Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Atlanta Braves look to surprise with re-vamped team

Former Braves closer Kimbrel a bad contract casualty as well as an unnecessary luxury on a team that is in re-tooling mode

There are a lot of people out thre that are upset with the timing of the Atlanta Braves most recent trade of Melvin Upton Jr. (formerly B.J.) and All Star and probably the best closer in the majors Craig Kimbrel to the San Diego Padres on the eve of the season opener. Had the deal been done when the Braves were clearly in ‘trade mode’ and appearing as if they were just re-tooling but clearly such a deal was not available at the time or it would have been made.

The Braves made it clear that they are re-stocking for the near future and the corresponding move to the new SunTrust Field in 2017 but it looked like they still thought they could be a top runner in the Eastern Division. Because of the previous trades that were made with Gattis, Upton and Heyward having an all star closer like Kimbrel was more of a luxury then a necessity. After the acquisition of former closers Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson there was some flexibility in terms of the closers roll in the Braves pen. GM John Hart made it clear that the team was not shopping Kimbrell but that the team had been approached by a number of teams about his availability. He appears to be the casualty of an albatross of a contract by the wildly under performing and overpayment of Upton JR. San Diego is going to take on all of Upton’s salary in order to get Kimbrel. When you can shed that contract and roster spot from the books you almost have to make that deal. They acquired Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin, two highly regarded prospects -- right-handed pitcher Matt Wisler and outfielder Jordan Paroubeck -- and the 41st overall selection in this year’s First-Year Player Draft. Maybin will stay with the team but Quintin has been designated for assignment and will either be traded or released and was just involved in the deal for salary reasons and will not play for the team.

Some Braves fans may have more of an issue with this then others, but in the short term and the long term the moves seem to be done within the parameters of a master plan. Many are concerned in the short term about the direction of the club. At the moment I am not as worried. After the last few seasons of being the 27th or so ranked team in terms of  sacrifice flies, and having innings that were some combination of rally killing strikeouts and inability to move runners over and in, it will be a welcome change to watch a team that can manufacture some runs.

So many times last year the pitching was so good throughout the game but the club just seemed to be trailing more often then not until the 7th or 8th. Combine that with only having 0-2 runs at that time became frustrating for fans and likely and more importantly the starters that were being taxed with high pressure innings every outing just to keep game in reach in hopes of a home run that often never came. Free swinging and hero-ball mentality did not work very often and that caught up with the team late in the season taking them right out of contention in both games and the divisional standings.

With all the off season moves there seems to be a concerted effort to play ball the right way, a more traditional National League style with an emphasis on speed and defence. The lineup flexibility and the ability to manage different situations and not rely on inconsistent and dwindling power production. A team that can manufacture runs is a more enjoyable style to watch for sure. Speed is fun and seldom slumps...the only downside is you can’t steal 1st base so walks and singles carry even more emphasis.

To all those people who are worried about the on field product this season, maybe reserve judgement for a bit. Lets see what we got here. The rotation, especially when Minor returns from the DL looks to be respectable and the re-vamped lineup looks like it could be sneaky decent. The addition of former closers Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson as set up man and closer should help offset the loss of Kimbrel and provide a solid 1-2 punch on the back end.

For a team that clearly has a goal of re-stocking their minor league clubs and adding young controllable assets the on field product looks competitive and that bodes well for when all the young prospects they managed to get via all the off season trades and transactions are ready to take the next step.
So lets not judge the direction of decisions too soon there is a lot of ball to be played and if you play it the right way an play hard there might be some good value on this squad.

Just look at center field, the bar is not set too high for Eric Young Jr. - hit .204, strike out less then half the time and have 30+ stolen bases and your already almost better then Melvin ‘don’t call me BJ’ Upton and his $46.3 Mil still owed to him.

Kimbrel was the casualty of former GM Frank Wren’s miscue in signing Upton, the then free agent to an unworthy amount and length of term contract. They are all now gone and it is time for the team to move on.