The 2013 baseball season seems like a lifetime ago for the Atlanta Braves and their fans. Fresh off yet another NL East crown and 96 wins, the future looked bright for the Braves. However the 2014 team underachieved, setting off a domino effect of transactions that will reverberate in the Deep South for several years to come. While the fan base is none to fond of the current big-league roster, you must give the Braves management team credit for realizing the need for an organization-wide shakeup.
Starting with the firing of Frank Wren in September 2014, the Braves front office began the painstaking process of rebuilding the franchise from the ground up. Not only had Wren saddled the Braves with the albatross contracts of Melvin Upton Jr., Chris Johnson, Dan Uggla and others, he also allowed the minor league talent to erode greatly.
Wren’s shortcomings were not the only factors working against the Braves front office. The Braves are owned by Liberty Media (for now), and the ownership group runs the team like a business in an effort to turn a profit. The team also is locked into a bad TV deal through 2027, and revenue from the deal lags far behind teams in other markets. With a limited budget at their disposal, the Braves are not in a position to be players for high priced free agents. Upon letting Wren go, and as the Braves front office began peeling back the layers of the organization, it became abundantly clear a full rebuild was in order.
The franchise makeover primarily falls on the shoulders of “The 3 Johns”; former GM and team President John Schuerholz, long time MLB front office vet John Hart, and the newly anointed General Manager Jon Coppolella. The new GM, Coppolella, is well respected in baseball circles for thinking outside the box regarding analytics, and salary cap crunching. He is particularly adept in maneuvering draft slots via trade, and acquiring international signing money, which is very important given the Braves payroll constraints. These men, need not look any further than division rival Philadelphia to see a team who waited too long to start the rebuilding process.
By acting quickly in trading Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel and both Upton brothers last offseason, the Braves jumped head first into the rebuild by gaining a sizable prospect haul. This year, Braves bosses were at it again, offloading Andrelton Simmons and Shelby Miller, gaining another bounty of prospects in each deal. In a little over a year, the Braves have transformed what many pegged as a bottom ten farm system, into a likely top five MiLB system.
The focal point of the Atlanta Braves rebuild has been pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Pitching was the backbone of the Braves success in the 1990’s and the front office pledged a return to the “Braves Way”. Since the 2014 season ended, the Braves have flooded their system with high upside pitchers via trade or draft. Since free agency began there have been two $200 million contracts handed out to pitchers. The Braves know they can’t play ball at those price points, so the only way they can compete is to acquire young, cost effective pitching via trade or draft. This is a brilliant move by the Braves as they are stockpiling arms, which will either help the big league club, or can be moved in the future to fill holes on offense.
The Braves front office team isn’t going to win any popularity contests in Atlanta, as they have traded away virtually every recognizable player on the team. Braves fans need to be patient with this process as they are doing what is necessary to return the Braves to prominence. While you may not know there names now, the Braves are harvesting a stable of future pitching stars that will turn this team into a contender sooner than you think.