OK, it is that time of year where I am thinking of the next season. I can’t help it. And I am not encouraged so far but spring training will probably fix that. Here is a good assessment of the current state of affairs.
It’s rather difficult to determine what to make of the off season the Atlanta Braves have had up to this point. On the one hand, they’ve made few moves that indicate they are making a serious effort towards being competitive in 2016. On the other hand, the Braves have made several rather impressive long-term moves this winter. Judging Atlanta’s off season from the perspective of a rebuilding team, the Braves have had a successful off season thus far.
Atlanta’s offseason is almost entirely defined by the four major trades the team has made. This winter alone, the Braves have traded away Andrelton Simmons, Cameron Maybin, Christian Bethancourt and Shelby Miller. Unfortunately for the Braves, they didn’t receive all that much in the trades involving Maybin and Bethancourt outside of minor league bullpen depth and an 18-year-old catching prospect. However, the Braves did get a substantial haul for both Simmons and Miller. Both Simmons and Miller were under team control for several more years and could have been part of Atlanta’s rebuilding project, but the pieces the Braves got back may be even more useful in the long run.
For Simmons, the Braves got shortstop Erick Aybar and pitching prospects Chris Ellis and Sean Newcomb. Aybar will play shortstop for the Braves in 2016 and could be used as a trade chip this summer for a team looking for a shortstop at the trade deadline. If nothing else, Aybar is a productive placeholder, giving the talented shortstops in Atlanta’s farm system time to develop. In Newcomb and Ellis, the Braves received two pitching prospects who could make up 40 percent of their starting rotation by the midway point of the 2017 season. Ellis is a solid back-of-the-rotation prospect who could also end up being an impact reliever, while Newcomb has the potential to pitch at the top of Atlanta’s rotation. In the long run, having Newcomb, and to a lesser extent Ellis, may be more valuable for Simmons considering the current state of Atlanta’s rotation.
For Miller, the Braves got back Ender Inciarte, pitching prospect Aaron Blair, and shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson, who was the first overall pick in last year’s draft. Miller is an outstanding young pitcher, but the Braves got great value for him, justifying the trade. Inciarte may end up being used as a trade chip, but if he doesn’t he can be Atlanta’s center fielder and a spark plug at the top of their lineup for many years to come. Blair is awfully close to being big league ready and should grow into a reliable middle-of-the-rotation starter who can pitch 200-plus innings per season, making him a rather valuable pitcher. Swanson is still a couple years away from the big leagues, but he has a chance to grow into a dangerous leadoff hitter and a solid defensive shortstop.
In total, Atlanta’s trades this offseason netted the Braves three quality pitching prospects, one of the top shortstop prospects in baseball, a midseason trade chip and their center fielder of the future who could also be used as a trade chip if desired. The trades won’t help the Braves much in 2016, particularly with regard to the pitching staff, although Inciarte and Aybar could match or exceed the offensive production of Maybin and Simmons at their respective positions last season. However, by the 2018 season, these trades have a chance to start paying big dividends for the Braves.
Of course, outside of these trades, the Braves have done a poor job preparing for 2016. They’ve brought back A.J. Pierzynski to be their primary catcher and re-signed Kelly Johnson to play a role on the bench, but they still have Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher taking up massive amounts of payroll and wasting space on the roster. The Braves are also poised to waste what could be some of the best years of Freddie Freeman’s career, because they don’t have a pitching staff that can compete in the pitching-rich NL East unless several of their young pitchers can far surpass expectations.
Atlanta’s actions this offseason indicate that the Braves plan to punt the 2016 season and continue building for the future. Even though the Braves have done a poor job planning for the season ahead, they made a couple of potentially brilliant long-term moves that may pay off big time in the years ahead. With that promise comes uncertainty, but it’s enough to give the Braves a decent grade for their offseason thus far.