Draft downer: Only the Braves could lose by winning too much

Fans celebrate after the Atlanta Braves defeated the Detroit Tigers, 1-0, in a baseball game, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, in Atlanta. The game was the final contest to be played at Turner Field, as the Braves move to new ballpark for the 2017 season. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

These folks are not celebrating the No. 5 pick. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

On the morning of Aug. 21, the Atlanta Braves had a five-game lead in the race — the words “lead” and “race” are used advisedly — for the No. 1 pick in the 2017 MLB draft. They were 44-79 to Minnesota’s 49-74. Tampa Bay was 51-70 and San Diego 52-71, both being eight games ahead/behind. Cincinnati was 53-69, a 9 1/2-game separation.

At the close of regular-season business Sunday night, the Braves were 68-93, having gone 24-14 over the final six weeks. They will have the No. 5 pick in next year’s draft. As bad as the 2016 team was at winning under Fredi Gonzalez, it was even worse at tanking under Brian Snitker.

Which can, I guess, be considered a good thing. (It’s certainly good for Snitker, now the favorite to manage this team on Opening Day in SunTrust Park.) But if you’ve committed to a deep-dish rebuild, you’d love to have the No. 1 pick just once. And the Braves weren’t merely the running for it: They had a five-game lead with little more than a month to go. Then they pulled a Reverse Fredi. They fashioned an Epic Collapse by winning too much.

As it turned out, the Braves will pick later next June than they did this, when they took Ian Anderson No. 3 overall. That’s unbelievable. At best, these Braves were considered the second-worst team in baseball headed into the season, and for the first four months they ran neck-and-neck with the Twins. But Minnesota took two games at Turner Field on Aug. 16 and 17 — the latter was Dansby Swanson’s debut — and left with a five-game bulge. That seemed to have settled matters. Oops.

Blame Swanson for being really good. Blame Matt Kemp for anchoring the lineup. Blame Freddie Freeman for being the best player in the National League over the second half. Blame Ender Inciarte for remembering how to hit and for stealing a game in New York. Blame Snitker for not fouling things up. Blame Julio Teheran for outpitching Justin Verlander on Sunday. Blame former Brave Justin Upton for taking a called third strike with the tying run on base. Heck, blame everybody, “blame” also being brandished advisedly.

This was sweetly bitter stuff. In the here-and-now of Atlanta Buzz, the Braves started to win at a propitious moment. Sunday’s farewell to Turner Field — the Braves won 1-0 to eliminate Detroit, a team of massive resources, from postseason consideration — was a fine time for everyone there and everyone watching, and surely it made some folks who’d sworn off this team in a a transition both figurative and literal reconsider their vows never to set foot in SunTrust.

That said: In a purely baseball sense, the No. 1 pick has immense value. You don’t have to wait on anyone else. You can grab the best player on your board. You’re given the most money to use in slot allocation. You control the draft.

The Houston Astros went from losing 100-plus games to last year’s playoffs by having the 1-1 pick three years running. The Chicago Cubs went from losing 101 games in 2012 to winning 103 this season by having five consecutive top 10 picks, including Kris Bryant at No. 2 in 2013 and Kyle Schwarber at No. 4 in 2014. One of the reasons the Braves’ farm system went fallow was that the big club won too much and went from 1991 to 2013 with only one top 10 pick — Mike Minor at No. 7 in 2009. The first Round 1 pick of the Coppolella/Hart administration was Kolby Allard at No. 14.

Being John Coppolella, he found a workaround by purloining Swanson, the 1-1 of 2015, from Arizona, but I imagine seeing the final standings made the general manager cringe, if just a bit. Because of the cancellation of the Sept. 25 game in Miami after Jose Fernandez’s death, the Braves played one fewer game than the other teams at/near the bottom of the table. They finished a half-game ahead/behind the Reds, Padres and Rays. Had the Braves lost Sunday, they’d have been picking No. 2.

And Bryant, the No. 2 pick of three years back? He’ll surely be the National League’s MVP.

Super fun reading:

A moving day at Turner Field, in more ways than one.

There has to be a place for Walter Banks at SunTrust Park.

Turner Field somehow never felt like home.

The Braves are a .500 team! (If you don’t count the first half.)

A September to remember for, yes, the Braves.

Ender Inciarte ends game, stirs debate: Greatest Braves catch ever?

Tebow to the Mets. Can the Braves ever recover? (Kidding.)

The Braves’ rise from oblivion has begun.

Reader Comments 0

19 comments
TideDawg
TideDawg

Normally you don't play the game for draft picks, but I suspect that the Braves didn't expect Snitker to pull the team together and start winning. What could they say when he turned it around?????

mdet
mdet

All this talk and no one ever even mentions who the # 1 pick is gonna be or may be.

redweather
redweather

Haven't you beaten this horse enough? As if draft picks, even in the first round, are sure bets.

58Supersports
58Supersports

Make Snitkers the Manager and take best player available in top 5 draft. Hell no to Black and Washington...that would be a disgrace.

Rayley
Rayley

That is one of the most ridiculous thoughts I have ever heard.  What is Bradley's point?  Were the Braves purposely supposed to lose games to get the #1 draft pick.. I hope no team I route for ever does that.  Frankly I thought the braves under Snitker the last half of the season were a fun team and I enjoyed them very much.

BobDawg
BobDawg

Mark, maybe you will write an article on how Coppy never quit on the season and kept working to get the lineup better.  If we keep Bud Norris and Harrell and don't trade them the Starting lineup would have been half decent...What Snit did with the lineup/starters was a minor miracle.  With a couple of Bud Norris's signed next year and a decent catcher...This team could be in the Wild Card race by only improving 15 - 20 games next year... 

BobDawg
BobDawg

Let's see we got the Swansby Pick "this year" and Kemp landed in our laps "this year" and Enciarte came over with Swanson "this year" and now our lineup is pretty stacked so I'm fine with #5 "this next year".... 

davidbronson
davidbronson

the baseball draft is a crap shoot at best, I'd guess that there are more #1 picks that are bust than are star players. im ok with a top 5 pick THIS year.

Kelvin59
Kelvin59

Look at the bright side Mark, until the recently with Ken Griffey Jr., there had never been a player taken #1 overall in the baseball draft that ended up in the Hall of Fame. So perhaps picking a little later in the first round will turn out to be a good thing for the Braves. 

Getthetruth
Getthetruth

Professional baseball is simply an entertainment option and not an activity that should be embraced from a FANatical perspective - go back to the 1994 and 1995 seasons to understand why.


The concept of the Braves losing ground and getting a less attractive draft pick next year is interesting but irrelevant.  The only issue of relevancy is that of a professional team providing the absolute best performance it can provide every game of every day.  


Next year - I may choose a different entertainment option.  Don't you dare consider playing less than your absolute best for any game that I pay for and attend this year.  MLB lost the privilege of having fans that should care more about "next year" in 1994 and 1995.

YogiWilkerson
YogiWilkerson

Draft picks are not what you play for. Ridiculous to say lay down guys. The best thing about watching this team all year is watching young hungry ball players trying to get better. That was accomplished. Manager and coaching staff should stay as is. Phenominal job getting these players to believe in themselves. They finished as a TEAM with a happy clubhouse. Changing managers and coaches now would set progress back a season.

Curious_George
Curious_George

Mark,


If you were a gambling man, would you now bet on Bud Black  (John Hart's Long-Time Mananger Man  Crush )  or Brian Snitker  (Mr.  "Wait Here at 3rd Base, Sid Bream.")  being the next permanent Braves skipper?



Curious_George
Curious_George

Didn't the Braves make some hay the last time they tanked and got the #1 pick in the MLB amateur draft, some kid out of Florida named "Chipper," I believe?



Will the Minnesota Twins now get to draft the next Chipper Jones, a 21st Century prospect who might have been ours until about a month or so ago?


Curious_George
Curious_George


Wasn't getting the #1 Draft Pick going to be the consolation prize for the Braves fans (who still went to the ballpark regularly) who had to watch  The  WORST Team in Baseball for much of the year?  



Congratulations, Minnesota Twins.  




Does this mean the Braves just stuck it to the Tigers (a division rival of the  Twins) and their fans twice on the same Sunday?



cshudson24
cshudson24

This really is a lame article. Really Mark? Pros are actually suppose to tank in your option?

Mountain6
Mountain6

Please get a life. Baseball draft is a crap shoot at best unless there is a clear recognized phenom out there. Does not happen very often. Get a grip - Braves outperformed your expectations. Do you think Braves's fans could have at least one day to enjoy that before you search for a negative story?

FineousMcDirtyBird
FineousMcDirtyBird

@Mountain6 What expectations did they outperform? They sucked on paper. People said they'd suck. They did in fact suck.