It’s been hard for many Braves fans to watch some of their favorite players be moved this past offseason, but the reality is that this is the right move for the organization.
Lack of Talent in the Farm System
At the end of the 2014, the Braves owned one of the worst farm systems in the Major Leagues. Many trades later, the Braves stocked up on a plethora of talent at the minor league level. Put this in perspective: Thirteen of the prospects on my SportsTalkATL Braves’ Top 25 Prospect List were acquired this offseason. Only four of the top fifteen were in the organization at the end of the 2014 season. Talk about a complete farm system overhaul. But the good news is that the Braves are going back to their traditional ways: building through the farm system, and relying on great pitching. John Hart received some criticism for acquiring more arms than bats, but I actually like the tactic. We already have four young starters in Teheran, Miller, Wood and Minor, and seven of my top ten prospects are pitchers. What do the Braves do best? Develop quality pitching. The front office will be able to use their stockpile of arms to make big moves down the road, while maintaining a top tier pitching staff. When looking at the positional players, there is a ton of promise as well. It seems at nearly every position Atlanta has a prospect waiting in the wings. Jace Peterson and Christian Bethancourt are now big league starters, and have shown a ton of promise. Jose Peraza, who I have ranked 2nd in the organization, is a star in the making at second base and has made his way to AAA Gwinnett. Rio Ruiz is likely the future at third base. Mallex Smith is probably the most underrated positional prospect we have, and could be a dynamic lead-off man in the future. The centerfielder hit .310 with 88 stolen bases last season, leading the minors. No, that is not a typo. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the Braves farm system 6th in the MLB going into Spring Training, and that was before the acquisition of my new top prospect, Matt Wisler. The Braves were able to build a farm system in one offseason while maintaining a solid core of young talent at the major league level. The Braves also now own the 14th, 28th, 41st, 54th, 75th and 89th picks in this year’s draft, which is definitely something that has seemingly been overlooked. The Braves realigned their scouting staff this offseason, and a great draft could have this team set for the future in addition to stockpiling these prospects.
They Get A Clean Slate Financially
Possibly the toughest part of this overhaul for Braves fans was seeing Craig Kimbrel moved hours before Opening Day. While Kimbrel is a future Hall of Famer and an Atlanta icon, letting San Diego eat Melvin Upton Jr.’s contract is a huge win for Atlanta. Still due $45 million over the next three seasons, keeping Upton on our payroll would have kept the team financially handicapped for an extended period of time. But now he is gone, and Atlanta only has one more season left of paying Dan Uggla as well. Not only did the Braves stockpile prospects, they are now in a position where they can sign or acquire a big contract starting next offseason. They can build from the bottom up and use the money left over to patch the holes with free agents. At the end of the day, Kimbrel was a great luxury, but having him on the roster did not outweigh the fact that someone was willing to take on Upton’s contract. The Braves got to hit the reset button financially with this trade, and that is something they did not think would happen in the immediate future.
The 2015 NL East is Strong
On paper, both the Marlins and the Nationals appear to be contenders this coming season. If the Braves had held on to key players such as Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, who are Free Agents this offseason, they were likely in store for a third place finish regardless. This season was perfect for taking a slight step back to ensure a bright future. Both the Marlins and the Nationals appear to be a threat for years to come, but consider that the Nationals’ 2016 Free Agent class consists of Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos, Casey Janssen, Drew Storen, Doug Fister, Tanner Roark, Craig Stammen and Jordan Zimmermann. This is likely the best Nationals team we will see for quite a while. The Marlins are a young team, and the Mets also have a bright young pitching staff that will be tough for years to come. 2015 was the perfect time for the Braves to step back and start a youth movement to stay competitive with the up and coming NL East teams. Their goal: to have a championship caliber team in 2017.
Every Trade was Justified
It’s always painful to see fan favorites such as Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Evan Gattis and Justin Upton in different uniforms. Despite this, all of these moves were justified. Upton and Heyward are both Free Agents at the conclusion of this season, and are expected to receive a ton of money on the open market. While both are great players, I do not believe they are worth the money they are estimated to earn. Receiving young talent in exchange for players that were going to walk regardless is a steal for the Braves. Shelby Miller and Jace Peterson will both contribute this season, and pitchers Max Fried and Tyrell Jenkins both broke my top 10 prospects. Atlanta has also already replaced Heyward with Nick Markakis, who will emulate Heyward’s bat and glove for nearly half the price, while offering more consistency. Gattis still had four more seasons of team control, but the Braves planned on going forward with Christian Bethancourt as their starting catcher. While Gattis played left field frequently his rookie season, John Hart realized that he wouldn’t be able to likely squeeze over 120 games out of him. In exchange, we received a handful of prospects. The Gattis trade is the only one that I have had second thoughts about, but I understand the trade. I’m also big on Rio Ruiz, who was acquired for Gattis. Kimbrel was moved merely because he was packaged with Melvin Upton Jr.’s contract. However, we did receive Matt Wisler in the deal, who immediately becomes Atlanta’s top prospect. In addition to this, the Braves have Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli in their bullpen, both of whom have closing experience.
What do you think Braves fans? Did John Hart make the right moves?