2½ things that are now, more or less, true:
• Alex Wood is no longer an Atlanta Brave.
• Nobody likes to hate the Braves more than Braves fans.
o Even more than Mets fans do.
It’s particularly true of sports fans, or of any type of subculture, really. Ask fans of Phish or the Grateful Dead, or even the Insane Clown Posse. This thing, this beautiful, shiny, intangible object that consumes more mental real estate than most would deem normal, is more than what it appears to be on the surface — it’s a way of life. The highs-and-lows of this team/band/clown-based hip-hop experiment are not just highs-and-lows; they are cause for justified celebration or unabashed anguish.
It’s all about hyperbole. When it’s good, it’s the best. And when it’s bad? It’s a dumpster fire.
Phish/Dead/ICP fans are loyal students of their bands, just as many Braves fans are to their team. They follow them while they tour, study them when they’re not, and document their every move, while Braves fans can recite the scripts of between-inning commercials because of rampant overexposure to games — c’mon, you know those Carpet Depot commercials, and you can probably sing the “Bicycles, tricycles…” song from the Delta spots.
In the same way Braves fans / “baseball nerds” are capable of discussing a slew of statistical alphabet soups that sound ridiculous when taken out of context, so too are the fans of other subcultures. Except in this bizarre world of tie-dye, extended jamming, and/or circus make-up, OPS, UZR, and ERA+ are replaced by YEM, SOAM, and DwD.
Diehards and casual fans eventually develop strange attachments to the symbols of their subculture, whether they are songs or middle infielders. Of course, you might think Phish sucks, and you might think the Braves suck too — and in either case, you might be right. And if you do, maybe it’s because you’re a fan of a separate subculture which is subject to its own set of rules, designations, and vernacular, whether it be baseball, music, literature, cosplay, or animal husbandry.
If you know what a tardis is, you know what I’m talking about.
Sorry, Braves fans, but John Hart does not believe in your subculture. He is a conscientious observer, and if he wants to do his job properly, he can’t believe in it. His attachment to players, while legitimate, has to essentially serve as an afterthought to his construction of a contender. There is loyalty to people, but there is greater loyalty to winning as a franchise, as it should be — and you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
There is an old adage about playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back, and it appears nobody is adhering to that phrase more than Hart.
Unfortunately for Atlanta fans, the offshoot of this is that it ultimately results in listing their now-useless Alex Wood jerseys on eBay, just like they did with their Craig Kimbrel bobbleheads.
Buoyed by the offseason frenzy that replenished the farm system, Hart did exactly what he’s been doing all along. While most of the focus was on veteran stalwarts like Jim Johnson, AJ Pierzynski, and Johnny Gomes, Hart turned heads across the MLB by trading one of the rotation’s steadiest pieces in Alex Wood, the team’s #1 prospect in Jose Peraza, bullpen fixture Luis Avilan, and the aforementioned Johnson. Braves Country, naturally, went bonkers.
Raise your hand if you had Wood as Atlanta’s most valuable trade chip. Since no one has raised their hand, I’ll go on.
Let’s be honest here — Wood, despite the non-publicized nature of his availability prior to the trade, was one of the most attractive trade pieces on the Braves’ roster. Cameron Maybin’s price is too high for his career inconsistencies (his struggles since the All-Star break are starting to indicate a regression to the mean), selling Julio Teheran now would be selling low, and many of the other regulars on expiring contracts would bring negligible returns (see the Uribe / KJ trade). But Wood, a young stud who has put up dynamite numbers in his young career, was a controllable, cost-effective alternative to the David Prices and the Johnny Cuetos. He was at the perfect intersection of control, cost, and statistics. If you were Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ GM who landed him, wouldn’t you have gone after Wood too?
As Atlanta’s offense slowly devolved and began to look like the team everyone had predicted in the offseason, adding a hitter became the most important task. You would think, in the midst of this extended slump, Braves Country would have been ecstatic that Hart finally added somebody who could swing the lumber.
Alas, nay. To read social media, Hector Olivera is too old to do anything good, as if being 30 years old is a death sentence for all athletes. If you believe that, Julio Franco would like a word with you when he gets done picking up his grandkids. Oh, and Olivera’s hurt, and he sucks, too. He totally sucks, and Wood alone was better than the return, even though there is widespread belief in the industry that his delivery is going to eventually succumb to injury. Peraza will be better than Jose Altuve, and we deserved more. And we should have kept Avilan. And two months of Jim Johnson should have netted us Julio Urias AND Corey Seager. I’m not making this up; I have actually read these things, and people actually think these thoughts.
Like the great Grant McAuley said, “Fans tend to overvalue what’s going out, and undervalue what’s coming in.”
If Insane Clown Posse debuts a new song (God help us all if they do), many fans will decry it before the song is even over, just on principle. They have sentimental attachment to the old material, which is doubtlessly better than this new piece of crap. (Disclaimer: If you’ve heard ICP, you know judging material by its “crap level” is an exercise in futility. It’s all kind of crap.)
Granted, this is an obvious metaphor, but you know people like this in real life, whether they’re ICP fans or not. You might even be one of them. And, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Hector Olivera is a new ICP song. He’s being chastised on principle before ever putting on a Braves uniform.
Are Braves fans right to be wary? Of course; Olivera’s medical records speak for themselves. But let the guy come in and play like Mel Upton for two years before assuming John Hart has suddenly lost his pebbles and marbles. He did just essentially steal Touki Toussaint six weeks ago in one of the savvier trades we’ve ever seen.
Many Braves fans had Olivera on the periphery of their vision from the signing fiasco / bidding war during the offseason, which Atlanta almost won. But now, with the Dodgers paying his entire signing bonus, Olivera is coming in at just over $6 million a season. Truthfully, a pretty genius move when you look at it, especially when considering the two richest bats on the market this offseason — Jason Heyward and Justin Upton — do not figure into Atlanta’s plans again. Even if Olivera falls short of the expectations created by his stellar statistics in Cuba and the Dodgers’ minor league system, he’s still a bargain.
Combine the discount for Olivera with the subtraction of the unnecessary fringe money being doled out to Bronson Arroyo, Trevor Cahill, and Dan Uggla, and the Braves are suddenly looking like they have will be positioned to take on some extra salary in the offseason. Also, if Atlanta maintains its current pace, they will draft #7 in the 2016 Amateur Draft — a protected pick. This will allow them to target higher-priced, qualifying-offer-level, free-agents in the offseason without sacrificing their first-round pick.
Will this payroll flexibility allow for a run at Matt Wieters? Perhaps Jordan Zimmerman? What about David Price, a Tennessee kid who went to Vanderbilt and has expressed interest in pitching for Atlanta in the past? A stretch maybe, but worth considering. Regardless of whether any of these names wind up on the back of a Braves uniform, this point is this — the 2014 offseason for Hart was the initiation of the tear-down process, which saw 76% of that season’s Opening Day roster dismissed to other clubs. Now, with his first full offseason as a Braves Exec impending, he has the chance to essentially build a team from the ground up, and Olivera is the first step towards building a lineup. His lineup.
As it pertains to subcultures in general, the happiest fans generally tend to be the ones who approach situations like these with no expectations, or a sense of cautious optimism, because expectations breed expectations which are not met. Nobody is happy that Alex Wood got traded, or that Jose Peraza will be wearing Dodger Blue, but how much of that is because nobody saw it coming. However, as the loyalty goes to the band and not the song, the loyalty should go to the team and not the player.
It’s all about the name on the front of the jersey, right?