Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said during a press conference at Monday’s annual Hot Stove Gathering in Rome that the team’s success probably got some of their division opponents hot under the collar, adding the division as a whole had a higher level of competition.
“It got a lot better. So did we,” Snitker said. “I feel like with the year’s experience and a lot of those guys — what they went through last year — we’re going to be better too. We’re going to be a year older, more experienced. We made some great additions.”
One of those additions was signing seven-time All-Star catcher Brian McCann to a one-year, $2 million contract. The former Brave played for Atlanta from 2005 to 2012 and was on the inaugural Rome Braves team that won the South Atlanta League championship in 2003.
Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said McCann’s attitude since coming back to the team has been very positive.
“I think Atlanta was the only place he was willing to play at this point in his career,” Anthopoulos said. “He’s come in a lot, without us having to prod him or ask him to. He wants to work on information with our starters and relievers. He’s come in to talk to some of our young kids. He is all in with the organization — entirely. He’s not a guy who’s just playing another year. I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays a lot more. I think we’re just fortunate that he was dying to come back here.”
Along with McCann, the Braves also signed third basemen Josh Donaldson, who was brought to the Blue Jays during Anthopoulos’ time as GM in Toronto.
“Josh Donaldson is so excited about being here,” Snitker said. “He feels good. He’s healthy. I watched video of him in games at the end of the year when he was with Cleveland and this guy’s a really, really good player. He is really excited about being an Atlanta Brave. I think those guys are going to be great for our clubhouse and great for our young guys. A lot of our guys are still establishing their baseball card. These guys have one.”
The Braves also signed free agent Nick Markakis for another year, inking a $6 million deal with the outfielder.
A steady supply of young players has the team optimistic as well with pitchers and catchers set to report to spring training Feb. 15. Snitker talked about players like Kyle Wright and former Rome Braves pitchers Bryse Wilson, Touki Toussaint and Mike Soroka as those expected to continue to make an impact on the team.
“That’s the beauty of our spring training,” Snitker said. “We’re bringing in young really talented players. Our coaches are excited about getting their hands on them. We were waiting for a number of years here, now they’re here and they’re going to keep coming.”
Anthopoulos said the team is remaining patient with regard to the free agents left unsigned this offseason.
“Based off of last winter, I’m not surprised,” he said. “There’s still a lot of free agents out there and we’re talking to a lot of free agents that are still out there. It wouldn’t surprise me if there’ll still be some in a few weeks when we open up camp. It’s just a slower pace, and I think guys are getting more comfortable signing later.”
The Braves begin the regular season March 28 with a three-game road series against NL East foe Philadelphia.