August 20, 2017

Braves Front Office Wise To Remain Patient In Rebuild

Braves fans obviously hoped the rebuild would have turned a corner more so than it has and that the team would be very close to contention right now, at least on the outskirts of a wild card berth.  But it hasn’t come to pass.  And it seems the roster has a bit of a ways to go before the Braves are set up for success.

Besides Freddie Freeman and Ender Inciarte, the Braves don’t have any players we’d expect big years from next season. It’s hard to imagine Julio Teheran being any worse but after this season, he’s an enigma heading into 2018.  The rest of the team is made up of veteran roster filler and young players, in some cases extremely young, who are just getting their feet wet.

The catching duo of Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki have been outstanding but both are in their 30’s having outlier seasons compared to their career norms and/or recent seasons.  It looks like the Braves will give Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson every shot at success but Albies is the youngest player in the game and Swanson has been a big disappointment.  Johan Camargo has been a pleasant surprise but he wasn’t/isn’t projected to be the kind of player he’s shown in 2017.  He’ll probably get a shot to win the thirdbase job but it remains to be seen what they’ll do there.  It looks like they are eager to get Ronald Acuna to the majors, and rightfully so, but he’ll be 20 next season so you never know what he’ll give them.  And what do they do with Nick Markakis?  Is Matt Kemp the leftfielder for 2018?  He hasn’t been terrible but hasn’t been great and when he’s not playing, leftfield is a black hole.

The Braves’ are loaded with pitching prospects but at this point they are still prospects.  And even if a few of them come up in 2018, they probably won’t make an impact.  The starting pitchers in the big leagues who are expected to return in 2018 have been mediocre to poor.  The bullpen is a bright spot and it’s an area where they can also insert young pitchers to limit their innings.  But it’s hard for any bullpen to make a big impact unless other aspects of the team can keep them in games.

At some point, you expect the Braves to cash in some prospects for veteran players in their primes who can make an impact in the near-term.  Also, it seems they’ve given hints that they are willing to be players in the free agent market, though that’s where they were burned most severely during the Frank Wren era, so they probably won’t take big risks for big rewards there.

Anything is possible, but this does not look like a roster ready to contend in 2018.  They probably need at least one more legit outfielder, a reliable thirdbaseman, they need a starting pitcher or two or young pitchers to take big steps and they need their young position players to take steps forward.

So, when will the team be ready to make a legitimate playoff run?  The short and sweet answer is when their players are ready.  The front office is not going to force the issue.  They’ve been disciplined at not trading prospects for even attractive major league pieces who are either expensive or aren’t controlled for all that long, like Sonny Gray for instance.  Even though the front office says they want to contend and would like the major league team to start winning as soon as possible, they aren’t going to jump into stupid moves that limit their flexibility for the long term.  Why acquire a player for 3-4 extra wins, at most, by costing the team possibly more wins by trading away talent and budget flexibility?

The Braves clearly want to do the wise thing and build a core from within, so that that core is cheap and controlled for a long time.  And ideally they would like to be able to continue to replenish that core with more talent, once players become too expensive for Liberty Media’s budget.  Teams that are not the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Dodgers need to operate this way to be successful.  It’s annoying in the short term but, with the reality of the apparent budget, fans should be happy the Braves aren’t rushing the rebuild and try to force a contender.  Rebuilds work.  But teams have to let them play out organically.



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