World Series Review
Atlanta Braves, Champions
What can we learn from the 2021 World Champions, Atlanta Braves?
Atlanta was still under .500 on the season coming into August this year, hanging around the periphery of the playoff picture thanks to the mediocrity of the Philadelphia Phillies and subsequent collapse of the New York Mets. From August onwards (including the postseason) the Braves won 66.2 percent of their games on their way to their first championship since 1995.
They achieved this despite losing the (at the time) National League leader in WAR (wins above replacement) Ronald Acuna Jr. in July, and their regular season leader in strikeouts and wins, pitching ace Charlie Morton to a broken leg in game 1 of the World Series.
If that wasn’t incredible enough, the Braves won the world series with a completely retooled outfield and DH after the 2021 trade deadline, featuring Rosario, Duvall, Pederson and Soler. Each played their part, Jorge Soler was the World Series MVP and Eddie Rosario was the NL Championship Series MVP. It isn’t every season that the moves a General Manager makes at the trade deadline work out so successfully. Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos must feel on top of the world, rarely do the outcomes outperform the process in competitive baseball.
As Jay Jaffe points out in his Fangraphs article, “The Braves and the heavyweights they KO’d en route to a Championship”, Atlanta managed to take down two teams - Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros - that feature in the top 10 all time for the best 5 year span of winning percentage & run differentials by all teams since the post-1960 expansion era. The Dodgers are 1st with a winning percentage of .636 and the Astros are 6th with a percentage of .614 over the years 2017-2021. Atlanta beat both these great teams handily.
As a sport that evolves over a 162 game season into a sprint finish during October, it can be tricky to find the context to fully appreciate what the Braves achieved this season. What they did was historic and concluded a season like no other.
My mind wanders to Freddie Freeman, the Braves 1B, who caught the final out, sending them to their first World Series victory since 1995. Freeman is a free agent this offseason, yet is a Braves lifer, a team leader who bridges the gap between the excellent Braves team of the 90s and 00s having played with HOF 3B Chipper Jones during his final seasons between 2010-2012. The Braves took a risk letting Freeman run out his contract, however the odds remain in the Braves favor for re-signing him. They want him back. He wants to be back. MLBTradeRumors projects the Braves first baseman to sign a six-year $180 million contract. He is worth more to the history of the Braves franchise than anybody else on the market.
End of the Astros era
If Freddie Freeman is a bridge to the great Braves teams from the past, impending 27-year old free agent Carlos Correa is a wall in the foundations for the current Astros dynasty. Having lost a key member of the 2017 World Series champions in January to the Toronto Blue Jays, OF George Springer, will history repeat itself? The Astros have kicked off contract discussions with a 5-year $160 million offer but this appears to be half his market value, MLBTradeRumors projects Correa to receive a contract around the 10-year $320 million mark.
Andy McCullough writes in the Athletic that, “Correa has been one of teams most valuable, most recognizable and most impactful players during the era of triumph and scandal.” All true points, but he has also been one of the most injury prone. The Astros will inevitably weigh this up against his on field team value.
If this isn’t to be the end of an era for the Houston Astros, one of the most successful in team history having reached either the ALCS or the World Series the past 5-years, then the Correa question will need to be answered with a new contract reflecting his obvious importance (not something the Astros have historically done during free agency) or rebuilding their core around young talent such as Kyle Tucker and/or Yordan Alvarez.
All eras come to an end, eventually. The Astros aren’t there yet, per se. They still have a remarkable ability to conjure up talented starting pitchers from their minor league teams. But their loss in 2021 puts further strain on their already controversial world series win in 2017. Another ring wouldn’t erase the stain on that title but it would at least take the pressure off the history books when we come to place these Houston Astros in historical context.
If the upcoming free agency of Freddie Freeman and Carlos Correa signposts the evolution of the Braves and Astros in 2021, the sudden retirement of Buster Posey, catcher for the San Francisco Giants marks the ending of one of baseball’s best players of his generation.
Posey is a seven-time all star, National League MVP in 2012, Rookie of the year in 2010 and most critically three time World Series champion in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Having lived through the pre-Posey championship drought, Giants beat writer Grant Bisbee muses that Posey is the foundation of the golden era of San Francisco Giants baseball. So it goes, an era defined. How the Giants replace the irreplaceable will go some way to defining how the team with the best regular season record in 2021 (107-55) transitions to 2022 and beyond. The changing of the catcher's mitt is at hand. Joey Bart, who was the no.2 pick in the 2018 MLB draft, is all set to take over the position.
Upcoming CBA, MLB lockout/strike on the horizon
A defining factor that will shape this offseason free agency and trade market is the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) talks that need to be negotiated between MLB and the player’s association (MLBPA). With beautiful synchronicity the last time the owners and MLBPA could not reach a deal was during the 1994-5 season, the last time a strike occurred. A year later the Braves won the world series in 1995.
Hopefully the two sides can come together, proposals have been submitted but both parties appear to be some way off an agreement on the core economics of the CBA. Significant movement on either side is unlikely to happen until later in the month as the deadline for the current CBA expires at 11.59 p.m. ET on Dec 1, 2021. Any proposed strike or lockout will have ramifications for MLB teams roster construction, shortening the trade and signing window before pitchers and catchers are required to report in late February.
Explaining their current situation during the World Series, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said, “Progress is, you go in a room, you’re having conversations, people are continuing to talk. It doesn’t move in any measurable way that I’ve figured out, and I’ve done it a long time. The most important one is I know our clubs are 100 percent committed to the idea that they want an agreement by Dec. 1.”