It was only last Thursday that a similar question headlined a different post, and I offered a different answer: “Would the Braves deal Simmons? Sure.” Not nine hours later, the Atlanta Braves traded Andrelton Simmons.
Contrary to the latest round of rumors, I would be shocked if the Braves trade Freddie Freeman. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports — who had previously ripped the Braves for even considering trading Simmons — reported that “the Braves are shopping everyone owed money,” a grouping that included Freeman, Julio Teheran, Cameron Maybin and Nick Markakis.
Here’s my rating of the likelihood of that happening: Maybin’s a “maybe,” having had something approaching a career year; Teheran’s a “possible but not probable”; Markakis is a “probably not,”seeing as how the Braves like — and I mean really, really like — what he’s giving them on the field and in the clubhouse, and Freeman is a “no chance” unless the return is Mike Trout.
I know some of you believe the Braves are stupid or crazy or both. They are none of the above. They have a plan. There’s a chance the plan might not work, but they are executing the plan. I understand if you don’t like it. Nobody likes following a losing team, and the Braves are going to lose a lot in 2016. But the Chicago Cubs lost 101 games in 2012 and 96 in 2013; in 2015 they won 97 and played in the NLCS. The Houston Astros lost 416 games from 2011 through 2014; this year they made the playoffs and were five outs from eliminating the the team that wound up winning the World Series.
The Braves could have kept Frank Wren’s holdovers another year and won 85 games, but new management had decided that team wouldn’t have gone anywhere worth going. The decision was made to tear it down before Jason Heyward and Justin Upton left as free agents and thereby accelerate the rebuilding that would have to happen anyway.
In a year’s time, the Braves have remade their farm system. The trouble with that is that Atlanta fans don’t often get to see the Class A clubs play. Those games aren’t televised nightly. And fans aren’t known for their patience. Being he world’s least patient person, I understand. But once a team has decided its minor-league chain can’t sustain winning at the big-league level and that same team is unwilling to pay $100 million for the big-ticket free agents, there’s really no choice but to start again.
The Braves have started again. The big-league team could well get worse before it gets better, and the 95 losses of last season were bad enough. But the Braves now project a starting rotation of Shelby Miller (acquired for Heyward), Teheran (a Wren holdover), Matt Wisler (acquired for Craig Kimbrel), Sean Newcomb (acquired for Simmons) and Lucas Sims (another Wren holdover) when they move to Cobb County in 2017, with Mike Foltynewicz (acquired for Evan Gattis) and Manny Banuelos (acquired for David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve) possibilities.
There’s a second wave building: Touki Toussaint (acquired for Phil Gosselin and money), Tyrell Jenkins (acquired for Heyward), Max Fried (acquired for Justin Upton), Kolby Allard (Round 1 pick), Mike Soroka (Round 1 pick obtained from Ervin Santana signing with Minnesota), Ricardo Sanchez (acquired from the Angels in a trade almost nobody noticed) and Chris Ellis (acquired for Simmons). That’s 14 young pitchers, 12 acquired over the past 12 months.
Back to our premise that the Braves aren’t stupid: Having just watched their big-league club finish last in the majors in runs, they know they need hitting. That’s why they traded for Hector Olivera, whom they envision as a middle-of-the-order complement to Freeman. And that’s why they’re not trading Freeman. They need him to anchor a lineup that is below average at best and awful at worst. (As noted in Sunday’s AJC, Simmons is a fabulous defender who had regressed as a hitter.)
I heard the rumor that the Braves were shopping Freeman early Friday but dismissed it. You’ll note that I did not dismiss the previous day’s Simmons rumor. I’d been led to believe by a credible source that Simmons was no longer deemed indispensable. I’ve been led to believe that Freeman still is.