The 1909 Cubs won 104 games. They didn’t get to the World Series either.

It used to be that these Where Do We Go From Here pieces had a lot of content. I’m going to write a lot of words, but I’m not sure I have a lot of content, because… ummm… I’m pretty content. (There must be some fancy Greek word for using the same word, pronounced differently and with a different meaning in the same sentence.)

Let’s start with the two absolute-lock knowns:

Third Base: Austin Riley

Signed until I’m 77 years old. Given my lifestyle, that’s pretty much the outer limits of my expectations, so I expect Austin Riley to be the last Braves 3rd baseman I’m mentally competent to observe (though some might say that I’ve been mentally incompetent since the Vinny Castilla Era.) He’s already in 4th place All Time in Atlanta Braves 3rd Basemen ranked by WAR and will almost surely pass Terry Pendleton sometime in April. Darrell Evans is probably at least two years away, and that just leaves Chipper. I doubt he’ll get there, but one can dream. And the thought that the long-term contract changes his performance is worth mentioning, I guess, but not worth actually addressing.

He played 159 games, so it’s a little stupid to call anyone his backup, but Arcia and Adrianza (see below) can both play 3rd. Grissom probably can as well.

First Base: Matt Olson

Signed until I’m 74, and unless he turns into Rico Brogna, I don’t expect another 1st baseman either. Some people find it fun to compare Freddie Freeman’s 5.9 WAR this year to Olson’s 3.4 as if that’s all you need to know about the substitution. First, you don’t judge a 5-8 year decision after the first year. And it’s far too early to judge Pache or Langeliers, either. Second, both Freddie’s team and Olson’ team lost their first playoff rounds, and, FWIW (which is nothing) Olson was much better in the playoffs than Freddie was this year.

Matt is a different player than Freddie. He has more power and he strikes out a lot more. The only odd thing was that his touted glove strength was not present in 2022. I fully expect that to rebound.

Matt played all 162, so his “backups” are Adrianza and Arcia as well.

Now we move to the Pretty Damn Well Set category:

Second Base: Ozzie Albies

Signed until I’m 71. I may still be able to cut my own meat at that point.

There are two questions about Ozzie, but there are so many parts to his game that have no questions that it seems somewhat mean to bring them up. Question 1: Is he injury-prone? Can he hold up for a full season? I guess the answer is – only the gods know. He seems to be able to recuperate fairly quickly, but a player who can’t take the field regularly has a heightened risk. It’s one we should be happy to bear for everything else he brings the team when he s healthy enough to play.

Question 2: Should he give up hitting left-handed? He now has a career OPS+ of 89 in 2004 left-handed appearances as opposed to his 130 OPS+ in 705 right-handed appearances. He has only 11 plate appearances batting right-handed against a right-handed pitcher, but those 11 plate appearances have been very, very good; his only same-sided batting appearance this year was a homer, with the not-inconsiderable proviso that it was off Dee Strange-Gordon in a blowout. Taking away his at-bats right handed against Strange-Gordon, Eric Sogard, Wilmer Difo, Albert Almora, Kevin Plawecki, Ronald Torreyes and knuckleballer Steven Wright leaves us with 2 hits in 6 or 7 at bats against the collection of William Cuevas, Jacob Barnes, Ryne Harper and Zack Greinke, with the 7th at bat depending on how you count Pat Venditte. In other words, no data. If he never becomes a 100 OPS+ hitter left-handed he probably needs to hit down in the batting order against righthanded pitching. I’m OK with that.

Ozzie needed backups this year, and Vaughn Grissom, assisted by Arcia, did a great job, though he was mysteriously disappeared in the playoffs to a pinch-hitting role, probably because Arcia is supposed to be a better second baseman than he is. I’m not convinced, but neither of them is Ozzie.

Ozzie is very cheap relative to his value. There are no free agents as young or as good. He provides all kinds of leadership, whatever that is, and people seem to love the guy. Heck — I love the guy. Stay well in 2023, Ozzie. Please.

Backups: Orlando Arcia, Vaughn Grissom and Ehire Adrianza

Arcia is signed for another year, with a team option for 2024. He is a perfectly cromulent backup. He fields OK, he throws great, and he has some pop. I don’t understand the love for Adrianza, but whether he makes the team or not probably depends on what Grissom’s spring training looks like. Well, Grissom’s or any replacement level infielders who are given a shot at camp. In any case, he is both replaceable and the least important cog in the entire wheel. Well, maybe Chadwick Tromp is less important.

If Grissom has a good camp, he probably breaks with the team as a two-headed infield/outfield substitute with Arcia. I’m fine with that.

Last but not least:

Shortstop: ????

Will he or won’t he? Should he or shouldn’t he? My wife used to write soap operas, and the Return of Dansby would have occupied the writer’s room for months, with little hints dribbled out from day to day and lots of conversations in hushed tones between all the characters.

I have no idea what people will offer for Dansby Swanson in a year in which Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa are all available. Dansby Swanson is a very good shortstop, but all three of the others are better than he is, and all of them are about the same age. I’d be happy to back up the Brinks truck for Dansby, but I’d be equally happy to spend the same money on any of the other three. I saw one website suggesting that the Braves ought to go all-in on Turner, and the same website suggested that the Dodgers should then sign Swanson. That would be a little weird, since both teams could just sign their own shortstops instead, but weirder things have happened.

One question that still lingers, of course, is: will Dansby get better? I would point out that the same thing could be said of the other three as well, so it’s not clear that some notional upside to Dansby Swanson ought to make much difference. Dansby’s WAR took a huge jump this season (2.2, 1.1, 2.8*, 1.9, 5.7) although the 2.8 in just 60 games in 2020 is actually better. As a starting shortstop, he’s only had two years over 100 OPS+ (2020 and 2022).

I don’t know what his salary demands are, but if they’re anywhere in the neighborhood of Turner, Bogaerts or Correa, he’s going to be unsigned until just before the season, probably then either agreeing to something with the Braves or signing a monster one year contract on spec somewhere…. There’s always someone willing to bet on one year, including us.

Given that the other three would see to be a lot more expensive than Dansby, can the Braves afford any of the others? The answer to that is obviously yes. Would they be willing to take the publicity hit signing someone other than the local kid with the matinee hair? As AA proved last year, the answer is obviously yes, but both he and Dansby will have to practice their on-air sobbing before they move on.

Finally, I guess the other possibility is that they decide to save a ton of money and give the job to Grissom. I haven’t seen him play short, but I expect he can. Can he hit for a whole season? Probably not. Making Vaughn Grissom your shortstop is the sort of thing the Braves used to do, and the sort of thing the Pirates would do today, but I sincerely doubt it will happen.

So my confident prediction is that the Braves will have a very, very well-paid shortstop next year. Might be Dansby, might not.

One more thing

Wherever we go from here, it is worth mentioning that the infield we have will be considerably different even if Dansby returns with Ozzie at full strength and Riley and Olson. The new shift-cancellation rules will, I think, put a premium on infielder’s effective range. Not just raw speed (looking at you, Trea Turner) but anticipation. I don’t think we know how that will shake out, but I’m relatively comfortable with Dansby and Ozzie and Matt and Austin. That said, the infield is going to give up more hits next year, whatever happens. But so will everyone else’s.