Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves and how they operate should be the goal for every other MLB team.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos has the Braves looking the strongest they’ve been since the Bobby Cox years. A combination of aggressive trades, shrewd player development, and shrewder contact extensions mean this team isn’t going anywhere. The 2021 World Series win might just be one of many on the way.

Oh, and having a great manager in Brian Snitker helps too.

And of course, Atlanta should once again be neck-and-neck with their NL East rival Mets for first place in the division. They’ll face off in Queens at the end of April and in Atlanta in June, but those aren’t the series that matter.

Rather, the more important games between the Braves and the Mets all happen in August. They’ll visit New York again for three games before hosting the Mets for three more later in the month. Sandwiched in between is a series in Atlanta with the Yankees, which could be a potential World Series preview.

And if the projections are true, this means the August games with the Mets will be important divisional matchups. Perhaps even a playoff preview of sorts. Either way, the Braves have only gotten better and will be a tough matchup for any team.

Greatest Addition: Sean Murphy. Catchers who can hit and play solid defense are at a premium and he’s one of the few can do both. Atlanta not only swung a three-team trade with the A’s and the Brewers to acquire Murphy, but signed him to a six-year, $73 million extension.

Murphy turned in a career year in 2022, batting .250 with 18 home runs and a 122 wRC+. His defense wasn’t bad either as he posted +8 catcher framing runs and a respectable strike rate of 49.6%. The Braves have him locked up for his prime years so if he can keep improving at the plate, all the better.

Greatest Loss: Dansby Swanson. The popular franchise shortstop made the most of his contract year, batting a career-high .277 with 25 homers and 96 RBI, also a personal best. Swanson also made his first All-Star team and took home a Gold Glove.

In free agency, Swanson proved too expensive for the Braves and signed a seven-year, $177 million deal with the Cubs. They’ll be fine without him thanks to prospect Vaughn Grissom’s emergence, but Swanson being an Atlanta native makes the loss sting just a bit more. You never want to see hometown heroes leave, regardless of reasons.

Greatest Strength: A core under contract. To give a better idea, here’s a rundown of who the Braves have extended in recent years and for how much:

  • OF Ronald Acuña Jr.: Eight years, $100 million
  • 1B Matt Olson: Eight years, $168 million
  • 3B Austin Riley: Ten years, $212 million
  • 2B Ozzie Albies: Seven years, $35 million
  • RHP Spencer Strider: Six years, $75 million
  • OF Michael Harris: Eight years, $72 million

This is a testament not only to Anthopoulos being a smart negotiator, but to the culture that’s been built in Atlanta. To lock up key pieces on such team-friendly contracts is a clear sign that players want to play in Atlanta. They want to play and compete under Snitker. Winning trumps any price tag.

We’ll learn this year just how strong this strategy is but no matter how you slice it, Atlanta’s core group is one of the best in baseball.

Greatest Weakness: Marcell Ozuna, currently penciled in as the starting DH. Between his domestic violence arrest in 2021 and DUI the following year, Ozuna has been nothing but a distraction in Atlanta since signing a four-year, $65 million deal after the 2020 season.

For context, Ozuna led the NL in home runs and RBI in the abbreviated 2020 season. Since then, he’s played in just 172 games and hit .222 with a .675 OPS. Two years and $32 million remain on the deal and Ozuna isn’t hitting well in spring training. Whether it’s Anthopoulos finding a trade partner or him righting the ship, there’s no question Marcell Ozuna is the weak link on an otherwise strong Atlanta Braves team.

Can the Braves surge past the Mets again? Everyone remembers the story from last year. The Braves went on a hot streak for the ages and the Mets collapsed into a Wild Card spot despite 101 regular season wins. Both teams have since revamped, retooled, and are ready to run it back.

Simply put, the six August games should give a good idea of who the better team is. Remember, the Braves lost former MVP Freddie Freeman to free agency and still won 101 games. Who’s to say they won’t do the same after letting Swanson walk?

We already know the Atlanta Braves are a good, good team. This year, we’ll see if they can level up to great.

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Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.