The Braves have interest in Sonny Gray, as MLB Network’s Jon Morosi (X link) describes Atlanta as “one of the top suitors” for the right-hander’s services. The Twins (Gray’s former team), Cardinals, and Phillies have all been linked to the free agent at various points this winter, though Philadelphia is probably off the board after re-signing Aaron Nola earlier today.
Intriguingly, Morosi and ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that Atlanta also made a push to sign Nola, indicating that the Braves have their eyes on a big rotation upgrade. Reports from last week suggested that the Braves were targeting pitching help, and The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal wrote earlier today that “at least front-line starter” seems to be on Atlanta’s wishlist
As Rosenthal and others have observed since Friday’s non-tender deadline, the Braves made a flurry of cuts to their arbitration class, as a series of trades, releases, and non-tenders resulted in 10 open spots on the 40-man roster and almost $14MM shaved from the budget. The Braves were planning to increase payroll anyway in 2024, yet naturally every dollar counts in a situation where Atlanta might have to outbid other teams for a top free agent hurler.
MLB Trade Rumors projected a four-year, $90MM deal for Gray, who ranked ninth on our list of the offseason’s top 50 free agents. The three-time All-Star has been solid for most of his 11-year career, but 2023 was arguably Gray’s best season, as he delivered a 2.79 ERA over 184 innings for the Twins and finished second in AL Cy Young Award voting. While Gray’s past injury history is a little checkered, his performance last year likely helped calm some doubts over whether or not Gray can remain a productive and durable arm as he enters his age-34 season.
It is possible that the Braves view Gray as, at the very least, a successor to Charlie Morton as the rotation’s veteran stalwart. Morton came to Atlanta in advance of his age-37 season and has been very effective over his three seasons with the team, to the point that the Braves exercised their $20MM club option to bring Morton back for 2024. Morton is now 40 years old and often considering retirement, while Max Fried can be a free agent next winter, so Atlanta could use another longer-term pitcher to pair alongside Spencer Strider.
Atlanta president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos has been pretty measured in his free agent pursuits in his six years running the front office. Marcell Ozuna’s four-year, $65MM deal is easily the largest contract the Braves have given out in the Anthopoulos era, with most of their other signings trending towards one- or two-year deals with experienced veterans (i.e. Kenley Jansen, Josh Donaldson, Morton’s initial deal). Because the Braves surpassed the luxury tax threshold in 2023, they’d also have to give up two 2024 draft picks and $1MM in international draft pool money to sign a qualifying-offer rejecting free agent like Gray.
However, it could be that this is simply an extra price that Anthopoulos is willing to pay to bolster the rotation. While the Braves’ starting pitching has been more than solid in recent years, it has fallen short in the playoffs the last two years, plus the Braves navigated a lot of rotation injuries last year in particular. Since there’s no indication that Atlanta’s powerful lineup is going to slow down, improving the pitching staff might be the last step necessary in getting the Braves back to the World Series.