Where Do We Go From Here? 2013 Introduction

It’s been three weeks since the end of the World Series and five weeks since the end of the Braves season, and the Braves have already made the biggest news of the offseason. We’ve talked about the stadium already. Now it’s time for us to talk about the team.

In the final accounting, the 96-win 2013 Braves were a very good team masquerading as a juggernaut. They benefited from playing in one of the weakest divisions in baseball, as the Mets and Marlins gave up on the year before it started, the Phillies lumbered through a sea of bad contracts, and the Nations were arguably the biggest disappointment in the league. Against NL East teams, the Braves went 47-29; against other teams, they were 49-37, which grades out to 92 wins over 162 games and is probably a closer approximation of the team we watched all year.

By the end, the Braves had become a Dead Man Walking, undone by injuries and ineffectiveness by key players. As has so often been the case, the Braves could comb over their flaws during the regular season but were unable to overcome them in the Division Series. The two biggest weaknesses, of course, are owed $26.45 million in 2014, B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla.

There were other problems that the length of the season exposed — injuries to Ramiro Pena, Evan Gattis, and Jordan Schafer weakened the bench; injuries to Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, and Jordan Walden strained the bullpen; and injuries to Tim Hudson and Brandon Beachy stressed the starting rotation. But the Braves also had good fortune in other areas, as Chris Johnson enjoyed a career year on offense, Andrelton Simmons had arguably the best defensive season of all time, Julio Teheran justified all of the hype, David Carpenter turned into one of the best setup men in the league, and Alex Wood and David Hale flashed serious potential in smaller auditions.

There are a lot of good young players on this club: the Braves had the second-youngest offense and the fifth-youngest pitching staff in the majors. So there is a lot of room to grow.

In this edition of the annual Where Do We Go From Here? series, we’ll look at the team’s performance in 2013 and its outlook for 2014, with particular focus on three areas:
• The biggest busts in 2013, Uggla and Upton
• The biggest offseason player story, Brian McCann
• The strengths and weaknesses of the rest of the roster around them

There are four agonizingly long months between now and spring training. But there’s plenty of baseball to talk about. If there’s anything you especially want to cover — or if there’s anything you’d like to volunteer to write about — please let us know in the comments, or email me at the email address in the upper right hand corner of the page.

95 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Here? 2013 Introduction”

  1. @JonHeymanCBS: Source says it was “very very close” call with ruiz and red sox. Phils $26M/3 deal for ruiz includes 4th-yr option

    Somewhere Brian McCann just have his agent a high five.

  2. Assuming we don’t make any big-splash moves, there’s really not much to talk about. We need the young guys to continue their upward trajectories, and we’ll probably have to fill in a few parts for the pen and the bench. I’d like to upgrade our 4th OF position, given that we might have to make him a starter unless BJ figures it out. 2B has been covered from all angles already. I’m not too worried about losing McCann, although that changes fast if Gattis gets hurt. I’m mostly worried about the usual things – can Heyward and/or JUpton have the monster years we’re all looking for, and can we keep or even improve the level of good pitching that we’re all accustomed to and probably spoiled by.

  3. To continue the ATL traffic discussion from last thread…the reason this location is going to create more problems is that it’s directly in the path of the evening rush-hour commute home for all of us unfortunates that work in the city and live in the sticks. The Ted’s location meant the night game traffic inflow was going against against that huge northern exodus up 75. The Galleria location will be right in the way of this, and the flow north will be augmented by the handful of in-towners that drive up for games (surely one or two of y’all will?). Combine that with the crush of traffic on top-end 285W and it’s going to be gridlock. The primary challenge will be to somehow find ways for northbound and westbound thru-traffic to keep moving and not be blocked by game traffic.

  4. @2

    Saltalamacchia
    in the vernacula
    busted his chances
    big buck romances
    throwing to third
    you surely have heard
    regression spectacula.

  5. McCann, there is a causal link
    to Monty Python don’t you think
    as how and why and where
    just check out what they wear
    A Life of Brian, armor’s clink.

  6. The obvious solution, @5, would be to build “local” and “express” lanes on the two interstates there, and keep the “thru traffic” on the express side of the deal.

  7. Romance has fled the Winter Leagues
    an absence of past wild intrigues
    El Oso in full flow
    Fat Juan to make the show?
    the thought of Bethancourt fatigues.

  8. DOB and others have confirmed Huddy to the Giants.

    I hate to see him go, but I’m happy for him. That is a ton of money for a 37-38 year old pitcher. His stuff will play well on that staff.

  9. #11
    Agreed.

    Back to the Bay Area for Huddy. A groundball pitcher in a gigantic park. Not a bad way to finish up a career, and certainly a nice payday.

  10. @8 Already has a ton of lanes

    @14 Unbelievable

    Gotta assume BJ is gonna play better next year. May benefit from lowered expectations. Most of this team should be a year better, only a couple are moving away from their prime years.

  11. Is Brian Sabean all tuckered out yet? It’s going to take a while for the SP market to reset itself.

  12. I can’t agree that the Braves were a dead team walking in this year’s playoffs. They were only dealing with one major injury—Hudson—and essentially had the roster they wanted take the field in the division series. True, Uggla and B.J. were colossal disappointments, but for all that the lineup they trotted out was among the best in the National League. I think they looked more desperate than they were, because Freddy made the very weird decision not to start Alex Wood in Game 4 even though there was no indication that he was unavailable to start. Anyway, they had the team to make a deep run, it just didn’t end up happening. Playoffs gonna playoff.

  13. @20

    Yeah, the transformation of a past baseball season into a historical trend-line rests, fundamentally, on a fiction. The team lost in the divisional series, and then we apply a narrative that itself determines the reason for the loss. Had the Braves won, fans would have concocted a different trend to describe the season. Historians call this the teleological error. What had been a series of (sometimes related, sometimes unrelated) contingencies – not all of which had to do with the Braves, mind you – has now taken the form of a narrative that culminated in an inevitable conclusion. But it wasn’t inevitable. Nothing is inevitable – and no team in the playoffs is ever dead until, well, they’ve been eliminated.

  14. @20, I think Heyward’s injury impacted our postseason more than Hudson’s. I’ll grant you that he may not have hit well that series even if he hadn’t missed a bunch of time b/c he had to face Kershaw twice.

  15. Sure, agreed — it wasn’t inevitable. But the Braves team that showed up for the Division Series couldn’t muster much offense, and while the pitching was good, the bullpen was wobbling, strained by the late-year post-injury ineffectiveness of Jordan Walden and Fredi Gonzalez’s inability to trust Luis Ayala or Anthony Varvaro in a tight situation.

    The team that lost in the Division Series did not demonstrate the strengths that it had shown over the long season. That was partly due to wear and tear and partly due to the way the cookie crumbled, but I believe that the latter was strongly influenced by the former. Or, well, that’s what I tell myself.

  16. We were a Dead Team Walking because the ill-timed injuries played such a big part in forcing us into playing the Dodgers, not just because of what happened in the playoffs, necessarily.

    EDIT: And, yes, no team is going to fit neatly into whatever nice categories we construct. But that’s the box I’d put us into if forced to do so.

  17. 2013 is so two months ago. Onward and upward, gentleman. No good comes from dallying over what ifs and but fors.

  18. It’s cute that we can mix in a little baseball every now and then on this urban-planning forum.

  19. 23: The offense was absolutely fine, good even, considering the quality of the pitching they faced. The pitching was very much not-fine, and got them bounced. But that’s just the kind of thing that happens in a five-game series, not something anyone should have seen coming.

  20. San Fran is throwing around some stupid money. Lincecum’s deal was a joke and then they over-reach for Hudson. Whatever. If the market is 2/$23 for Hudson, then I want no part of the FA market. Give a kid the ball.

  21. There was zero reason to pay Hudson more than the $9 mil that he was making the previous three seasons. I’m glad we offered him a 2nd year but there was no justification for trying to match that offer.

  22. The Phils just locked into Chooch Ruiz for 9 mil per until he’s 41. Welcome to the market flush with silly tv cash.

  23. We may as well save some money to keep our players. The FA market is getting out of control. Honestly, the team has to do something different fundamentally to compete with the current market. We may not 100% support the stadium move, but the Braves obviously think they can get more from the new stadium rather than staying in the Ted. I am glad the Braves management is bold enough to make such decision.

  24. It’s not too late for us to convert ourselves into professional baseball player, right? My arm has been unused for 30+ years and I would take a $2m deal is a second. Now all I need is an agent!

  25. I wonder how a team can reinvest this money saved from not throwing stupid money at the FA market. Would the natural consequence be giving international FA’s more money? With players like Cespedes, Darvish, Puig, and Chapman having almost immediate impact, I wonder if teams will just start giving them bigger contracts. Or when a player shows any semblance of major league success, teams will give them a 10 year contract just so they don’t have to compete in the FA market.

  26. @35 I think what you are saying is starting to happen. This is why scouting, draft and minor league development is even more critical. Teams can only find “cheap” talent through draft nowadays. The money “saved” from the FA should be used in keeping the core players of the team. I hope BJ Upton is the last big contract we are giving out to FA.

  27. ML owners are like drug addicts. Give them money and they will find a way to spend it on players, mostly unwisely.
    The Reserve Clause was instigated to eliminate the rising costs of players being free agents every time their contracts expired. Once the American League became established, one of their first acts was to join the National Commission which kept other teams from raiding their players by offering them more money. Apart from salaries of the ML team, the next biggest expense is obtaining new talent.
    The farm system was another attempt to control players and salaries. Before the Cardinals “officially” invented the farm system, unofficial ones existed, providing ML teams with a first choice of a minor league team’s best players. The quid pro quo of this was that the ML team would draft players from the minor league team and then return them the next spring, thus preventing another team taking them away for good; and perhaps send some talent down for the season. After the 1911 season, an Atlanta paper talking about the farm relationship with Brooklyn opined that the only benefit the Crackers received was in the Dodgers drafting Atlanta players to stash for the winter.
    After WWII, owners again proved their inability to control new player costs by giving exorbitant salaries to high school kids with no professional experience, the Bonus Babies. Ultimately the failings of the Bonus Baby signings led to the creation of the amateur draft.
    Owners, aided and abetted by agents, couldn’t control the draft costs so the commissioner’s office sends out a suggested salary list by draft slot. They also added Puerto Rico to the draft, and would probably make it world-wide if they could.
    You don’t necessarily have to be the biggest spender to win in baseball, but you have to spend wisely if you’re not the biggest spender.

  28. 2 years/$23 million really isn’t that much for Huddy. Hell, the Braves ponied up $14 million for a 41 year old John Smoltz six years ago. Not sure I’d have gone multiple years either though.

  29. @40
    About 18 million if MLBTR’s arb-trajectory proves true. I think the Braves are going to add payroll through a significant trade, not David Price significant, but an under the radar ace type move.

  30. @20

    Not many have discussed it, but I think Jordan Walden’s injury hurt the team more than anything.

  31. There were lots of little injuries that combined with the abject failure of our two highest paid players that resulted in the disappointing performance. But I’ll agree that Walden was never adequately replaced except by Carpenter, who eventually provide not quite adequate enough unfortunately.

  32. @37 – are you arguing that owners aren’t good enough at collusion for your tastes? I don’t get it.

    There’s nothing going on here that’s out of control, it’s just that the Braves have finished the 2013 season with the very same payroll they had in 2004, while revenues throughout the game have gone up and the average MLB payroll is up about 50% in that time frame. We’re basically Wooderson’s high school chicks: they get older, we stay the same age.

    Best of luck to Hudson. It sneaks up on you, how long he stuck around here.

  33. The thing about the Ruiz and Hudson contracts is that they’re being paid a fair market price on the free agent market — the money they got is the money it costs to get players of their caliber. In that respect, the contracts were basically not overpays.

    But the free agent market is the most expensive, least efficient way to obtain talent, at least in terms of dollars. The least expensive way to obtain talent is to draft (or sign) and develop it yourself, as the Braves have done with players from Simmons to Heyward to Teheran. The next cheapest way to obtain talent is to obtain it in trade, as the Braves did with Justin Upton (and Tim Hudson).

    If you have to get a free agent catcher, then paying Carlos Ruiz $26 million could well be a better use of the Phillies’ money than a different team paying Brian McCann upwards of $70 or $80 million. But that’s why penny-pinching teams would prefer not to have to buy free agents.

    Of course, I’m falling into W.C.G.’s trap here and identifying with management. I want McCann to have his payday. But I would prefer that the Braves spend that money on Heyward, Simmons, Freeman, Teheran, Minor, Medlen, and Wood.

  34. I don’t think you have to “side with management” simply by recognizing the constraints of a given system and a given payroll. Unless you’re willing to punt the Braves because they’re owned by Liberty, you have to live within the reality of what Liberty is willing to do.

    I do not “side with” Liberty. I think they’re cheap assholes and I hope they sell the team to an owner interested in winning World Championships sooner rather than later. In lieu of that, I’d settle for them upping the payroll to $120m per year to reflect the reality of the competitive landscape in 2014’s MLB.

    Until one of those things happens, I will continue to analyze potential Braves moves and acquisitions according to the “$100m if we’re lucky” budgeting and recognize that some players such as McCann, beloved though they may be, are priced out of that model.

  35. Surely there will be ample parking in all the office building and mall lots in the area. They won’t pass up a chance to get $20 per car. The trick is going to be building sufficient pedestrian bridges and other improvements that make it easy for people to go from car to stadium and back. If they screw this part up then the whole project is epic fail and nobody will go to games after the initial shine of a new park wears off. If it’s a giant hassle then I’m just gonna watch at home with everyone else.

  36. Aaaand from my link in #49

    http://www.myajc.com/news/news/local/land-grab-preceded-stadium-announcement/nbs8c/

    SURPRISE! “In the weeks leading up to the blockbuster announcement that the Braves will relocate to Cobb County, investors quietly snapped up key properties around the new ballpark site, an examination by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found.”

    Non-paywall link – http://clatl.com/freshloaf/archives/2013/11/18/details-emerge-about-braves-secretive-stadium-deal-developer-land-grab-in-surrounding-area

  37. I love the Braves, and have for probably longer than you’ve been alive. I was a season ticket holder for 15 years, starting in ’91. This entire move screams of money, money, money, crony politics, the whiff of political agendas I won’t rehash, and money. Watching this naked cash grab get exposed for what it is it has nothing to do with how I feel about the baseball part of it. I take personal pleasure in watching hypocrites get hoist with their own petard, yes, great pleasure.

    Fuck these Tammany Hall bastards.

  38. Of course it’s money and land grabs. It’s development in an metro area. What exactly did you expect?

  39. Nothing of course – but the publicly offered lame-ass explanations and recriminations against the city and it’s leaders (who deserve recriminatin’ albeit for other reasons) were just beyond gross. “oooh, there’s not enough parking” “oooh it’s unsafe” “ooh no public transportation” – all cut rate fig leaves for the real reason, which was money and lots of it for the well connected, and at the expense of the rest of us.

  40. Playing Devil’s Advocate here:

    Let’s say between now and the vote in Cobb County next week that enough commissioners are persuaded by their constituents not to vote for approval of the agreement. What happens then? Stay at the Ted? Find another location in the area that will do the deal? Leave the area?

    I am confident the deal will pass, but no one is talking about what if it doesn’t? I think that is a fair question.

  41. @56 – The team would go full Rays/Astros at that point, screaming about being saddled with an untenable TV deal and a stadium that’s falling apart while dumping payroll wherever possible. They’re probably going to do that anyway though, just without as much screaming, as I see roughly no chance of them extending any of the current young guys except possibly Andrelton, and that’s only if teams keep undervaluing defense which seems unlikely. But hey, at least BJ will still be around to open the new stadium! I suppose we’d still have Teheran under control at that point as well, assuming they can handle his arbitration salaries (ha).

  42. #49 – re: parking

    I didn’t read that, but what’s the argument/complaint? Isn’t the new stadium going to be reducing seating as well? If we are cutting seating back by 10,000, reducing parking isn’t a big deal. Or am I missing something?

  43. Not to team revenue they don’t. But whatever, I don’t mind that they are moving, just spare me the opera bouffe about why.

  44. Whew! I thought Spike was going to go all D.N. Nation there.

    Good luck to Huddy. Man the Giants are rolling the dice big time. But gotta hand it to them that the years are short.

  45. 61 – then marketing = excusifying. They can in fact say whatever they like, but they can’t get sore if someone points out the rather obvious disconnect between the press releases and reality. It “is” contemptuous to think the cover story would go unexamined.

  46. Huddy the last 2 years was worth 18.4 million. He’d been worth significantly higher if there was no freak injury. Also, I bet the cost of 1 WAR will go up, maybe as much as 20% to 6M per WAR. Paying Hudson to be 2 worth between 2-3 WAR seems about right and that’s the contract he received.

    On another note, Terdo is headed to the D.R. to play ball for a month. Gotta wonder if the Braves let him know they’re showcasing him to find a starting job elsewhere via trade.

  47. Hudson’s spot can now be filled by proven-shutdown-ace-of-your-choice. Or by Alex Wood. Either way is fine by me.

  48. Post-facto narrative creations may not be as friendly as most dogs, but they also don’t poop on the carpet. I think you’ll be happy with him.

  49. Reds just inked Skip Schumaker to a two year deal. I only point this out to notate that other teams sign fringey crappy players for no apparent reasons too.

  50. @65, Terdoslavich is nowhere close to being a starting player. He’s getting reps to demonstrate whether he can be a major league backup outfielder. There may come a day when he’s 28 that he can grab 500 plate appearances without embarrassing himself, but based on his 55-game sample last year, he couldn’t start for the Astros.

  51. If the dog really was a shutdown ace, it’d be less likely to poop on the carpet in October, is all I care about.

  52. Just make sure you use ’em again in a couple weeks. Otherwise, it’ll be your Lindsay Scott moment without the storybook ending.

  53. And remember that it took an absolutely ridiculous miracle to beat a team that got throttled by Vandy.

  54. @77, I’m an Auburn man – that’s the default storyline for us. We take our miracles as they come, and are happy.

  55. #78

    Dunno if you actually saw that game, but you might wanna look up the definition of “throttled.”

    Vandy benefited tremendously from 2 of the worst calls you’ll ever see in your life (not to mention our butter-fingered punter). Vandy’s made great strides in recent years, but that game had Xmas wrapping on it.

    Still, considering UGA’s outrageous injury luck this season, I couldn’t get too bent out of shape over it. We lose to Vandy about once a decade. Might as well be this year.

  56. @80, I know, I was just jabbing the wartigereagleplainsman. The Dawgs have beaten Auburn on some pretty crazy last second plays too, so eventually the favor gets returned. Plus I’ll even admit that Murray didn’t score so it’s hard to be too upset about it.

  57. @72 I like the Profar trade the best, with the Tigers trade being the least preferred. Living in Michigan it would bug me to no end to have Kimbrel playing for a team I so openly despise

  58. @73
    Have you looked at who starts for the Astros? While I probably overstated his abilities, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Braves asked him to play so they could shop him in the right deal.

    Also…for those without insider content, can you all give us a summary of his trade proposals?

  59. #81
    We’ve spent generations breaking each other’s hearts, and that’s a big part of why it’s still my very favorite football game of the year.

    But hey, let ’em enjoy it. Last year was a pretty deep bottom.

  60. 8 million with a 2015 club option at 4 million if Josh Johnson makes 7 or less starts. Love that deal for the Pads and wish the Braves would have went after him.

  61. @75

    Indeed.

    I would also expect a few extra intangible qualities. Like warning me about a fire at the old mill, or letting me know whenever a small child falls into a well.

  62. Agreed. I would have loved Johnson at that price, but if he decided he wanted to live in a place where it’s 70 degrees and perfect every day of the year, as opposed to playing in the bottom of a hot tub every August, it’s hard to convince a guy to give up San Diego and come to Atlanta.

  63. I don’t know what’s more unlikely- Auburn’s Hail Mary actually working, or the fact that Georgia was down 20 with 9 minutes and change left, took the lead with a little over a minute left, and didn’t have to use a single timeout on offense. One of the most remarkable comebacks I’ve ever seen. All for jack squat.

    @80- I still don’t understand the Ray Drew ejection, and the SEC front office’s mealy-mouthed explanation was pathetic. Would it kill you to just say that the bozo who threw the flag threw it before the hit was even made because he spent the entire game letting James Franklin shout instructions to him, and that the replay booth operator who upheld the ejection shouldn’t work another game ever? I really don’t understand the constant ass-covering from the SEC on its horrific officiating, I just don’t. This conference strives for loudmouthed excellence everywhere….but here. Why do Penn Wagers and Marc Curles put their beady-eyed, Muppet-voiced selves on my television every Saturday? What have those chuckleheads done to keep their jobs? Why do we put up with this? It’s astonishing. It makes watching the games a chore.

    Imagine if Eric Gregg never retired, and MLB made sure to put him in as many Braves games as possible. Imagine if he let his strike zone get more and more ridiculous. Imagine if he picked fights with Braves players. That’s where the SEC is right now.

  64. I would’ve like for us to have taken that chance on Johnson also, but a smart non stressful decision for him. Will Sims or Graham be ready to join the pen out of ST? I think our team is set for next year outside of adding a bench bat. If that’s true, I’ll be disappointed. We need an ace starter.

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