Since the Braves rose to prominence in 1991, they haven’t made a lot of big offseason splashes. Their teams were mostly built from within, bringing in talent from a strong farm system. The 2012-2013 offseason stands out as one of the most memorable. Because we all love lists and rankings, here are the four offseasons, since 1990, in which the Braves made major moves, ranked in order of the very subjective criterion of fan excitement:
1. 1992-1993: The Greg Maddux signing. The Braves were coming off back-to-back NL Pennants and seemed to be looking to make an impact signing, one way or the other, by acquiring Barry Bonds or Greg Maddux, both of whom were free agents. They picked Maddux, he had his best seasons in Atlanta and the Braves eventually won the World Series with Mad Dog leading the staff.
2. 2012-2013: The Upton Brothers. The Braves returned to the postseason in 2010, barely missed in 2011 and lost in MLB’s first-even NL one-game wild card round in 2012. With Chipper, the last link to the 1990’s success, retiring after the 2012 season, they Braves needed an infusion of star power to go along with their young core of Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons. They got it when they signed B.J. Upton and acquired Justin Upton in a trade. It’s remarkable that a player with Justin’s talents was available on the trade market with three years left on his contract, at the age of 25.
3. 2001-2002: Gary Sheffield, Vinny Castilla and Chipper changes positions. After years of regular-season dominance in the late 1990’s, the Braves dipped to 88 wins in 2001 with the likes of B.J. Surhoff, Quilvio Veras and Rico Brogna getting regular playing time. Though they won the East, it looked like the end of the run was near, until they traded for Gary Sheffield, one of baseball’s premier bats. They also brought back former farmhand Vinny Castilla and moved Chipper Jones to leftfield. The Braves won 101 games in both the 2002 and 2003 seasons as Sheffield continued to rake in his two seasons in Atlanta. Vinny Castilla, not so much. Chipper was back as the regular thirdbaseman by mid-June of 2004.
4. 2004-2005: The Braves refocus on pitching by trading for Tim Hudson and moving Smoltz back to the rotation. The Braves lost Sheffield after the 2003 season, then lost his replacement, J.D. Drew after just one season. Glavine left after 2002 and Maddux was gone after 2003. Time Warner purchased TBS and the Braves in 1996 and, without the influence of owner-fan Ted Turner at the helm, the Braves slowly began to lose their luster. In 2004 they pieced together a division champion. In 2004 they got creative, acquiring Tim Hudson from the A’s and moving John Smoltz from the closer’s role back to the rotation. This held off the Braves’ slide for one more season, as they won the division in 2005. They slipped out of contention for the next four seasons but Hudson remained on the staff long enough to see the franchise bounce back in 2010. Now he’s seen as a leader of a young team hoping to take a step forward through the Upton-Heyward years.
Note I chose the Upton offseason ahead of the Sheffield offseason. While Sheffield provided more star power, as he was established as one of the leagues dominant hitters and there are still questions about Justin Upton, I’m taking the Upton offseason. Justin Upton is entering his prime, and may even be at least a year away, and the Braves have him for three seasons. They only had Sheffield for two. Plus with Sheffield the Braves basically acquired him, Vinny Castilla and shuffled some other pieces. I’ll take B.J. Upton’s next few seasons over what Vinny Castilla brought to the Braves in the early 2000’s. Then there are the young players already in place, like Heyward, Freeman, Simmons, even McCann isn’t exactly old. Maybe the Braves won’t have the same success in any particular seasons as the 2002 or 2003 Braves. But they seem to have a solid core for at least the next three or four years with a legitimate shot to win the division, if things break right, in any of those seasons.