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‘Hands full in this National League East:’ Braves react to…

It’s not exactly as if anyone could be caught by surprise.

“We all knew that he and Manny Machado were going to get big, significant contracts,” Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “Philadelphia had been linked to one of those two for so long, there was an expectation that Philadelphia was going to end up with one of those two.”

And it’s not like Harper will be some strange, foreign force they will be facing 19 times this season within the confines of the National League East.

“I’ve played against him my whole career. So, what’s another 13 (years) more?” smiled first baseman Freddie Freeman. (But, for the record, the 29-year-old Freeman said he doesn’t plan to play until he’s 42. “I’m not going to be here. I’ll be long gone,” he laughed.)

Harper just moved a few more doors down in the division when the former Washington outfielder signed a reported 13-year, $330 million contract with Philadelphia. His addition was only the richest and splashiest of many the Phillies made this season, in combination with catcher J.T. Realmuto, outfielder Andrew McCutchen and infielder Jean Segura.

While many in the baseball world now favor the remade Phillies to surpass the defending division champion Braves, Freeman takes a somewhat more self-involved view of their moves: “They did this all to catch up to us.”

Looking outward, he added, “The Phillies wanted their man and they went and got him,” Freeman said. “It’s a very potent lineup now, everyone is going have their hands full in this National League East.”

The view from the general manager’s office was one of a strictly interested spectator. The Braves were never a player in the Harper negotiations, and there are certain concessions this team willingly makes when the numbers reach the kind of highs that Harper eventually commanded.

Asked what his message to Braves fans might be in light of someone else in the division snagging Harper, Anthopoulos said, “These are the best players in the game and ultimately not everyone is going to choose to make commitments of 13 years. This is the largest guarantee in the history of free agency. In fairness, there are only so many teams that are going to break financial records in terms of length and total guarantee. Mostly it will be larger-market clubs.

“Big contracts like this, there are only going to be a select few clubs that are in play on those guys.”

The view from the dugout step was realistic.

Perhaps some might have hoped that Harper – who has hit more career home runs (25) against the Braves than any other team, and has more RBIs only against Miami than the 67 he has accumulated at the Braves expense – would finally leave the National League East. Manager Brian Snitker wasn’t necessarily among those.

“I looked at that and it really doesn’t matter to me,” he said.

The universal view was that both the team Harper left – the Nationals – and the one he joined have made big gains this spring. And don’t forget the New York Mets and their pitching staff. The division the Braves defend is the most difficult in baseball. Just ask the Braves.

“It reminds me of my AL East days, where it was THE division to be in,” said Anthopoulos, who came south from Toronto. “It was exciting for the fans. Every game, every team that came into town, is exciting. There’s one team that’s rebuilding (Miami) and the other four are getting after it. There are a lot of great players in this division. I think it’s good for the game in terms of making this the best division in the game.”

Freeman, for one, said bring it on. And while the Braves won 90 games a season ago in surprising the world and taking the NL East, their first baseman suggests it may require fewer than that this year to finish on top. As teams beat up on each other in 2019, “I think a division winner in the National League East could (win) 86 to 88 games,” he said.

Freeman than made an unsolicited public-service announcement in behalf of the NL East: “This is going to be a very fun division to watch from start to finish,” he said.

And that includes almost everyone in the division, even its largely overlooked defending champion: “Those September ballgames are going to be fun to play, I can promise you that. I think we’re all going to be in it at the end,” Freeman added.

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