Atlanta Braves Change Course, Now What?

Jason Heyward produced a 6.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 2014 and won his second consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove in Right Field (Photo Credit: Atlanta Braves Official Facebook Page)

Jason Heyward produced a 6.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 2014 and won his second consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove in Right Field (Photo Credit: Atlanta Braves Official Facebook Page)

Wanna know how my day started? Here, I’ll show you:

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 6.26.28 PM

 

True story, I’m was in a state of disbelief.

But should I have been? New Braves president of baseball operations, John Hart, and assistant general manager, John Coppolella, have been alluding  to this for a few weeks now. Today was just the realization: if you want Atlanta wants a contender, the process isn’t going to be pretty.

Believe me, I’ve heard every word about this trade and agree with 99.9% of them as a fan. But only as a fan. My purpose in writing this blog isn’t to give you my opinion as a fan, it’s to be as honest as possible with my views about everything in sports. So believe me when I say this:

In order for the Braves to be good in the future, they had to burn everything down in the present.

The Good News

Atlanta is getting a very good, young, and cost-controlled pitcher from St. Louis in Shelby Miller. The prospect of pairing him with Roger McDowell and plugging him into a rotation with Julio Teheran and Alex Wood for the next four years should excite everyone.

The Braves last three postseason appearances have shown (sadly on a National stage) just how outmatched on the mound they’ve been when matched up against contenders like the Giants, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Nationals. Hart and Coppolella have said numerous times they are pitching poor in a division (and National League) landscape that is pitching rich, and he’s right. The Mets, Nationals, and Marlins all have good, young, power arms in the majors and minors.

With today’s trade of Heyward (and my assumption is soon with Justin Upton) they are going to be able to begin the process of closing the gap on the mound. Atlanta can’t spend with the larger markets of the league right now, so they must operate like a team that is “wearing some bad contracts” and leveraging what they have to get better long-term. In that regard the Braves did what they needed to do.

The Bad

2015 and 2016 are going to be brutal.

There really isn’t a way to sugar coat that. Last week after the general manager’s meetings in Arizona the Braves brain trust said publicly they were still deciding “which direction” to go this offseason. Today’s trade told me all I needed to know.

I’m not in the room when these things go down, but I can tell you this: rarely does an organization trade a 25-year old player with a WAR of 6.4 and say “we’re going for a World Series title” that next season.

My guess is Justin Upton will be shipped out next (if Heyward fetched Miller, imagine the haul for Justin Upton), with Evan Gattis, Chris Johnson, and (hopefully) B.J. Upton won’t be too far behind. Tommy La Stella was sent to the Cubs for Arodys Vizcaino, but the real return on La Stella was almost $1 million dollars in international signing money for Atlanta. Rumor has it that money could be used to sign close to 10 players internationally, which goes a long way to adding to that depleted farm system.

 

But make no bones about it, this team will be lucky to sniff a Wild Card in 2015 or 2016.

The Bottom Line

Perhaps the reason I liked Heyward so much as a player is because he reflected the style I valued growing up. Would it surprise me if he went to St. Louis and truly became what we all thought he would in Atlanta? No. But when I look at everything this trade could represent for Atlanta in the future it isn’t so bad.

Wren’s damage wasn’t a lack of trying, but it was like a landlord putting a band-aid on hole in the roof. He overpaid for B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla, didn’t manage personnel well enough to keep a healthy farm system, and this is the bed that has been made. Hart has been one of the best architects in baseball for the better part of 30 years and Coppolella is an exceptional young baseball executive. They will right the ship.

They just had to dock it and build a new one.

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2 comments

  1. Come on Adam, did you really drink the “we need better pitching” kool-aid? Unless you and Hart have access to stats that I don’t, we had the third best pitching staff in the league, and the second worst offense(by runs scored). So how does getting rid of one third of what little offense we did have in exchange for pitching that we really didn’t need(you can’t convince me otherwise) make sense – long term or otherwise? Fan or not, it is painfully obvious that this is no longer about winning(now or in 2017), but about selling season tickets in the new stadium on the premise that we will have an all new and unknown team taking the field, and the anticipation and optimism that comes with being a well-heeled fan in that situation. Knowing deep down that it is a crap shoot whether they will win 100 games or 60, fans will buy tickets with their hearts, and the front office knows this. They also know that if they build a team now, and don’t win in 2015 or 2016, the new stadium will look like the one in Miami(empty). They are not willing to take that chance. Today’s bottom line is all that matters.

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    1. Well I can tell you with 100% confidence I’m not drinking anyone’s Kool-Aid so we’re safe there. A few counterpoints:

      Lets break down what you’re telling me here: “we had… the second worst offense(by runs scored)…” Okay, so tell me how Heyward (who I love as a player as well) would help better those numbers when 78% of his offense comes against right-handed pitching? If he were, say, 15% to 20% as good against left-handed pitchers as he is against right-handers I could see where your point, but his splits were so bad how do you justify paying superstar money to him long-term when over his career he has yet to prove he is capable of moderate production against both? You want to gamble another year on that and risk losing him without a return?

      “…we had the third best pitching staff in the league,…” Again, what are we looking at in terms of being statistically correct, here? If it’s earned run average (ERA) then yes, but there are a couple statistics I want to put out there as well:

      1.) Not one National League playoff team allowed more baserunners per inning in 2014 than the Braves (1.27 WHIP). I think that number is pretty important in October.

      2.) The Braves bullpen didn’t fair much better (1.28), and given their penchant for wild pitches (they lead the NL with 40 in 2014) that doesn’t make for a good mix.

      I’m also just scratching the surface here. I could point out that of the 58 wins by Braves starters in 2014, 45% (26) came from Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang. I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider those long-term options. Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy are both coming off their second Tommy John surgeries in their late-20’s, would you rather the Braves gamble on them? They also don’t have Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw, or any other “Ace” of that ilk in the pipeline for reasons I outlined here (http://bit.ly/1sWsgPx). So when you say “did you really drink the “we need better pitching” kool-aid?” my answer is no, I already knew they needed it. Badly.

      Last I wanted to comment on this:

      ” So how does getting rid of one third of what little offense we did have in exchange for pitching that we really didn’t need(you can’t convince me otherwise) make sense – long term or otherwise?”

      The Braves just saved $11 million dollars and got a young, top of the rotation caliber pitcher for the next four years to put behind Teheran and ahead of Alex Wood. Instead of wasting those dollars to depend on soon-to-be 32-year old Santana (yes, even as solid as he was), and 36-year old Aaron Harang, now they alleviated some of the constraints and have given themselves two things:

      Financial flexibility to dabble or go all in on free agency THIS offseason. And they made a question mark (the starting rotation for 2015) into a solid, young (average age is 23) starting trio of Teheran/Miller/Wood. Uggla and J-Up’s contract’s come off the books after ’15, which frees up an additional $30 million dollars (or $41 depending on what they use the Heyward money for) to venture into the free agent waters next offseason (which is pretty miraculous when you consider what they were working with about a week ago.

      I think these are winning moves. I know I can’t convince you otherwise, but wanted to respond regardless.

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