The Opener: Braves, SP Market, MLBTR Chat

Here are three things we’ll be watching around baseball throughout the day today as the New Year approaches:

1. After extending Murphy, have the Braves maxed out their payroll?

The Braves agreed to a six-year, $73MM extension that could be taken to seven-years, $88MM if the Braves exercise a 2029 club option, locking one of the best catchers in the game up under team control for the rest of the 2020s. In inking Murphy to this deal, however, Atlanta finds itself projected to pay into the luxury tax for the first time in club history, per RosterResource. This isn’t entirely unexpected, as the Braves were reportedly considering exceeding the luxury tax threshold earlier this month, while ownership had previously mentioned fielding a top five payroll in the sport. RosterResource has Atlanta clocking in at the fifth-highest luxury tax figure in the majors after the Murphy deal, meaning they’ve already hit the point ownership has indicated to be comfortable spending by one metric, even though their actual projected 2023 payroll of $198MM ranks eighth in the majors. Should this be the upper limit of what the club’s budget will allow, that will leave Atlanta heading into the 2023 season with Eddie Rosario, Marcell Ozuna, and Jordan Luplow sharing time between left field and the DH slot (perhaps with Travis d’Arnaud chipping in at DH as well). It’s hardly a group that inspires confidence, though, so it’s possible that the Braves would explore the trade market for ways to shed salary and open up payroll space for another bat in the left field mix if they are unwilling to go farther beyond the luxury tax threshold.

2. The Starting Pitching Market Continues To Thin

The already-thin free agent market for starting pitchers just lost its top remaining option last night, as the Rangers signed Nathan Eovaldi to a two-year deal worth $34MM in a move that likely pushes Jake Odorizzi to the bullpen when the rotation is fully healthy. Eovaldi wasn’t the only pitcher to sign yesterday, either, as Rich Hill will join the twelfth club of his career in 2023 after signing a one-year, $8MM deal with the Pirates. As many as half a dozen teams out there have been connected to the starting pitching market this offseason are likely still looking for an arm, whether they’re clear contenders looking for depth such as the Dodgers, Padres, and Cardinals or they’re a team still looking to fill out the rotation such as the Orioles, Diamondbacks, or Angels. With so many teams still in the hunt for a starter and both Eovaldi and Hill landed with teams who weren’t seen as locks to add another pitcher to their rotations, that could open the door for teams with starting depth to take advantage on the trade market. This includes the Marlins, as we discussed in yesterday’s Opener, but other teams could jump in to capitalize on the thin market as well. The Mariners, for example, have been rumored to be willing to deal either Marco Gonzales or Chris Flexen to improve the club in other areas, while the Twins and Guardians are among other teams that could have enough starting depth that they could feel comfortable dealing a starter. Still, the free agent market isn’t completely barren yet, as players such as Michael Wacha, Corey Kluber, and Zack Greinke remain unsigned.

3. MLBTR Chat Today

Have the recent moves this offseason left you with questions burning in your mind? Are you looking for answers about your favorite team’s direction? Or perhaps you simply missed the holiday chat hosted by MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk on Christmas Eve? Whatever the case may be, you can tune in at 3PM CST today, when MLBTR’s Anthony Franco will be hosting a live chat and fielding questions from readers. You can submit a question in advance using this link, and the same link will take you to the chat when it begins if you would like to check back and participate in real time.

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