Better Braves days ahead? Yes, and maybe sooner than you’d think

Today’s AJC includes the highlights of Monday’s 25-minute conversation with general manager John Coppolella in the Atlanta Braves’ clubhouse at Turner Field. Said Coppolella: “I feel so much better about where we are now than I did a year ago. I knew we were on the right track, but to see where we are is exciting.”

Reasons to be cheerful: Baseball Prospectus last week listed the Braves as having six of the top 82 prospects (four of the top 43). A year ago, the Braves had two of BP’s top 101, both of whom — Jose Peraza and Christian Bethancourt — have been traded. Also, the Sporting News 2016 Baseball Yearbook rates the Braves’ rebuilt farm system as the best in the business. (It was 22nd last year.) Writes David Rawnsley: “The Braves are essentially where the Houston Astros were in 2013-2014.”

(Full disclosure: I contributed to the Braves’ preview — the folks at BP call my submission an “essay” — for the 2016 Baseball Prospectus Almanac. I haven’t contributed to Sporting News for a long, long time.)

All the young dudes: Matt Wisler and Dansby Swanson. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

The next wave takes shape: Matt Wisler and Dansby Swanson. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

As noted earlier, I’ve become a believer in this rebuild. I think I know what Coppolella is trying to do, and I marvel at how much he has accomplished in 16 months. Just when I think he has made his slickest, he makes a more outrageous one. (The how’d-that-happen pilfering of Touki Toussaint was trumped by the Dansby Swanson/Aaron Blair/Ender Inciarte windfall, which could well be the best trade anyone makes in a good long while.)

Swanson/Blair/Inciarte-for-Shelby Miller deal and the acquisition of Sean Newcomb, Chris Ellis and Erick Aybar for Andrelton Simmons — a trade widely reviled by Braves fans — changed the dynamics of this redo. As Coppolella said Monday: “I think (those trades) accelerated our progress … In a lot of the trades we made in the 2014-2015 offseason, the players were a lot further away. With these two trades, you really got six players you could see (in Atlanta) in 2016. A lot of the deals we made last year … were more to restart the system than have major-league impact in the short term.”

Aybar and Inciarte are already big-leaguers. Swanson figures to start somewhere in the middle of the Braves’ infield: He and Ozzie Albies are both shortstops at the moment, and Coppolella said the Braves will decide this season who needs to scoot over. Newcomb and Blair could be in the rotation by midsummer. (Don’t make the mistake of seeing Blair as a ride-along in this latest trade with Arizona; the Braves were insistent he be included.)

OK, now for a reality check: For all these imports, the 2016 Braves will be lucky not to lose 90 games. They lost 95 last year after being 42-42 on July 6. If I had to guess, I’d say the new season will track differently. I think they’ll be really bad early and then, once the promotions start, get a bit better.

FanGraphs projects the 2016 Braves to go 67-95, same as last season. That would be the second-worst record in baseball, one victory ahead of the Phillies. (FanGraphs also projects that the six worst teams will hail from the National League, in which there’s a whole lotta tankin’ goin’ on.) But I’d suggest the Braves are further along in their raze-to-raise project than the Phillies and Brewers and Reds and Rockies and Padres.

That last team bears mention: A.J. Preller took over as San Diego GM in 2014 and tried to win big, landing Matt Kemp and Wil Myers and Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks and James Shields and, not incidentally, both Uptons and Craig Kimbrel from the Braves. By midseason, Preller’s Padres were being hailed as a case study in How Not To Do Things. (Rany Jazayerli’s “Teardown Artist” in Grantland was required reading all across baseball.)

Today the Padres are trying to restock the farm they laid bare to build a team that finished 74-88. Justin Upton left as a free agent. Kimbrel was re-traded to the Red Sox for four prospects. Meanwhile, the Braves are proud employers of Matt Wisler, Jace Peterson, Max Fried, Mallex Smith and Dustin Peterson, all acquired from San Diego, and Austin Riley, who’s listed as No. 79 on Baseball Prospectus’ top 101 and who was drafted with the pick acquired for Kimbrel. They also got a year’s worth of Cameron Maybin before flipping him to Detroit for two more pitchers.

In sum, you’d much rather be the Braves than the Padres. Neither is going to win much in 2016, but the Braves have a real chance of being good, and maybe sooner than you’d think. Go back to Rawnsley’s comparison. The Astros lost 111 games in 2013, their third consecutive year of 100-plus losses. In 2014 they started to stir, going 72-90. Last year they made the playoffs and were six outs from eliminating the World-Series-winners-to-be Royals in Game 4 of the ALDS.

Coppolella: “We feel a lot of our best prospects are close. You can see with teams like the Houston Astros and the Cubs and the Royals that when those young players come up, they can have an immediate impact.”

If you’re still a Braves’ fan after all this deconstruction, you shouldn’t be too discouraged with what you see early in the new season. The next wave of Braves will be arriving soon.

Reader Comments 0

45 comments
davesbrain
davesbrain

This team has the look of those who will give the '99 Cleveland spiders a run for the record book.  They would have a shot at .500 in the interNational league.

Falcons2013
Falcons2013

This years team will likely be brutal. Expectations should be that  a record at all better than last years team is a productive year. That all being said at least we see what is being attempted with this team and many loyal Braves fans can get on board with what appears to be a clear direction. Patience will be required and hopefully rewarded. It is easier to be patient when you see a formulated approach.  It is actually easier to support than the floundering Falcons and Falcons ownerships denial of their front office problems.

0.673803130547
0.673803130547

Good read. Mark, you mistakenly hyperlinked to fangraphs instead of the "Teardown Artist" article.

Ken007
Ken007

The Shelby Miller trade saved Coppy's job. The Simmons trade is still one of the Dumber moves in baseball.

moboman
moboman

@Ken007 time will tell.  Simmons wasnt going to make a difference here.  His D is a wash due to lack of hitting.  Good move for him, hopefully us too.

extremus
extremus

Time will tell, but one key intangible has been very much left in question by the near-complete dismantling of the Braves: the team chemistry.  Now granted, it's now been 20-plus years since the lone World Series championship of '95 and approaching half a decade since this team last reached the playoffs, but the sense of pride, swagger, and expectation to win every time out is likewise going to have to be rebuilt from the ground up with a bunch of fresh-faced kids.  Hopefully the Braves will add in some impactful veteran free agents over the course of the next season-plus as they enter their new stadium to help teach them how to play the game right and keep off-field issues to a minimum.  Again, can they catch lightning in a bottle and bring in the next Terry Pendleton or Fred McGriff who'll complement the youths and lead the Braves back to a championship?


If there's one positive to be taken from this situation, it's that the next generation of Braves to make it to the Fall Classic (if and whenever that happens) will have done so by building their own team identity and their own legacy as opposed of trying to ride the worn-out one left behind long ago by those "glory days" of the '90s and '00s.  It'll mean those Braves will have found a new "Braves Way"...and it just might manage to bring home more championships than the original bunch ever did.


A few things potentially stand in the way of that happening, however.  First is that certain members of the Old Guard who orchestrated those successes during that period...Schuerholz and Cox...are still in the Braves front office, and that could actually be detrimental to the process of moving forward.  Freddi Gonzalez lost his players when the team had a far more capable roster, yet Cox in particular has shielded him from the axe.  And then there's the dreaded Window.  All of these young players, many of whom haven't even reached the MLB level yet and some of whom may or may not pan out anyway, will be under team control for only so long before the temptation to trade them off for another round of prospects again hits.  Bottom line: there is a faceless corporate ownership to deal with here, and they aren't likely to spend to keep whatever chemistry develops intact or to bring in needed pieces to get this team to the next level.


If it was just about "pieces" and numbers, the Padres would've won the World Series last year.  The same caution should be taken with these Braves prospects; there have been no guarantees made here, nor should there be.  And they have their work cut out for them in more ways than one.

Kenny Powers
Kenny Powers

The Braves are still 3 years away from being a major league quality team. They have a ton of pitching prospects but they really lack bats and in particular run producing bats. They will need this draft and next to solidify it and I hope they can sign the 16 year old Cuban Lazarito Armenteros that's being compared to Willie Mays.

MiaBchBravesFan
MiaBchBravesFan

Hated the frank wren years and the stupid FA signings.  I saw the idiocy of the Derek Lowe, KK and other such signings (in his defense, I thought the McLouth & Uggla signings would pan out better).  From WAY out in RF did I see the disaster of the two Upton signings.  Thank heavens for the arrival of John Hart and Coppy - the best things to happen to Braves' baseball since John S. and the re-arrival of Bobby Cox.  Blue skies and calm seas lie ahead for this franchise - and I am very proud once again to be a Braves' fan.  This team is going in an EXCELLENT direction.  PLAYOFFS IN '18!!!

willisde
willisde

I'm not a Braves fan anymore!

Marcus Ridenour
Marcus Ridenour

Good Riddance and don't come running back 2 years from now.

JeffCriswell
JeffCriswell

Lots of talent that will need to produce on field. Hopefully they'll show a lot of fight in the process. 

sbatl
sbatl

Jon Hart and Coppy were forced to make these moves because of the insane ineptness of Frank Wren and the scouting department. We had no one in the minors and our "stars" in the bigs were good but flawed and had potential, but weren't sure things by a long shot. We were going to lose Heyward and Justin Upton in the same offseason, we were stuck with BJ Upton no matter what. These moves had to be made and if you couldn't see that then you don't understand baseball. I for one believe that this team will be better than last year's version. The lineup is way better this season, the bullpen is vastly improved, and the experience the young pitchers received last season will pay off huge. I also like some of the veterans they signed to compete for the rotation. The Fan Fest was awesome on Saturday, and hopefully they will continue to do stuff like that. Nick Swisher was super pumped to be there and I honestly feel like he will be a great addition to the team in a player/coach type role. If we are stuck paying him might as well keep him on the roster to help mold some of these younger guys. I am super excited about this team and I will be attending many games this season, I hope the rest of the Braves fans will stop feeling sorry for themselves and give this team a shot

Kwajbraves
Kwajbraves

The line up is marginally better and the rotation is worse and they are going to burn the BP quickly since most of the starters will get shell out in 5 innings.  This team is going to be bad again this year but that's ok since they don't care about contending in the next 2 years.

Kwajbraves
Kwajbraves

 A lot of the prospects they acquired come with big ifs.  Newcomb and Touki have serious command problems,  Bunuelo, Fried, Minto are recovering from TJ, Folty has a serious health issue and this season may be lost to him and Allard has back problems.  Blair, Jenkins and Wisler are serviceable but they profile more as back of the rotation starters. Riley is still on low A and his strikeout rates are Ugglaesque and Ruiz may be a bust. Hopefully, some of those prospects pan out because if they don't then it is going to be ugly for a while.

kls82883
kls82883

@Kwajbraves  What prospect doesn't come with big "ifs"? Hence the word P-R-O-S-P-E-C-T.

John Skubina
John Skubina

@Kwajbraves a lot less of the prospects have to hit than you think. The advantage the braves current farm system has is depth.  With the Braves being renowned for grooming players you only have to hit on a fraction of them to have a sustainable team. 

Kwajbraves
Kwajbraves

Yes, but there a difference between prospects and suspects and IMO the Braves have more suspects than prospects. Nothing but time to see if they develop.   

Kwajbraves
Kwajbraves

Agreed but the Braves path to contention relies heavily on these prospects to pan out  rather quickly since they are not planning to be major players in the FA market.  I just don't buy the quick turn around that the FO is selling.  I think that they may be around 500 in 2018 and may contend in 2019 but the Phillies may be a force to be reckon since they have money to spend. 

John Skubina
John Skubina

@Kwajbraves The FO has said we will be better than last year, which every metric seems to point in that direction and they have high hopes for 2017. With the trends of the Astros and Cubs it is not out of the question to win 80 games in 2017 to put us in "contention". 

I do not see any reason why the Braves wont also have financial freedom in 2018 and 2019. They are likely to spend 110-120 million this year after both drafts are done with and the new stadium will allow them to get out from the fiscally illiterate thumb of the city of Atlanta.

Kwajbraves
Kwajbraves

I don't think this team is going to be better this year.  The rotation is the worst in baseball and they are going to have problems scoring runs.  I just renew my MILB packets and will watch as many games to see the development of the prospects.  As far as the 2018-19 they will have to compete with teams with deep pockets for available FA. 

John Skubina
John Skubina

@Kwajbraves luckily it doesn't matter what you think.  

Because the rotation is unknown does not immediately translate to the worst rotation in baseball.  

Why do they need to compete with "deep pocket" teams?


Kwajbraves
Kwajbraves

You think this team is going to be better this year then good for you but everybody else in baseball know that this is going to be a bad team. Luckily for you their expert opinion don't matter either. The Yankees, Dodgers, Phillies and Nats will have a lot of cap room available in the 2018-19 and the competition to sign quality FA will be intense.  Do you think that the Braves will outbid anybody?

John Skubina
John Skubina

@Kwajbraves nobody said they won't be a bad team. 

The Yankees and Dodgers have both stated they are maxed out and do not wish to go above the salary cap again. The Nats are in very bad financial position right not because of the tv deal split with the orioles. The phillies are in a good position because of their stadium situation... similar to the braves.

Veteran pieces to supplement a young roster? The braves can absolutely outbid anyone of those teams



Kwajbraves
Kwajbraves

The Dodgers and the Yankees will clear significant salary in the next year, same with the Nats and the Braves are not going to outbid anyone.

Stinger90
Stinger90

In hindsight I believe the Braves did what they had to do to compete under the guidelines they have from ownership.  They have a lot of impressive minor leaguers now.  Some will be on the field in '17 and some will be traded for other pieces.  The barometer for future success will be the '17 season record.  At least we can see that there is a plan.

DawginLex
DawginLex

I'll believe it when I see it. Falcons start 5-0, end 8-8. Hawks can't make a shot.


58Supersports
58Supersports

Time will tell but it better be good are someone will be gone.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

A couple of years ago the Braves were competing with playoff teams, now they are competing with directionless franchises for mention in Baseball America rankings. I'll reserve judgement until we see production at the MLB level.

John Skubina
John Skubina

@DawgDadII Doesn't that make it all that more impressive how rapidly they have rebuilt after gutting a system? They also aren't competing. They are consensus top 5 if not top 3 farm system.

Jeremy Siranko
Jeremy Siranko

Still don't get the Olivera and Simmons deals. While I hope Newcomb proves me wrong, I don't have any confidence that Olivera's long swing will translate to the majors. He's going to strike out more than BJ and play left field like an older Gattis. 

John Skubina
John Skubina

@Jeremy Siranko we lost wood and peraza for olivera, paco rodriquez, and a large salary dump. Wood is ok and seemingly declining. Peraza doesn't fit into the new plans at all and was meh anyway.

I love simmons, but he is barely a top 10 shortstop and shortstops typically decline defensively at his age, Which all he is defense


Polskidawg
Polskidawg

@Jeremy Siranko Actually, I get both trades - the difference is that the Olivera trade looks poor at this point. However, it still has a chance of being productive, especially if Paco pitches as he did before '15. 


Simmons was a joy to watch on defense, but his "jumping out of my shoes" approach to hitting was painful to see. Hopefully, Swanson can handle MLB SS play in the field - if so, I'd expect him to be a far more balance player.

Kwajbraves
Kwajbraves

Olivera is meh and Paco seems to be hurt all the time and recovering (wait for it) TJ surgery.  I'd  rather have Wood in the rotation now than having Olivera.


John Skubina
John Skubina

@Kwajbraves PS- Alex Wood had the same surgery. Plus his fastball has steadily been declining every year

Kwajbraves
Kwajbraves

Wood has proven to be a reliable MLB starter while Olivera doesn't have any position to play.  I rather have Wood in the rotation than the current motley crew that is going to start this year.

John Skubina
John Skubina

@Kwajbraves Wood is a proven 4 or 5 starter and on a steady decline and from a position of strength for us. Hector Olivera has a high upside potential in a need position for us and Paco Rodriquez is a high upside in another position of need.


Kwajbraves
Kwajbraves

Olivera is 31 yrs old and the jury is out if ever going to become a serviceable MLB player.  The Dodgers were content in paying 30M and cutting his loses with him and Paco is been hurt most of his career and he is out for the year. BTW: What you think the Braves have in the rotation right now but a bunch of  number 5 starters?  

Kwajbraves
Kwajbraves

And you think that Norris, Chacin or Kendrics are the better options than Wood after Teheran and Wisler? BTW.  Have you seen Olivera play LF?  I watched him play when he was playing with the Criollos in PR and he makes Swisher look like a gold glove and he was overmatch nightly by A type pitching. 

mark513
mark513

They are moving in the right direction no question because has constructed the last 10 years produced a few playoff appearances and nothing else. Imagine if we had stay status quo last year, this off season would have seen two of our biggest bats go for nothing in return, still stuck with BJ's contract and with a terrible farm system. Instead of taking 3 years to rebuild it would have taken 5 years maybe longer because it would have to been through the draft as we have a cap of about 120 million which leaves no room for big name free agents (also not a guarantee). There is room for optimism and we can watch young guys grow up, kinda of like we did back in the late 80's and early 90's. Here is hoping this group is half has good as that one! Oh one more small problem the manager has got to go, nice enough guy  but not a leader!

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

I hope you are right Mark,there seems to be a lot of frustration and anger building up in the Atlanta Sports fan base. Only one Championship(1995 Braves) in 50+ years has made even the most loyal fans cynical about the future success of their local franchises.