaranteed commitments for ’19,” but such numbers in a vacuum say nothing of substance. Sure, “$56 million” is a big figure, but as I said and as they acknowledge, the payroll has actually gone down since the end of last season, not up. It’s a dodge.
The worst of it, though, is McGuirk’s clueless and telling rhetoric about it all. Listening to him, you’d never know he’s in charge of running a baseball team. At the very least, one gets the sense that he believes Braves fans root for the same thing he’s rooting for, which is very clearly the team’s bottom line.
“. . . every monetary yield has to be at an efficiency level that meets our new metrics,” McGuirk says when explaining why the Braves have been less-active than hoped. As if anyone outside of a corporate C-suite talks like that. He says that the team’s unexpected success in 2018 altered, “[p]art of the glide slope of how to get better and how to get good for a long time.” He is also very excited that the Braves are not spending “dead money” (i.e. money paid to players no longer on the roster), which is fine as far as it goes. No one really wants that. But McGuirk seems to think it’s a cheering point for the franchise: “The young players, the record, fan appreciation, no dead money — all of our stuff is structured very well.”
All of which may be very important to a team president. What he cannot seem to explain, however, is why any of those businessy buzzwords should be important to fans. At best such concepts form the basis for a second thought — if our financial house is in order, then we can improve the team with good ballplayers — but McGuirk and Anthopoulos have already made it abundantly clear that the second part of that is not their priority. To them, that “financial flexibility” is an end of itself (see, Anthopoulos’ quote from last week: “Did we promise we were going to spend more money, or did we promise we were going to have more flexibility?”).
So why no big free agents or acquisitions? O’Brien offers an explanation:
They know that signing a free agent to a huge deal this winter would have pleased much of the fan base and been viewed as a sign, by some, that the Braves were as serious about a commitment to winning as they are to making a profit. But Anthopoulos went through a similar experience in Toronto and learned lessons about making a big splash just to impress, and he and McGuirk are on the same page as far as avoiding such mistakes with the Braves.
It should be noted that Anthopoulos did not provide quotes about his time with the Blue Jays here. That’s O’Brien inserting that. It’s questionable to do so, though, because there is nothing to suggest that Anthopoulos believes he made “mistakes” in Toronto. Indeed. Anthopoulos reportedly left the Blue Jays despite being offered a lucrative contract extension because he clashed with team president Mark Shapiro over the value of winning now vs. spending little. Indeed reports at the time suggested that Shapiro “scolded” Anthopoulos for “going for broke” with the 2015 Jays and Anthopoulos didn’t want any part of that.
The 2015 Jays, of course, were not merely an exercise in “trying to impress.” They made the playoffs and electrified the team’s fan base in ways they hadn’t been in 20 years. I doubt you’ll find many Jays fans who would trade 2015 for the slog of the last two offseasons. Many will cite the rebuild they’re currently on as evidence that that was not sustainable, but it’s a fallacy to think that the course the Jays have taken since then was the only course. The Yankees and Red Sox have reloaded, rather than rebuilt, many times over. The Jays’ current top prospects (Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette) were in their system in 2015 or were acquired with picks earned based on their 2015 performance, not tanking. Anthopoulos has been proven to be an able GM. To think that “win now” is not a good philosophy or that Anthopoulos has had a change of heart about that is not an obvious conclusion from that team’s example.
But one certainly might behave in this manner if one knew that doing so was good for job security. And based on what Terry McGuirk has to say, defending irrelevant abstract notions like “the efficient of monetary yield per our metrics” and “glide slope” — and the idea that the avoidance of dead money and the achievement of financial flexibility are ends in and of themselves — is something one says if one wants to remain in the Braves’ good graces.
Nice attempt at damage control, guys. But you aren’t helping anything here. Your words have no weight at this point, only your actions do. Quit talking and do something.