Thursday, December 10, 2015

Scorched Earth - The Rebuild of the Braves in Atlanta

The Cubs may have ‘Take me out to the ball-game’ during the 7th inning stretch and the Red Sox may play ‘Sweet Caroline’ In Atlanta they will be playing the Roof is on Fire and instead of the tomahawk Chop and the War Chant fans will be belting out “We don’t need no water let the mother#$%&*r burn, Burn mother#$%&*r burn!!”

It is interesting to listen to a lot of Braves followers and fans were all up in arms when all the trades began last season when the Braves moved Jason Heyward. Then after that Justin Upton was moved, then Evan Gattis and finally the apparent crushing blow when fan favorite Craig Kimbrel was moved on the day before the beginning of the season. Most everyone figured that this team was going to be a train wreck in 2015. I was not one of those people. I actually was not so pessimistic on how the on field product was going to be. A lot of power went out the door and the fireballer Kimbrel was gone but even so the players that were left were not bottom of the barrel. The 2014 season was a very frustrating one as a fan as it seemed like every game the team was trailing every game until at least the 7th and if there was not a home run hit, the team was going to lose something to 2 or 3. The team struck out at near historic amount that season and that is just not a fun style to watch and clearly not a successful style to play. Like they say ‘good pitching will beat good hitting’ most of the time. The days of ‘Chicks digging the long ball’ seem to have passed. You need to be able to generate offense in other ways with a couple of legit power threats.

Fast forward to mid 2015, the team managed to be at or near the .500 mark with a much improved farm system. Now with that said the end of the season went off the tracks right after Jason Grilli was injured and then all the trades moved a lot of the players that were keeping the team afloat (Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Jim Johnson and Alex Woods being the main ones).  Add to that Freddie Freeman’s wrist trouble, it was just too much to overcome. Fans began to get very vocal and unhappy. They reverted back to questioning the front office and whether the plan was worth the poor product on the field.

What it did was put the Braves in a position to truly position themselves to start from the ground and build almost from the real bottom of the barrel. They created payroll flexibility for the future and based on the dismal finish ‘earned’ a top 3 position in the 2016 draft. Also, not the worst thing in the world. They say that you can’t be a little bit pregnant and middle of the pack is the worst place to be. Not good enough to be good and not bad enough to get real cornerstone players.

Then the end of the season comes around and outta nowhere, the best defensive player in baseball today…maybe ever and yet another fan favorite in Andralton Simmons gets shipped to the Angles. Just like the feeling was when Kimbrel was traded fans were shocked and not pleased. Simmons was still young and signed and looked to be part of the core in the rebuild. The knee-jerk reaction to this is ‘what the hell’? but then, when you take a moment to think about it it does make sense. Move him now while his value is high and his range is still there. His offense has dropped of late but his glove is still elite. Moving him before his defensive prowess begins to decline flip him for a good package. They got back a solid stopgap shortstop in Erick Aybar and more prospect arms to added to the ever improving farm system. That brings us to the real deal, the Winter Meetings Blockbuster!

Nothing will help a fan base jump back to your side like a good trade. A trade that just about every ‘expert’ and team executive agree was a huge win for the Braves. When those people who know the game and are major decision makes agree that it was a steal what the Braves got in return for Shelby Miller (SS Dansby Swanson, OF Ender Inciarte and pitching prospect Aaron Blair) and comments like ‘incredible haul’ and ‘that is the worst trade I have ever seen’ has got to make both management and Braves fans alike fell much better about themselves and where thy are positioned now going forward during this rebuild. A lot of people are focusing on the 2 top prospects the Braves got in return but one could argue that Inciarte may be near as valuable as Miller is and to add anything above that is just icing on the cake.

Inciarte fills the right now need for a center fielder and helps field a much more complete MLB lineup for 2016 and going forward.

I will look at the prospects and farm system later but for now lets just look at the on field makeup as it stands right now. Now no one is going to claim that they are a potential playoff or wild card team but maybe they are not going to be the embarrassment that people thought they might be going into 2016. There is reason to believe that the lineup that they can roll out may be able to keep them from being a true bottom feeder and actually show some resemblance of a major league club.

If 1B Freddie Freeman can come back healthy from last years wrist injury he will be a good backbone of the lineup. Erick Aybar is a veteran SS and should prove to be a good placeholder for the short term, Nik Markakis is a great glove and if he can continue to get stronger from last years neck surgery his contributions should be felt. Having a good young CF like Inciarte fills a big hole while waiting for prospects to develop. The final big piece of the starting lineup is the duo, or tandem from catchers A.J. Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers. A.J. is coming off a revitalizing year and Tyler Flowers is a low risk high reward guy. Both should prove to have decent bats in the lineup wile offering great mentoring and development to a very young staff and having both veterans and strong defensive catchers that know how to call games and frame pitches should be a huge asset to the large crop of developing young arms. Where things may get interesting are some of the wild cards that are in Left, 3B and 2B. Hector Olivera season will be interesting to watch and if he is able to adjust and produce like the Braves hope he could be a welcome addition but no one knows how he is going to progress in his first full MLB season after coming over from the Dodgers. Then there is the revolving door that will be 2nd and 3rd . There are a slough of guys that will likely split time at both positions at any given time you could see Emilio Bonifacio, Gordon Beckham, Adonis Garcia, Daniel Castro and Jace Peterson at either of the 2 positions respectively. No one knows what any of these guys are going to do so maybe these guys may surprise and be moderately effective but nothing you can bank on just yet. Also there are the 2 ‘Mentors’ with the huge

The way that Braves GM John Coppolella wheels and deals it is unlikely that this is how things will look on day 1 but for now the 8 positions doesn’t appear to be as dismal as some people may have may think. There will no doubt be more movement and tweaking as the days and weeks go by.

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