Bartolo Colon is signed sealed and delivered. R.A. Dickey is, too. And the Atlanta Braves may be able to buy clubhouse coffee using a senior citizen discount rate in 2017 after adding the 43-year-old Colon and 42-year-old Dickey.
Atlanta potentially could have added a young, dominant ace in 27-year-old Chris Sale to put in next year’s rotation with those new old guys and Julio Teheran. And the Braves were in hot pursuit of Sale as Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings began six days ago near Washington, D.C.
But when it came right down to it, Braves’ leaders John Hart and John Coppolella couldn’t stomach what it would have taken to bring the lefthander Sale from the Chicago White Sox into the new SunTrust Stadium next spring. And it might be the best decision they make the entire off season.
Instead the Boston Red Sox swooped in and outbid the Washington Nationals, Braves and others for Sale, offering the White Sox the consensus No. 1 prospect in all of baseball, one of the top three pitching prospects, a potential everyday starting centerfielder and another pitcher who will likely have an impact on their major league roster within the next two years.
It would have been career suicide for Coppolella to have attempted to surpass that type of offer for Sale, despite Coppy’s stated desire — not a need, but a desire, mind you — to get a No. 1 starter.
What would that Braves offer have had to look like to compete with the Red Sox? Probably Dansby Swanson. Possibly Ozzie Albies, too. And Sean Newcomb. And Kolby Allard or Touki Toussaint. And Ronald Acuna or Braxton Davidson.
In short, it was way, way, way too much for an organization that has spent the past 24 months rebuilding its farm system for the future. And the future is not quite here now. Not yet.
At some point soon though — at least within the next 24 months — there will come a time when the Braves will have to make the big trade or the big free agent signing to fill in the missing piece or two of a team with a real shot to contend for a National League championship. At least, that’s the thought process that very likely ultimately won out when examining what had to happen to land Sale.
Instead, Atlanta’s offseason heavy lifting is likely over. They may still pursue another lower-cost starter (lower cost in terms of prospects) than Sale, but even that’s doubtful after the trade for St. Louis’ Jaime Garcia before the winter meetings. The Braves will be content to begin 2017 with a rotation of Teheran, Colon, Garcia, Dickey and probably Mike Foltynewicz. It’s deeper and stronger than any starting five from 2016, and it gives the younger guys in the minors one more year to get their legs under them.
It would have been nice to have an Atlanta team entering SunTrust Park with a chance to compete for the NL East. Instead, it will be a team that should be middle of the pack in the NL, likely with an opportunity to finish around .500. But the future is still intact, and it is coming quickly — even without Sale. And that’s extremely encouraging.
Contact Braves columnist T.K. Greer at email@example.com.