If you believe Vegas (well, you shouldn’t, but some folks do) then the Braves are heading to rock bottom. The Bravos are projected for only 65 wins, fewest in the majors in 2016.
It’s a trend in the wrong way. In 2013, Vegas said the Braves would win 96 and that win total has dropped every year so fast that it’s over 30 games worse in just 3 years.
We could argue about whether the Braves have done the right thing, stripping the club the way John Hart (who’s now President of Baseball Operations) and New General Manager John Coppolella have gone about reworking the club in its final season at Turner Field.
Yes, 2016 is all about 2017. That shows in many ways. The big league depth chart is patchwork and the anticipation level from fans is at its lowest, generally, since the late 1980’s.
Still here are five reasons to consider that the Braves might not be quite the horrid disaster many expect to see.
5. POP. There’s some pop in this lineup. For a franchise that once played in a park nicknamed “The Launching Pad” the Braves have been woefully under-powered of late. Yes, we will have to believe players like Adonis Garcia and Hector Olivera will deliver and Nick Markakis will find something of a long-ball stroke again. Last season the Braves hit a grand total of 100 home runs – 20 fewer than any other major league team and 132 less than MLB HR leader Toronto. Just getting to 150 or 160 could translate into more wins than Vegas seems to think this lineup can produce.
4. THE PLAN: PART-1. Ever since the shocking announcement that they would move to Marietta, there has been a sense of an uncomfortable ending in Atlanta. Frankly, the only other pro franchise move I have heard of in my career that was as stunning as the Braves move was the Colts packing up in a snowstorm to flee Baltimore for Indianapolis. The Braves move was so surprising that at the time of the announcement many of us watching the breaking news thought John Schuerholz was kidding. He wasn’t. So now that the new stadium is going up quick all we can do is hope to rebuild the brand as quickly. This compares to the nearly 20-year never-ending saga that is the Chargers leaving San Diego and all the acrimony that has gone with that. Yes, the Braves made lots of people mad with this move, but they will do it so swiftly it will be the pro franchise move equivalent of ripping off a band-aid. Done is done and at least we can move on.
3. THE PLAN: PART-2. The benefit of the plan was to rebuild the Braves minor league system. The accounts are that they have not only done that, but done that so well and so fast that some rankings show Atlanta has the #1 farm system in the majors. Now that’s great for growing but harvesting is a different manner, yet the club could pick a few (like Swanson) and try to replicate the late 1970’s when it had young rising stars like Dale Murphy and Bob Horner getting their first swings in. The future then wasn’t right then, but it was close… might be now too.
2. FARM BOYS. Let’s talk Dansby Swanson. Marietta High, College World Series MVP with Vanderbilt and the #1 pick of the 2015 Major League Draft. Lots of upside at shortstop, so much that Manager Fredi Gonzalez indicated there is no reason he can’t challenge to make the major league club breaking spring right now. Add to that a wealth of young pitchers like Aaron Blair, Lucas Sims and Sean Newcomb who could have near immediate or very short impacts on the big league rotation and you have the makings of what the Kansas City Royals and Chicago Cubs started to do a few years back. Build a great young corp and then add the 2-3 key free agent pieces you need to make a run or even win a title.
1. NO ONE EXPECTS SQUAT. There is literally no pressure on this club to produce anything. Let The Nats grind over an April slide or the Mets lose sleep over a pair of key injuries or the Marlins wonder (again) what keeps them from clicking together. The Braves can just go out and play. If they fail, well what did you think would happen, but if they succeed? Hey, how about that!
In 1988 the Braves had young rising stars, some getting through, others stuck behind aging veterans. By 1990, the club was loaded with players under 25. Glavine, Smoltz, Mercker, Avery, Justice, Gant, Stanton, Lemke, Blauser – the corp of the beginning of the run. It’s not 1990 yet but at least the future can be seen from here.