Aug. 23, 2017
The Braves Have Shown Their Rebuilding Process Is Far From Over
Entering that day, the Braves were 45-45, just swept the Wild Card leading Arizona Diamondbacks to start the post-All Star Break and were within striking distance of the Wild Card and only 1 game behind the world champion Chicago Cubs in terms of record. RA Dickey was pitching lights out. Mike Foltynewicz was dominant. Julio Teheran was improving. The Braves were got back Freddie Freeman from injury and Johan Camargo was making plenty of noise in the lineup, filling the void at shortstop by Dansby Swanson, who was ineffective. Super utility-man Sean Rodriguez was coming back well before anybody predicted. And the Cubs were coming to SunTrust Park for a 3-game series.
I have to admit, I got my hopes up that the Braves would be in the thick of the Wild Card race and put up a fight with the Cubs in the 3-game series. I went to the Braves/Cubs game that day to a sold out park, mostly dominated by Cubs fans (spare me the nonsense of Atlanta being a bandwagon town as EVERY TEAM'S HOME BALLPARK has been overrun by Cubs fans the last two years). But the vibe of the place was a playoff atmosphere. The Cubs won 4-3 on what was an intense game all the way through, and they fended off a late Braves rally that ended with a pop-up with the bases loaded. While there WAS hope, it just seemed like the air from the Braves balloon that night, popped.
And it turned out, that was the case. Atlanta since being at .500 has gone 9-22 in the past month. Dickey has been okay, but Foltynewicz has gone 1-3 with a 11.02 ERA and a WHIP over 2. Freeman is still Freeman but tailed off a bit. Camargo got injured running from the dugout to the field. Rodriguez didn't do anything with the Braves and was traded to Pittsburgh. Teheran went backwards again. And the Braves are out of the race for good.
So what went wrong in the short amount of time that made the Braves a possible outside shot to no shot ever?
They're still in the rebuilding process.
Depending on what your side of the Braves rebuild process is, one has to agree that when the rebuilding started after the 2014 season, the organization pretty much alienated the Atlanta fan base. The Braves practically told the fans "we are not going to compete in 2015 or 2016 at the city's ballpark of Turner Field, but by 2017, our great young prospects will be ready into our new, state-of-the-art gem that is a ballpark and we are going to be dominant for years to come!"
Say what you want about the Atlanta town and the fans, but NO CITY that has a professional sports team ever wants to go into a season knowing there won't be much of one. And yes, fans did not show up to Turner Field in the final 2 seasons there. But diehards believed this was it and that the Braves turned the page. After a strong ending to the 2016 season where they were even taking down the better teams, there were feelings of hope that maybe the Braves will be competitive in the NL in 2017. They opened up payroll a bit more and signed RA Dickey and Bartolo Colon. They traded for Jaime Garcia, Brandon Phillips and then when Freddie was injured, Matt Adams. And then the talk of the glowing prospects came to fruition as the Braves front office promised. Dansby Swanson, the center piece of the Shelby Miller trade and a hometown hero, had his face plastered on billboards in the Atlanta area while commercials for the new park he became front & center. Foltynewicz was in the middle of the rotation. And you had Sean Newcomb in the Minors that was looked upon as being a possible front-end starter. A veteran bunch that would teach the young guns a thing or two about Major League Baseball.
To their credit, the veterans of Phillips, Adams, Dickey, and Kurt Suzuki have performed and are excellent examples of veteran baseball players. But Bartolo was a dumpster fire for Atlanta and was gone by late June. Garcia was doing fine until he was traded to Minnesota before the deadline. But the youngsters save for Foltynewicz have not panned out (and some wonder if he is falling apart), including the poster boy for SunTrust Park, Dansby Swanson. Swanson underachieved so much he was sent to Gwinnett until Camargo got injured. And the Braves may actually be around the same record as they were last year (67-94) as the schedule isn't too hot the rest of the way. So depending on how you look at it if you're a Braves fan, you may feel with the new park in, this year has been an utter disappointment.
I mentioned last year (and unfortunately sportsblog does not have that link anymore-sorry) that the rebuild will take some time for the Braves before they get back on track and I said around 2019-2020. I still believe that.
The one thing we overlook on rebuilds in baseball especially is that teams who rebuild, make mistakes along the way. Some teams make mega mistakes which set the rebuild process back a few more years. Others? Not as much. And to me, the Braves have already made their share of mistakes.
The biggest mistake, and the glariing one was the pushing of certain prospects, notably Dansby Swanson to coincide with the new park. They wanted that gate attraction and for whatever reason that the Braves have, they chose not to use proven stars as Freddie Freeman, Ender Inciarte, and Nick Markakis but the hometown boy who had a small share of at-bats in the bigs. And yes, I will accuse myself of jumping on the Dansby Bandwagon as I penned him for Rookie of the Year. But looking back on it, it was the dumbest thing I could have predicted. Swanson did not have a full season in the Minors yet, he split between High-A Carolina and AA Mississippi in 2016 and never had an AB in Gwinnett until this year. And we expected him to be a franchise guy right away? Now, Swanson to his credit I believe he would say "it is on me," but the Braves have a knack of rushing players, especially hometown players too fast so they can get the base energetic. It happened with Jeff Francoeur. It happened with Jason Heyward.
There are three other mistakes the Braves made in this rebuild process besides the rushing of Swanson, and one of them is the reason why we have Swanson.
1. The Kimbrel trade before the 2015 season. Atlanta used this move in part to dump Melvin Upton and his insanely high contract. But in hindsight it probably could have been used for a possible good prospect to come back to Atlanta as many view Kimbrel as the best closer in the game today and back then as well. The Braves got Jordan Paroubeck, Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, and Matt Wisler. Paroubeck never suited on any Braves farm team jersey. Maybin was a rental for a year before being traded to the Tigers for Ian Krol, Quentin was released and Wisler has been a hot mess to this point of Atlanta using him on the Gwinnett Express. But to an extent, the Braves rushed him when he got her as his numbers in El Paso were subpar at best. I wasn't keen on this trade as it happened, but understood the idea of moving Upton and his contract.
2. The Alex Wood/Hector Olivera trade. One of the major moments of the fans turning on the Braves rebuild was this trade. Wood had potential of being a quality starter and somebody the Braves could rely on in the rotation. Atlanta shipped Wood, Luis Avilan, Jim Johnson, and Jose Peraza to the Dodgers for Olivera, Paco Rodriguez, and Zachary Bird. So....fans in Atlanta were livid on the trade as the sports radio shows called in and vented on how awful the trade was then. And lo & behold. Wood has been a stud and Avilan (though nothing was overly impressive with him) has been a key piece in the Dodgers pen. And Johnson did come back to Atlanta in the off-season to close again in 2016 and 17, but ask how that has gone to a Braves fan. As for the return? Olivera had injury issues and then had a domestic dispute which ended his tenure fast and was shipped to San Diego for Matt Kemp. Rodriguez and Bird never made it with the Braves at all. But the funny part was, when the Braves were talking about Olivera after the trade, he was supposed to be THE guy for them for years to come, which made fans feel angrier. And then when he got traded, say what you will but this was a MAJOR setback for the franchise.
3. The Andrelton Simmons trade. This was as infuriating as the Olivera trade. The Braves got Sean Newcomb, Erick Aybar, and Chris Ellis in the deal. Simmons had 5 years left on his deal with the Braves when the trade was made. He too, like Wood, could have been a major contributor in the rebuild process as he may be the best defensive shortstop we have seen since Ozzie Smith or Omar Vizquel. Instead, they shipped him off. Sean Newcomb had a rollercoaster run in the Minors. His ERA was fine, but the WHIP is a little too high. In his first season in the Majors, he has been hit with bad luck and then hitters have adjusted to his pitching. and is 1-7 with a 4.45 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP. Aybar's contribution to the Braves was chicken bone awareness before being traded to Detroit and Ellis was traded to St. Louis. Some who defended the trade said Simmons lacked the offense even at shortstop and the Braves were wise to make this move. They were right for 2016. He was dinged up and missed 40 games. However, Simmons has enjoyed a career year with the Angels this year, nearly hitting .300 with 15 HR. He has the third highest WAR in the Majors, OVER Votto, OVER Goldschmidt, OVER Arenado. And while I am not the biggest supporter of WAR, I think it is an indicator on how good a player is in terms of all-around play. But the Braves made a trade that was questionable then and still is now.
Now one rumor why the Braves made all these trades was to rid themselves of any fingerprints Frank Wren on this team. Simmons, Upton, Kimbrel, and others were really Wren guys. And John Hart wanted nothing to do with other guys' players so he preferred to start over. Anyway, the Simmons trade may be indicative of that.
When teams rebuild in any sport, not just baseball, the process is contingent on what moves are made. If the trade/signing/draft pick was good, the process will go as is and the blueprint for success continues. If the move was a bad one, well, you stunt the process. If you make too many mistakes or some major debacle mistakes, whoever is running the ship won't be running the ship anymore. This is why PIttsburgh took for 20 years to rebuild while the Cubs took a few.
I'm not saying nor advocating John Coppolella to be fired because I think he's done a good job of the trades he's made AFTER those messes, though I wished he had shipped Dansby to Gwinnett to improve his swing (but I also don't think that was HIS call either). But these mistakes have set the Braves back on this rebuild. Now it depends on what other moves are made, but the light at the end of the tunnel wasn't SunTrust Park. It is still a good bit away from where the Braves hoped it would be by now.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat