If the Braves are indeed rebuilding, Kimbrel should go

He's the best, but on a bad team he'd be a luxury item. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

He’s the best, but on a bad team he’d be a luxury item. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

He's the best, but on a bad team he'd be a luxury item. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

He’s the best, but on a bad team he’d be a luxury item. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

The day they traded Jason Heyward, president of baseball ops John Hart said the Atlanta Braves “have the flexibility to go either way” — meaning rebuild or reload. Trading Heyward, I submit, gave the indication they’d already chosen the former. Subsequent doings have muddied the waters.

The Braves traded Heyward and Jordan Walden for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins, two young pitchers who won’t cost nearly as much and will be under club control for much longer. Then they spoke with Jon Lester, a free agent who would have cost a ton. Then they decided they wouldn’t make an offer to Lester because he’d be too expensive, which anyone could have told them before they sprang for lunch.

They’re also said to have pursued Yasmany Thomas, the Cuban outfielder/slugger, to the extent that they were briefly identified, along with San Diego, as one of the co-favorites to sign him. He signed with Arizona for $68.5 million over six years.

On Saturday morning, the baseball world was aflutter with the possibility of the Braves trading Justin Upton and/or Evan Gattis to Oakland for pitcher Jeff Samardzija. (This after the A’s traded third baseman Josh Donaldson, their best player, to Toronto, which seemed to suggest another move was close at hand.) On Monday, Hart told Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette on MLB Radio that the Braves have not made one call regarding J. Upton and don’t plan to make any.

(Maybe it’s just me, but the wording — “have not made one call” — struck me as noteworthy. Have they received calls regarding J. Upton? Surely they have. Do they hang up immediately when someone says, “I want to talk about Justin Upton”? Surely not.)

Oh, and this, too: Hart also told Bowden/Duquette that the Braves are “toying” with Gattis playing left field, at least for the moment.

On Tuesday, the Braves non-tendered Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. This made sense, given that both are coming off a second round of Tommy John surgery and precedent holds that pitchers don’t recover from TJ II nearly as well as TJ 1. Non-tendering them, however, doesn’t mean they can’t re-sign either/both. They’ll just have to re-sign them as free agents who’ll be willing to take less money, and other teams might be willing to offer more money.

The Braves are also said to have had dinner with the free agent Nick Markakis, a 31-year-old outfielder who has a good glove and who doesn’t strike out much. (He’s not much a run-producer, though.) If nothing else, the Braves are willing to spend on meals.

If you can discern a grand design in all this stopping-and-starting, you’re a better analyst than I. If you trade Heyward (and the Braves just did), you’re no longer in win-now mode (or so it would seem to me). If you’re no longer in win-now mode, you might as well trade Justin Upton, who can become a free agent at next season’s end and almost certainly won’t re-up here, while the trading’s good. And you might as well see what you can get for Gattis because the notion of him as an everyday left fielder inspires no confidence in anyone.

(An aside: If ever there was a classic A’s/Billy Beane player — a guy who can do one thing very well but not everything, a guy who’d shine as half of a platoon — it’s Gattis.)

If you’re still in win-now mode, you probably tender Medlen if not Beachy. That the Braves tendered neither suggests that Hart and Co. are indeed treading the path of rebuilding, as suggested by Heyward-for-Miller. The Thomas pursuit suggests the same. (He wasn’t going to come cheap, but $10 million a year is already less than Justin Upton makes and figures to be much less than he’ll demand as a free agent.)

As for Markakis: I don’t know what that courtship, if that’s what it is, means. He’s older than you’d like, but he’s a lower-strikeout guy, which fits the profile of what the Braves in post-Wren configuration would like to be. He’d be a useful piece at the right price, but he’s not a difference-maker.

As for B.J. Upton, about whom there has been almost no postseason conversation: Good luck finding a taker at any price.

For a team that won 96 games and the National League East in 2013, a team that moved to re-up four key members of its young core long-term last winter, the Braves appear in great disarray. The reason the Braves fired Frank Wren and turned to Hart was because they believed the bottom was about to fall out. At the current rate of comings and goings, the Braves appear to be the fourth-best team (ahead of only Philadelphia, where the bottom has already fallen out) in the division.

If that’s the case, it’s better to tear things down and start again, as opposed to applying patches here and there. But we’ll know the Braves are committed to rebuilding when they get serious about trading a certain member of those Core Four re-uppers. As Mike Petriello suggests on FanGraphs, it’s time to trade Craig Kimbrel.

If you’re truly rebuilding, you’re not planning on winning many games. If you’re not going to win many games, you don’t need the best closer in the business. As great as he is, Kimbrel would be a luxury a fourth-place team cannot afford.

Reader Comments 1

73 comments
doktrt
doktrt

Who needs a closer? How about the up and coming Cubs? Who has a cache of top prospects? The Cubs. Trade Kimbrell to Cubs for Kris Bryant a phenom third baseman. Plug him into third for the next six years. A win win for both clubs.


Archer13
Archer13

You are the voice of reason bc you have been around long enough to know a team in denial, suffering indecision at the top.


If seems like JS is behind this last gasp of trying to do a mini rebuild.   All these moves reek of JS's stubborn style and ego.  Hart is a nice guy but he hasn't been a big deal since the mid 90s and actually believe JS as something useful to offer at this point of his retirement ;)


They are misreading level headed fans.   


Level headed fans want this team blown up and Fredi gone.  They know its beyond time to retool and redesign this team.  


With a stadium looming every month they waste riding the fence will put them squarely on a course similar to the Marlins going into their new stadium but without the crazy spending.    In other words they will be a mess that needs to be blown up AFTER they embarrass themselves in a new ballpark.   


Now to be fair we need to see where they are in 45 days but the moves they are making, half hearted attempts to chase top flight or hot FA should give people pause.  Signing a 31 yo OF who had had an avg WAR of 0 - .5 over the past few seasons and someone with a bad neck without power or RBI potential seems bizarre.  


He will ne Kotsay all over again with his bad back.  He will start off ok and then slowly or not so slowly fade due to injury.  



Columbus68
Columbus68

Not dissarray.  Look at the guys they just signed long term.  That is your core. They will be putting the other pieces together the next 2 years and by the trade deadline this year when teams need a bat, look for Gattis and Upton to move unless Gattis is smokin and playing a decent LF.  Simmons, Kimbrel, Freeman, couple starters, relievers, Betancourt...Not a bad CORE.  Now fill in the others at 3rd possibly next year, 2nd and all outfield spots between now and the new stadium.  I do not see anyone of the long term signees going anywhere, not Betancourt, or any of the young arms.  Its not as bad as it may seem except the outfield and LEADOFF....getting rid of strikeouts in itself would be a huge improvement over last year no matter who fills the spots this year but long term the core looks good other than OF....

HarMul
HarMul

I now see what all Mark Bradley articles are. They use some facts and mostly conjecture to paint a picture that is an opinion of a man who has no news sources and absolutely no information on what the team is planning on doing. At this point, is the team rebuilding or contending?

Columbus68
Columbus68

Are you a moron?  If Braves do not plan on winning for a season, give up a MUST HAVE element for when you do plan on winning?  Braves will not plan on not contending for more than 1 year.  Crazy talk. Ditch Kimbrel....You have lost your minds...No good closer, no hope. Give up the best?!  And he is YOUNG AS THEY COME?!  WOW you and others like you are trippin

DrPhill
DrPhill

What about rebuilding the dreadful broadcast team?

58Supersports
58Supersports

@DrPhill  You got that right!!!  makes me sick to hear the bs  from Joe and Chip.

reckingball
reckingball

The key to winning is pitching, that is what all the experts say. IF the Braves can get a good 5th man in the rotation, they have a chance to win, and that is without Justin Upton or Gattis. But they would have to get rid of the automatic-out- making, error prone, albatross, currently playing(or maybe that should be occupying) the center fielder's position .


I would not say with any certainty, that the Braves are the 4th best in their division.

I think that they are better than that.

58Supersports
58Supersports

@reckingball  getting contact hitter #1 goal.  Markakis is a contact hitter and plays 150 or more games a year..for the money I'd take him over J-Hey...both home town boys. If they get Flower another hometown boy it would be nice.

58Supersports
58Supersports

Keeping Fredi G was a lot worse than trading J-Hey.... I think we got a good deal all though DOB and some others don't. Hart and Coppy I believe will make more moves before Spring training.. Don't judge before the job is finished.

kerryb
kerryb

The idea that they should trade a player they have locked up for 5 years, the best in the game is lunacy.  They want him around in 2017 when they are in the new stadium and are better.  That's just 2 seasons away.

TreeRollins
TreeRollins

I'd hate to see Kimbrel get pushed out the door in a trade but frankly it does make sense with the current structure of this team as left in shambles by Frank Wren.  The lineup at the end of last season just didn't make sense and had to be shaken up.  I'm glad for the changes (ALL of them so far) but this would be the atomic bomb of the offseason if they trade Kimbrell.  And yes it would signal the rebuilding if it happens.

SOB
SOB

I find it hard to believe that anyone cares in the least anymore. This is Losersville, USA, people. Get used to it. Buffoon mis-management ownership, buffoon Cox/Pox picked General Manager. Maybe the biggest buffoon of a manager in the history of baseball! You can't make it up. I can't believe anyone who loves and understands the game can take any thing the Braves are presently doing seriously. Shut the whole operation down and be done with it.

Wilbo
Wilbo

@SOB Your spoke a serious mouthful of harsh bitter truth, there, my friend.

Archangel
Archangel

@SOB The award for best actor/actress goes to........SOB.

Matt_Talbert
Matt_Talbert

Deal Chris Johnson to the Yankees --> platoon Kubitza and Goose at 3b...or give Kyle a chance to win 3b job outright...sign a good UTL player or sg 2b like furcal (with Peraza ready to take over in June)...or even if he excites out of S/T.  Release BJ, sign a cheap replacement or pick one up as a throw in one a trade (Oakland's Craig Gentry comes to mind?)

DohBee
DohBee

Trevor Hoffmann stayed on poor San Diego Teams....don't trade Kimbrel!

Waredawg
Waredawg

This article proves the point that sportswriters, sabermetrics guys, fans who blog have NO business trying to analyze a team or construct a roster. A team with two potential perennial all-stars (Freeman and Thomas), a top 10 outfielder on offense (J. Upton), an above average offensive 3rd baseman, a top five starting 4, and the best closer in baseball is not going to be in a rebuilding mode and should win 75-80 games even if the rest of the roster is comprised of AAA guys. Add Gattis as either a catcher or leftfielder (25/80), Russell and Carpenter in the pen, and Bethancourt and that's a decent core. Admittedly, we need a 5th starter (with Hale in the pen), a 2nd baseman,  another outfielder, and an improved bench. None of these holes are beyond our financial capabilities. Division winner - unlikely: wild card contender/ .500 plus team - likely if Freddie returns to form, BJ is only 4th outfielder, and we come up with a lead-off hitter. 


Trading Kimbrell makes no sense - the improvement in the roster is wasted because we have no closer.


Don't assume Evan will be in leftfield very long. Bethancourt is not an everyday catcher - offensively, he's BJ, with less power and speed. Hart isn't going to advertise that he isn't sold on CB as the next great catcher, he's holding Evan in reserve. Remember, it was Wren who was so effusive in his praise of CB. And if I'm wrong, we'll still have a great hit, no D LFer that's better than any other option.


We may be rebuilding in the sense that there are not enough financial resources to fill every hole in '15, but we will be competitive, and when Uggla's money comes off the books and we can move BJ, we can make some moves to greatly improve in '16. Give Hart a few more weeks, the roster will look better. Don't completely give up on '15, no WS, but no embarrassment either. And in 2-3 years with an improved farm, we could be really good if we don't "blow up" our core.

Waredawg
Waredawg

@SaveAmericaFromItself @Waredawg Reading some of the garbage on these blogs (and I'm not necessarily referring to you) would cause anyone to have a brain freeze. Obviously I meant Andrelton Simmons. In terms of not giving up on'15, Hart wasn't done, apparently I was clairvoyant - Markakis signing solves a huge problem. Even if we make no more "big moves" having a true lead-off hitter improves the entire lineup. And I guarantee Hart's not finished. Look for a trade to acquire a CF and BJ sits.


Braves will keep Gattis - don't believe Hart is sold on CB at catcher, he was Wren's guy - unless someone offers to overpay. Justin for CF, 2B or better than average starter. Count on it!








Waredawg
Waredawg

@Arkansas_Transplant @SaveAmericaFromItself @Waredawg 


Johnson is neither as bad he looked at times last year or as good as he was in '13. If he comes back to his mean in '15, he's above average offensively - concede his defense is substandard. Doubt there's anyone available who is any better, and with the constantly escalating salaries in MLB might be bargain in a few years. Personally, I think he was one players most effected by the deterioration in team chemistry, lack of plate discipline, trying to do too much attitude - whathaveyou - that seemed to infect the team like a disease (Freddie and Andrelton also seemed effected). Having a true lead-off hitter and benching BJ may do wonders for the psyche of the whole lineup. I think we'll see far less strikeouts and more situational hitting from everybody. Time will tell.

Arkansas_Transplant
Arkansas_Transplant

@SaveAmericaFromItself @Waredawg I was wondering that myself and who's this above average offensive 3rd baseman? Because Johnson was one of the worst offensive 3rd baseman in all of the majors last year, (.263 AVG, .292 OBP, .653 OPS). Those are pretty horrible numbers, not to mention his power decreased but his strikeouts increased to a rate of about 1 in every 4 at bats. Chris Johnson is another guy on the team I'd be trying my best to move.

Arkansas_Transplant
Arkansas_Transplant

What I find completely asinine is the statement that since we've traded Heyward all of a sudden we're a crappy team in rebuild mode. As if Heyward was the key to success, much like he's been over the last few years, oh wait.... he hasn't! I think we got a pretty good return in Miller and another promising prospect. Even if we were to trade JUp today, I'd still consider us contenders just based on the fact we'd be running a pretty elite group to the mount, night in and night out. Let's not forget, we had all of these players last year and what did that get us? 1st? 2nd? 3rd? C'mon, let's quit overvaluing our own players and just look at the results.

HoosierAaron
HoosierAaron

I think we have to listen if someone called on Kimbrel but it would have to be a crazy offer. At this point, we can miss the playoffs with me as the closer - we did that WITH the best closer in baseball.

As for J-Up, I would be willing to take a little less than "market" value rather than letting him walk for a draft pick if I could get someone I really wanted.....Profar, for example.

BSNBC
BSNBC

Moving the deck chairs on a sinking ship!

Jazzpman
Jazzpman

What a mess the front office and Frank Wren created.. .....Look how long it took for Baltimore to become relevant since he left there !


Please don't tell me the entire top doesn't need to be let go either, they signed off on the BJ Upton deal as well........there is no way we could not have gotten BJ if the top guys said NO.


The fire sale now wow..... Who is going to go see the pathetic Braves now ?  How much did all those " Division titles " get the Braves ?  NOT Much. 

I would rather be like the Marlins who got 2 titles to the Braves ONE, and the Giants who understand small ball, and strikeouts MATTER.

Don't tell me the front office and Bobby Cox knows what they are doing.....the Braves are not contenders, and have not been for YEARS !  One World Series Victory for all those " Division Titles ", and the best pitching staff ever assembled.....for One title. Yes they are really in the know !

SaveAmericaFromItself
SaveAmericaFromItself

@Jazzpman 

Why is John Schuerholz still here? He looted the farm system for 1 year rentals like JD Drew and Mark Teixeira; signed off on Frank Wren's dumb moves; and has not been relevant since Ted Turner's money left town. 

Misogynist
Misogynist

I didn't even bother to read this article.  I am in constant amazement as to why this so called sportswriter knows how to run professional teams better those in the business.  Boy do I ever long for the days of Furman.  

FarTrain
FarTrain

It's very obvious the Braves are headed toward at least 5 yrs, maybe even 10, of down years.  The ones who will really pay for this are the Cobb Co. taxpayers who have to be the most naive and gullible of  anyone.  Hope you are prepared to pay through the nose, and to see an inferior product on the field for quite some time.

GT71
GT71

@FarTrain  Cobb tax payers were the last to know, Sunshine.  If they'd put it to a vote, it would have been boat-raced to oblivion.

No, these Commissioners better enjoy their cushy govt jobs for now because they'll all be dumped and run out of the county on a rail.

SaveAmericaFromItself
SaveAmericaFromItself

This team finished 17 games out of 1st place in a WEAK NL East, and is not 1-2 players away from being a "contender". The offense is lethargic, weakened further by Heyward's departure. No leadoff hitter. Very little overall team speed.

It'll take John Hart at least two years to clean up Frank Wren's messes. This may be the time to trade Kimbrel to obtain a starting pitcher and a top 3B or OF prospect.  

BravoDawg
BravoDawg

1. Trade Justin while his value is high & before he leaves as a free agent & get nothing

2. Trade Gattis, while he is a great guy with power, the ONLY position he can play is catcher &  not all that well, we have a catcher & its insane to put him in left field

 3. Get rid of BJ, whatever needed if they have to eat most of his yearly salary & include him in a trade, cant have him taking a roster spot & being an automatic out

 4. Sign Harang, why not? he's cheap & effective & better than Hale

 5. Make Kimbrel available just to test the market, could bring back over value to the right team that needs the games best closer, useless here unless you're ahead he never gets in the game & Braves could get a boatload in return

Wilbo
Wilbo

Rebuilding? Reloading?


Maybe the Braves just aren't smart enough to choose, new supposedly powerful GM or not. 


1/2 n 1/2 - and that's what I'm afraid we're gonna see - is a sure fire recipe for mediocrity.


But then, doesn't mediocrity define the spirit the spirit of the franchise lo these many years running? Hmmmmmmmm........

Waredawg
Waredawg

There's a huge Catch 22 with trading Kimbrel. You would have to figure he would net a starter, maybe two, or prospect or two. This is not a terrible club, if you upgrade 1-2 positions, suddenly you're competitive and need a closer like Kimbrell. What's the point of a 1-2 year rebuild and have no closer. You lose as many games by weakening your pen as you gain by improving the lineup. Trading Kimbrell is a bad, bad idea. 


I'm a firm believer that a substantial # of starters way underachieved last year, Freddie, A. Thomas, C. Johnson, even Gattis because of the injuries (only playing 75% of games). Gattis in left isn't ideal defensively, but wouldn't be much worse than Justin last year or Klesko  or Garrett Anderson in past years. I think the strikeouts and lack of situational hitting was contagious last year. The new hitting coach and increase to the mean by the above 4 players substantially improves the offense. Signing Markakis would help and the benching of BJ ( make him no better than the 4th outfielder if he stays) would help even more more. In my view, signing another outfielder  and stopgap 2nd baseman are the real priorities. If we get some bullpen help and marginally improve the bench, we will be better than a .500 team, and with luck could claim a wildcard spot. Trade Justin only if you get longterm starter back for outfield or 2nd. Starting pitching is top 5 in NL as constituted. Heyward and Santana were way overrated. Braves should have 20-25 M to spend on holes, more if they trade Justin for cheaper option.  Even without any other major moves, this team wins 75-85 games, we're no Houston or Cubs. 


And I'm convinced Hart hasn't thrown in the towel on '15. We'll be better than most experts think. Trading Kimbrell, except for big value would be very foolish. He won't be worth any less after '15, and '15 may be doomed without him. I say let's see how the next season plays out. GO BRAVES!

Wilbo
Wilbo

@Waredawg Uh-oh! It's dreamer can't deal w reality boneheads like you that are going to ensure the Atlanta Braves don't boldly do what's required to make a major upgrade to this consistently below championship caliber team.


Can you say, "Mediocre for ever, Baby!!!"?

Robert_C
Robert_C

I have to agree with the last commenter....I don't see trading JHeyward as a rebuilding move.....I personally think hes a good but not great player that got injured a lot and frankly didn't hit for enough power for your right fielder......I think the fact that we got a good young pitcher that we will control for a while was a shrewd and smart move....especially when you consider the fact that we lost Santana and Harang and need more pitching.........Stop pushing this rebuilding nonsense.......I think its a lot easier to find a serviceable right fielder than a quality pitcher

k483
k483

Rebuilding, really?  Is any of the fan base going to wait around two, perhaps three, seasons?  If you end up with top level players, eventually, you will have to pay them top money.   That's what made me think they saw something in JH that said he wasn't going to be worth what they knew he would be asking.  


SaveAmericaFromItself
SaveAmericaFromItself

@k483 

The Braves' spin doctors will never admit to a rebuilding, not with a new stadium on the horizon.

Heyward will get 18-20 million a season for 5-8 years, and the Braves were not prepared to pay him that kind of money, considering the offensive numbers he's put up. I predict hitting in the middle of the St. Louis lineup, Jason will have his best season ever.

hardworkinman
hardworkinman

Mark,

Just a reminder here - the Braves won 79 games with the crew they had at the end of last season. That's a bad team any way you slice it. They couldn't hit a lick although the pitching and defense were pretty good. They subtracted Heyward who was a marginal bat and great glove, but added two pretty good pitchers. 

The non-tendering of Medlin and Beachy signals nothing in my mind except the fact that a wise baseball businessman does not pay injured employees top money. It is too big of a gamble on both of these guys, so it's a smart business move. It is the anti-Wren mindset that is impressing me most with Hart.


Markakis would instantly improve the club as he would give the Braves a leadoff hitter better than anything they have had since Bourn and his glove would be an adequate replacement for Heyward. One good trade for either Gattis or JUpton that brings in another starting pitcher and another contact hitting outfielder with good defense and this team is better than it was last season. Trading Kimbrel would be insane at this point. A few tweaks and some players getting their stroke back would put the Braves back in contention.


BJ, on the other hand, is another story entirely. He needs to go, plain and simple, even if that means eating the contract. His attitude is as destructive as his play.

ChiefKnockAHoma
ChiefKnockAHoma

@hardworkinman


Hit this right on the head...  Hart is not re-building for the 2017 season - he is strategically maneuvering to give the Braves the best opportunity to win now while also giving them a solid foundation...  If you're paying attention Bradley, it's making pretty good sense...

THEBITTERTRUTH
THEBITTERTRUTH

@hardworkinman You are exactly right. Getting rid of Heyward was a good thing. Benching or releasing BJ and adding one of two Markakis types to the outfield and we will be competitive again.

MaxSizemore
MaxSizemore

Boycott the Braves.  Show Liberty Media who is really boss.

larcato99
larcato99

When did the Braves become the Miami Marlins????  This all goes back to ownership and nothing more.  When the head of the house is in disarray,  all of the house will be in disarray.  We need one owner whose one goal is to win World Series.  It is not about the payroll, but about putting the right talent (players and coaches) on the field. 

SaveAmericaFromItself
SaveAmericaFromItself

@larcato99 

As long as 2.3 - 2.5 million go through the turnstiles at Turner Field every season and Liberty Media realizes a modest profit every year for its stockholders, nothing is going to change.

Arther Blank bought the wrong Atlanta team !  

jdcigar
jdcigar

If you are rebuilding then everyone should be available for the right price.  We need to figure out what we are doing and then work towards that plan.

JAS0N
JAS0N

If Braves indeed rebuilding, Freeman should go.

Hank12345
Hank12345

@JAS0N you are  a jerk.  why dont you go and never come back

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  1. […] roster worth underscoring, and the best of them has since been traded. I understand the logic: If you’re not planning on winning, why pay to have the best closer in the business? But the flaw in the whole Braves’ tear-down-to-rebuild plan remains, more now than ever: What […]