This offseason, if you looked at a notification of a trade or a free agent signing, it seemed like there was about a 50/50 chance that it was the Braves doing something. So, true to form, the Braves did something last week. They traded a couple of young pitchers to the Reds for Brandon Phillips, in a move that definitely doesn’t not make sense, in light of the news that Sean Rodriguez will need several months to recover from surgery due to injuries he sustained when a stolen police car slammed into the car he and his family were driving.
No one can account for injuries like that, and the Brandon Phillips trade makes a lot of sense in light of that. It makes even more sense considering it cost only Andrew McKirahan, who had a 5.93 ERA with Atlanta last year, Carlos Portuondo, a 29-year-old with 10 innings above class A, and $1 million dollars of Phillips’ salary.
The Braves have been making some win-now moves, if lower-risk ones – call it “going cautiously all in.” I think it’s going to pay off for them.
If they were purely motivated by their realistic shot at winning a championship, there’s a good chance the Braves would have gone into full-on tank mode, trying to rebuild to be a top-tier contender in 2 or 3 years. There are other factors than pure baseball, however, motivating Atlanta’s offseason strategy. Namely, a little something called SunTrust Park. Nobody likes to bring a terrible product into a new place, and certainly the offseason additions will add at least momentary sparks to an otherwise bleak season.
These additions also make the Braves better, at least for right now. Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, and Jaime Garcia are projected by FanGraphs to account for 6.3 WAR. The rest of the Braves pitchers (not named Julio Teheran) are slated to account for just 4.6 WAR. Those 3 names help bring the Braves rotation from “abysmal” to “probably fine.” Not much has changed on offense. But Brandon Phillips will be a positive contributor, and the team has been linked to Matt Wieters, who would add even more of a positive immediate contribution. Colon, Dickey, Garcia, and Phillips are all on short-term contracts as well, and could make valuable trade pieces at the deadline to bolster their already highly-rated farm system.
What’s that? You want me to talk about the Braves farm system? Awesome! I’d be glad to. Keith Law, in his annual farm system rankings, rated the Braves as having the number 1 farm system in baseball (ESPN Insider subscription required). Anchored at the top by middle infielders Dansby Swanson (who was straight up stolen, in broad daylight mind you, from the Diamondbacks last offseason) and Ozzie Albies, the Braves have 8 prospects in the Baseball America Top 100 rankings for this year. They’re close. If half of those guys fulfill their potential (or even 75% of their potential), the Braves could be a force to be reckoned with as early as 2018. And players like Colon, Dickey, and Garcia will help bridge the gap between fielding a team that’s not totally disastrous this year, and a team that ought to be pretty good next year.
The Braves are a unique beast, signing a bulk of free agents to short-term deals, having a totally stacked farm system, and having a ton of financial flexibility in the next couple of years. FanGraphs has the Braves winning 75 games, which I don’t think is outrageous (it might even be a little bit low), but no matter which way it’s sliced the Braves have become one of the models for a successful rebuild. Put a product of the field that’s palatable without giving up your money or prospects, and wait to reap the rewards. Guys like Phillips, Colon, Dickey, and Garcia will help keep fans interested and keep people coming to the park, while future franchise talents like Swanson, Albies, and Sean Newcomb wait in the wings. The Braves are doing it the right way, and I would expect to see many teams following their example in the coming years.Next post: 2017 Season Preview Series: The Cincinnati Reds DO Exist!
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