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What If The Braves Didn’t Rebuild? (Part 1)

What If The Braves Didn’t Rebuild? (Part 1)

In October 2014, the decision was either already made or being made that the Braves would sell off most players with value and enter a rebuild. They were coming off a 79-win season, and they had determined that the farm system was barren, they had bad contracts dragging down the payroll (BJ Upton, Chris Johnson), and if they were going to do it, they had better do it now since Jason Heyward and Justin Upton would undoubtedly leave in free agency the following winter.

At the time, they had a solid core of players. Andrelton Simmons was the best defensive shortstop in baseball and signed to a long extension. Freddie Freeman was 24, also signed to an extension but a more favorable one, and after contributing 4.1 fWAR that year, he was on his way to becoming one of the more valuable players in baseball. Julio Teheran was only 23, and he contributed a 3.2 fWAR season. Alex Wood was 23, and Craig Kimbrel was the best closer in baseball and signed to a team-friendly deal for an elite closer. So you had a lot of pieces in place.

I mentioned the issues of impending free agency for its top players and the bad contracts, and the farm system looked bleak as well. If you looked at a prospect list at any point of the last few years, you’d see a depressing contrast if you look at the 2014 lists. The top prospects were Sean Gilmartin, Lucas Sims, Christian Bethancourt, Jason Hursh, and Jose Peraza. That’s a depressing list, but if you squint really hard, you saw some pieces who ended up being very interesting down the road. Baseball America listed the best defensive infielder as Johan Camargo. Best fastball was Shae Simmons. And it’s extremely important to remember that there were two players signed by the previous administration that would play a significant role in the future of the team: Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies. Acuna was only 16 years old at the time, and he had not played an inning of professional baseball. Ozzie Albies was 17, and he had already had a very good season in Rookie ball for his age. By the next year, Ozzie Albies was the #3 prospect on many lists, and was only #3 because the Braves would eventually trade for Dansby Swanson and Sean Newcomb. Ronald Acuna would not be on even a top 30 prospect list until 2016.

The purpose of this post to examine whether or not they should have, based on the information and resources the Braves had at the time, rebuild the club. There are a few presuppositions in place:

• Frank Wren is still fired, and John Coppolella would still become the GM.
• Payroll would stay the same, but draft position would have diminished had the Braves not rebuilt
• All players would have continued their development track.
• Sun Trust Park would have still been build (it was already in development when the rebuild started)
• The economics of baseball would be the same

So we’re picking back up at the end of the 2014. You have your farm, you have your roster, and you have a team coming off a 79-83 season. There were some expiring contracts at the end of 2014: Ervin Santana’s $14M, Aaron Harang’s $1M, and Gavin Floyd’s $4M. But arb raises and escalating contracts would also cost the Braves $12M or so from 2014 to 2015. So you would only have an additional $5M or so to add to a roster that would have looked like this:

C – Evan Gattis
1B – Freddie Freeman
2B – Tommy La Stella
SS – Andrelton Simmons
3B – Chris Johnson
LF – Justin Upton
CF – BJ Upton
RF – Jason Heyward
SP – Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Mike Minor (they expected him to be back for 2015 before they decided to rebuild), Question Mark, Question Mark
RP – Craig Kimbrel, Shae Simmons, David Carpenter, Jordan Walden, Anthony Varvaro, David Hale, and Luis Avilan

So, you have a 79-win team that loses 2/5 of its starting rotation, and they will later find out Mike Minor wouldn’t be ready to start the season, and then they find out in May he’ll need his second Tommy John surgery. They didn’t know that definitively at the time, but that’s what ultimately happened. And as it plays out, the only prospect from their list to make a positive contribution to a team is the eventually traded Sean Gilmartin with the Mets. I assume they would have tried Gilmartin in the rotation. So they probably sign another journeyman for the rotation, and they max out that $5M on another starting pitcher. I have to throw a caveat in here that inevitably there will be improvements to the roster through flyers, Spring Training invites, etc. In reality, they signed AJ Pierzynski for $2M, and there’s probably room in my potentially incorrect budget to do something like that. They traded a pile of slop for Juan Uribe and Chris Withrow. Because they’re contending, you have to think they’re more willing to part with parts to improve the 2015 roster.

And so continues my speculation for what happens next. They’re trying to contend, so they trade some of their top prospects to potentially get another starting pitching. We’re coming off offense being down league wide, so they probably are able to trade from their prospects to get another starting pitcher.

So they set tail for 2015. Jason Heyward and Justin Upton have the contract years they end up having. Andrelton’s bat continues to develop and he has his 3.2 fWAR year. The rotation holds together, the bullpen pitches how it ultimately pitches, the Braves actually win 92 games, and whatever happens in the playoffs happens.

Now the bloodbath starts. Jason Heyward and Justin Upton leave for free agency. Mike Minor is done forever as far as Braves purposes are concerned. But you didn’t sign Nick Markakis, you didn’t trade for Hector Olivera and thus trade away Alex Wood and Jose Peraza (though you may have traded Peraza and others to get a SP in the previous offseason, so I’m going to say he’s gone). But you still signed Kolby Allard because the draft position didn’t change, and you still drafted Mike Soroka because Ervin Santana had left the previous offseason. Oh, and you signed Kevin Maitan during the year.

So Heyward, Upton, and the SP rental are gone, so you’ve cleared around $25-27M from your payroll, and your roster looks like this:

C – Gattis
1B – Freeman
2B – La Stella
SS – Simmons
3B – Johnson
LF – HOLE
CF – BJ Upton
RF – HOLE

Rotation: Teheran, Wood, SP you traded prospects for, Gilmartin (I deviate from history here because the Braves are desperate), HOLE

Bullpen: Kimbrel, Luis Avilan, Walden, Carpenter, Varvaro, HOLE, HOLE

Top Prospects: Albies, Allard, Maitan, Soroka, Sims, Acuna, Herbert, Sanchez (they still trade Kubitza for Sanchez in this; that just seems like something Coppy would have done anyway), Weigel, Pache, Cruz, Camargo

You still have a solid farm regardless of whether they rebuilt. And remember, you get two comp picks because of Upton and Heyward. But for clarity, because you either didn’t trade for them or get a pick associated with a trade, you don’t have Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb, Max Fried, Luiz Gohara, Mike Foltynewicz, Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, Ender Inciarte, Alex Jackson, Rio Ruiz, Dustin Peterson, Anfernee Seymour, and AJ Minter.

The Braves then undoubtedly spend around $18M in free agency after paying for arb raises and escalating contracts (Andrelton, Kimbrel, and Teheran all tick up in salary). But your guess is as good as mine what they do. They need a left fielder, right fielder, another starter, relief help, and even with all of that, it’s a very mediocre roster. But you’re trying to compete, so you probably trade from some of your prospect surplus (not like today where the prospect vault is puckered up tight). And because you have those comp picks, the Braves know that they’ll draft something similar to Ian Anderson, Kyle Mueller, Joey Wentz, Bryse Wilson, Brett Cumberland, and Drew Harrington even if they have a much lower draft position. You have to adjust considerably there, but like I said, they still draft similar to how Coppy drafted, so you have to feel like they would be pretty confident in their draft coming up.

At this stage, the 2015-2016 offseason, it gets far off from reality where I feel it best just to highlight the condition of the time based on the payroll, roster, and prospects they have at these junctures and pause here to let you decide what they should have or should not have done. I personally think that it wasn’t a slam dunk to rebuild. I think had they made some smart trades, found some relievers here and there, and developed a reclamation project or two, they would have still been competitive in 2015, and they would use their resources to continue to keep the team competitive.

Part 2 focuses on what 2016 and beyond look like, but in the meantime, what say you?

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Why Chipper is a no-doubt HOF selection

Why Chipper is a no-doubt HOF selection

Chipper Jones grew up and progressed through his distinguished Major League career aspiring to be like his father’s childhood idol, Mickey Mantle. During his successful journey, the Braves legend earned the opportunity to forever be included within discussions that solely focus on Cooperstown’s most revered immortal residents.

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Who Will Be The Next Braves Hall of Famer?

Who Will Be The Next Braves Hall of Famer?

With Andruw Jones’ current voting numbers, it doesn’t look promising that he’ll succeed Chipper Jones as the next Braves’ player in the Hall. Could time on the ballot benefit him? Absolutely, but let’s assume the voters continue to think that his early exit and 67 career fWAR isn’t enough to enshrine him. Who could be next? The obvious answer would be Freddie Freeman, but is it so obvious?

First, let me address that it will probably not be Tim Hudson. Tim amassed 52 career fWAR in his 18 year career, which puts him with the likes of Mark Buerhle, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Appier, Roy Oswalt, and Bartolo Colon, guys that probably won’t make the Hall. Of more historical examples, you’ve got Vida Blue and people you probably haven’t heard of because, of course, they weren’t noteworthy enough to make the Hall. Luis Tiant, perhaps a name you’re more familiar with, produced a few more fWAR, and he couldn’t get through the committee. So we probably won’t see Tim in Cooperstown.

As a point of formality, I don’t see anyone else eliciting a conversation. Andrelton Simmons, entering his age-28 season, has already amassed 19.7 fWAR, but let’s not re-open those wounds. If he played until he was 41 like Ozzie Smith did, and his bat continues to develop, he could get into the 70 fWAR territory that really gets players some consideration. But even if he did, he wouldn’t have Atlanta on his cap, so it’s moot.

So, really, it’s Freddie. He’s entering his age-28 season, and he’s accumulated 25.3 fWAR so far. By Chipper Jones’ age-28 season, he was at 27.4 fWAR, and he debuted at age 23 like Freddie did. Within that time, Chipper had produced two 7 fWAR seasons, something Freddie has not been able to do, but Chipper would not have another one until a resurgent age-36 season. So let’s assume that Freddie continues to have a 5 fWAR peak for the next 5 seasons, then he begins a traditional decline. That would give him around 50 fWAR by age-33, then it would depend on how he declines. If he can muster a graceful decline for the next 5 seasons at 3.5 fWAR, then he’ll end his age-38 season with 67.5 fWAR. At that point, he would be right on the bubble with guys like Jim Thome (69 fWAR and currently receiving 93% of the vote) and Edgar Martinez (65.5 fWAR and currently getting 80% of the vote).

But if not Freddie Freeman, then no one else in the current crop of Braves appears headed for a Hall of Fame trajectory. But if you’d like another name, how about Ronald Acuna, baby?

Is fWAR too simple to determine a player’s Hall of Fame credentials? Have I over-stated or under-stated his peak and/or decline? Heaven forbid, did I forget anyone?

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Inciarte's elite defense backed by Statcast data

Inciarte's elite defense backed by Statcast data

Ender Inciarte might never have Hall of Fame credentials that equal those possessed by Andruw Jones, whose resume includes 434 home runs. But courtesy of the growing list of defensive metrics supplied by Statcast™, the current Braves center fielder will at least be able to have a better feel for exactly how he stacks up against his contemporaries and future Gold Glovers.

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Alex Anthopolous Interview on MLB Network Radio

Alex Anthopolous Interview on MLB Network Radio

AA was on MLB Network Radio talking about a variety of subjects: Acuna’s timeline, free agent 3Bs, Yelich/Realmuto, scouting, and miscellaneous prospects. Thanks to Braves Reddit for capturing it. Some highlights:

Host: Is there any chance he (Acuna) makes your team out of Spring Training?

AA: We’re still talking to free agents and exploring trades for outfielders for backfill depth. … He did not have a ton at the high levels of the minor leagues. … An ideal scenario is he would get more time.

He tried to dial back some of the expectations people have for Acuna in 2018.

Host: Is there a guy … you could with the way the market sets up that you could invest this year for someone you might still have long-term and do it a year early?

AA: Something we’ve kicked around. (Talks about the Kemp trade tying up 2018 payroll) That it isn’t to say we haven’t explored it with agents if we thought there were some guys that we thought were longer term fits that we could backload with the payroll space in 2019.

MLB Hot Stove rumors: Yu Darvish throws a ‘mystery team’ into his mix of suitors

If you tie both together, which is obviously a huge stretch, and remember that LA traded for Darvish while AA was there, he could be potentially referring to a backloaded Yu Darvish deal. Who knows?

He later talked about wanting to bring in a full-time 3B. Mentions that Johan Camargo played really well when he came up last year, and “Ruiz is someone internally that a lot of individuals felt like he is ready to make the next step and needs an opportunity to play every day and 2018 could be a very good year for him.” Trade bait?

But this was probably the most interesting thing to me. When asked about Alex Jackson, he said, “Great deal by John Hart and his group here to acquire him.” Uhhh, what? “John Hart and his group”. Is John Coppolella being scrubbed from the annals of Braves history? How did we go from here and here where you have quotes from Coppy and no mention of John Hart to no mention of Coppy at all? I speculate that the Braves would like for everyone to forget John Coppolella ever existed. Well, sorry, it doesn’t work that way. We’re not going to forget that you fired 2 GMs in 3 years.

He later says his rotation, in his mind, is Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Brandon McCarthy, Sean Newcomb, and Luiz Gohara, though he said Snitker would decide the order. Perhaps it’s noteworthy that he mentions McCarthy third and divided the five names into two groups: “three guys we expect to start” were Teheran/Folty/McCarthy and “frontrunners” Newcomb/Gohara. Mentions Max Fried and Lucas Sims, but does not mention Scott Kazmir. He refers to Kolby Allard as someone “who can emerge and come quick.” Same thing with Kyle Wright. He was very complimentary to Mike Soroka but didn’t include those accolades with Soroka.

Finally, he said he still lives in LA on the weekends and obviously works in Atlanta during the week.

Feel free to listen to the interview yourself:

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