Where Do We Go From Here: Why I Believe In Retooling, Not Rebuilding

We’ll get to the meat of the offseason content after the World Series, but in the meantime, I wanted to point to an interesting article by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs, where he tries to wrestle with what he got wrong about the Royals. Of course, basically no one predicted that they would reach the World Series this year, but Cameron panned the James Shields trade specifically because he thought that it was so unlikely that they would experience quick success as a result of it.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that when the results of the postseason don’t align with expectations, that our expectations were clearly wrong to begin with. The playoffs — like most short tournaments between competitors of mostly equal stature — are mostly random, with the outcomes swinging wildly on things that simply couldn’t have been predicted in advance.

But while I think I can defend my analysis of the Royals talent level, that doesn’t make the overall argument correct. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen essentially unparalleled parity in MLB, and this year, we have a World Series match-up between two teams who made the playoffs via the Wild Card. In 2012, the Tigers got to the World Series with 88 regular season wins; in 2011, the Cardinals won it all after winning just 90 games. While better teams are still more likely to win out in the postseason, the structure of the playoffs gives a real chance to every team who simply qualifies, even if they sneak in via the Wild Card. So maybe I underestimated the potentially positive returns from being on the good side of mediocre.

This is the crux of why I always land on the “retool” side of the “retool versus rebuild” argument. The 2014 Braves, for all their flaws, nearly won 80 games, and these days, pretty much any 80-win team is in range of a year like the 2014 Royals had — getting lucky and winning five or eight extra games in the regular season beyond what their Pythagorean record would have predicted, and then riding a Costco tub of pixie dust through the playoffs. The only way to guarantee you’ll miss the playoffs altogether is to rip off the bandaids and blow up your team, the way the Diamondbacks did in the firesale that netted us Justin Upton, or the way the Marlins did in 1998 and 2012.

As a lot of people have grumbled (including me), baseball has become less of a regular season sport and more of a postseason sport. What happens in the first 162 games is not completely meaningless, but since 1/3 of all teams play on past the regular season, the odds are incredibly good that the best teams in the regular season will not play particularly well in the playoffs, and that teams that were mediocre in the regular season will play great in the playoffs.

But that’s the world we live in, and that’s the world in which the Braves have to play. There’s almost no added advantage in winning 95 games in the regular season rather than 90. So that means that the ultimate goal must be to build teams that always have a pretty good chance of winning 90. There’s no harm if you overshoot that. But there’s significant harm if you foreclose on that possibility altogether.

51 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Here: Why I Believe In Retooling, Not Rebuilding”

  1. The bright side is that we can immediately improve the team just by releasing a couple of players and putting literally anyone in their place. That’s not an insurmountable challenge. Will we? I dunno. Probably not. But at least it’s in the realm of the very possible. A lot easier than acquiring a proven-ace or drafting the next Trout.

  2. I think most of the points in Ryan’s argument can be folded into a re-tool mindset this off-season.

  3. 2 starting pitchers, an outfielder that can hit, a couple of bench players. Is that it?
    @3 – I interpreted Ryan’s post as lets start over. Maybe his interpretation of re-tool is different than mine.
    Where Ryan’s argument is weak as far as trading our impending FAs is that it wasn’ just Prado. We included a live arm and othe prospects to get JUpton. Where the argument is really weak is that most teams aren’t as dumb as the D-backs.

    Teheran, Wood, Minor -SP
    Hale, Walden, Kimbrell, Avilan, Carpenter, Russel, Vavaro, Shae – RP
    Freeman – 1B
    La Stella, Gosselin? – 2b
    Simmons – SS
    Johnson – 3b
    JUpton, Heyward – OF I truly believe (hope?) BJ is gone this off season.
    Gattis, Bethancourt – C
    Pena – bench

    To retool is going to be very very tough, especially since it may be that our core group isn’t all that good. However, I agree with Alex. Bring in enough pieces to compete, win 85 games, sneak into the playoffs and let the dice roll.

  4. Thanks for the post, Alex.

    This is a legit question, which can stand a lot more detailed investigation. However, my comments will be short in length and deep insight.

    1. This is Atlanta. What makes you think a team from this city will run on an unexpected hot streak in the post season?
    2. I think this has been the M.O. for our front office since the beginning of the 2000’s. How’s that working for us? Is it only 1 (!) post season series we’ve won since 1999.

    More seriously, I think we enter this offseason a little too weak to make much of a run in ’15. I think we should be thinking more about a short rebuild. Get rid of anyone that doesn’t help us past ’15 for players that will, or might.

  5. @Edward from last thread:

    Yeah, I watched the Ring/Ironside game. Totally nuts. I used to play club with one of the Ring guys back when he was fresh out of undergrad. Tristan Green. He was always a crazy athlete, but in that game, he uncorked a flick that totally shocked me. Haven’t seen the guy in years, but it’s great to see how far he’s gotten. Great game.

    Also, between watching this and other… non-standard sporting events, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing worse than broadcasters for football/baseball/etc are broadcasters for less well known things. It’s like everyone’s trying to be Joe Buck except they’re way way worse at it.

  6. @5, I think that the answer requires two parts:

    1) These days, many 88-win teams have been very successful in the playoffs. So, building an 88-win team is not a bad idea in itself.

    2) We always suck in the playoffs regardless of whether the team won 88 games or 100 games. We need to figure out why, and it is fair to treat this as a legitimate question: we have done terribly in the playoffs, and it’s reasonable to wonder whether there are pervasive problems in the coaching or lineup construction that lead to our team always losing the first short series it plays.

    My post addressed point one. Until we answer question two, then there’s no point in rebuilding, because no matter how many wins we get in the future we haven’t answered the question of why we always lose in the playoffs. The only thing a rebuild guarantees is that the team will miss the playoffs in year n + 1.

  7. So you add the necessary parts to round out the team, hope that a couple of guys have above average years, hope that no one has a really terrible year, hope that the rest of the guys have average years, go play baseball and let the chips fall where they may.

  8. @6

    Did you ever get to play with Justin Allen? He played a hell of a game.

    The announcing all weekend was a little weird–the guy doing play-by-play is still clearly getting the hang of the sport. He kept talking about “downfield fouls” every time there was a pick, and used the word stoppage over and over like it was an NFL game. You have to think someone at some point is going to get on the microphone at one of these events and just clearly describe what is happening while mixing his delivery.

    I played against Kurt Gibson (Johnny Bravo) once during one of UFUCT’s championship years. He was pretty unstoppable then and he’s much better now–and a much, much more useful player than his more famous teammmate Brodie.

  9. I could be talked into getting behind either strategy, really. What I don’t want to see is a half-measure.

    Either sell and plan for 2016 or commit to a legit contender this year. Don’t sign Josh Willingham and Jake Peavy and try to tell me the team is ready to bounce back in 2015.

  10. @8, pretty much, yeah.

    I mean, I don’t disagree with Ryan’s point regarding the need to fill the farm system back up. But I don’t think that we should blow up the major league team in order to restock the farm. I’d prefer nibbling around the edges. And, like he says, investing in international free agents. Teheran was an investment that has paid off many times over, but so was Gregor Blanco, whom we signed back in 2000 for what was likely a pittance.

    I’d much prefer that we just invest in bringing in a lot of post-hype sleepers and reclamation projects and undrafted free agents and so on. Our major league team is really young, and our minor leagues are pretty bereft of impact talent, so we can just sign a bunch of fringe guys, stick them in Gwinnett, and see which one of them can hit or pitch or field their way into the majors. Then, with Roy Clark back in the fold, maybe we can get back to the business of drafting guys who are good at baseball.

    @10, Willingham is no longer an option.

  11. The reasons I think we should be eye-ing 2016 to the possible detriment of 2015:

    1. We are still paying Dan Uggla for one more year.
    2. We have to get rid of BJ Upton.
    3. We need 2 more starting pitchers.

    Combining 1&2 with #3 makes reloading for 2015 very difficult to believe in.

    We are likely to “take it on the chin” to get rid of BJ. Some have suggested we do this by sending Minor with him. Of course, if we do that, we need 3 more starting pitchers. Whatever we have to suffer to get some other team to take BJ could be concentrated in 2015, losing a player that does not impact us past then or counting most / all of the $ we have to send with him against ’15 payroll.

    We just have too much dead weight on the structure of this team to build a rotation when no help is coming from the farm.

  12. @7

    I think question two is difficult. We have always assumed the playoffs were based on luck and pitching. With our poor showing and solid to strong pitching, I think we may be able to debunk that idea.

    I know some are saying, “Let’s figure out how the Royals did it…” I think we should look at how the Giants and Cardinals are doing it.

  13. @11 – Reverse-Furcal Rule? Do we need to see a press conference announcing the Braves WON’T sign Willingham before we believe it?

    I just have a bad feeling we are in for a Garret Anderson/Raul Mondesi type signing this year. Hey, Player X hit .290 with 27 bombs back in back in dickity-six! Maybe he can rediscover that stroke in Atlanta!

  14. Parish makes some great points. The millstones of Uggla and BJ will definitely hurt us in the short-term. I do think that we will have to essentially “sell a player for cash” to free up the sunk cost of BJ’s contract. By doing the BJ-and-Minor-for-nothing scenario, you’re saying that BJ is worth $1-2M, and Minor is worth $13M. On the flip side, can you replace Minor on the open market for $13M? If not, then you might as well release BJ, free up the roster spot, and keep Minor. Either way, no one is handing out a Get Out of Jail Free card for our decision to sign BJ Upton.

    I think it’s pretty clear that we will just have to get lucky to get over the financial constraints of Uggla and BJ. Someone (or many) will have to significantly over-perform based on their market value to compensate. Unless someone from the farm pops up out of nowhere, you’re looking at Beachy and Medlen both coming back from surgeries, or an O’Ventrbel scenario of 3 relievers making peanuts coming out of nowhere. With the instability at the top of the organization, I’m not sure we’re going to be finding anyone on the scrapheap any time soon. I’d imagine there are some distractions right now.

  15. Just release him and be done with it. Blame it all on evil-Wren and move on. Giving away a useful piece just to get rid of him makes zero sense to me.

    So we don’t sign any big FAs next year, and we fill in the holes with spare parts and lottery tickets and hope like hell that our core players have better seasons. Frankly I don’t think it matters much what we do as far as back-fill goes if Simmons and Heyward don’t hit better next year.

  16. Retooling and rebuilding can coexist (look at what the Rays do every offseason or trade deadline). I think the Braves have to sell high on some players in order balance out the sell-low of BJ (if that is even possible).

    After writing that article, I’ve become less confident that the Braves can actually pull off a B.J. trade.

    @johnny, we as serious critiques of all things Braves tend to undervalue our own players as much as lesser fans overvalue their team. Jupton and CJ have been worth 10 WAR since coming to the Braves for about 35 million. The Diamondbacks got about 5 WAR out of Prado before he was traded, have gotten .8 WAR out of Delgado, a -0.3 from Ahmed, 0.2 WAR from Spruill, and Brandon Drury has been very good for the D’Backs Minor League system. Yes, the Braves are winning the trade right now, but the Diamondbacks have Delgado, Ahmed, Spruill, Drury, Peter O’Brien, and about 20MM off of their books between the 2 years. Considering 1 WAR is about 6 million a pop on the FA market, the deal is almost even already. Point being, it’s way too early to tell if this was a dumb trade for the Diamondbacks.

  17. Also, I never stated it was just Prado. I did state that we sold high on him. It looks like a win now, for sure.

  18. Id still trade BJ and Minor for Edwin Jackson. Minor has recurring shoulder issues and we maybe selling him at the right time. Meanwhile, Jackson did post a 4.12 xFIP. Get him in Atlanta with Roger working with him and Simmons behind him and he could work out. Plus it would free up about $10mil in cash.

  19. @19
    I would do that deal yesterday! I just don’t think the Cubs will. It’s crazy to think that they will have Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Alcantara, Soler, Russell, Castro, Valbuena, and Rizzo ready to go next season. I just don’t see where BJ is a fit on their roster anymore, unless they trade some for pitching.

    Regarding post…
    I do believe retooling and rebuilding coexist on teams with largely good parts. The Braves have JUpton/Heyward and Walden that could re-stock the farm, and at least one of 2 contracts (Chris Johnson/BUpton) that need to go.

    Point 1 in the post: Hopefully, the Braves choose to sell-high and trade JUpton, keeping Heyward as RF.
    Point 2 in the post: What Alex said about Teheran and others. Outside of the Top-10 players selected, the draft is just a frickin’ crapshoot. Right now, I like the International Market better.
    Point 3 in the post: It’s highly likely that Wren didn’t listen very much to his top scouts, as all of them seem to be coming back after his dismissal. These guys are good at what they do and the new GM should pay special attention to the gifted scouting team assembled.
    Point 4 in the post: Don’t give up a #1 pick for Ryan frickin’ Doumit ever again. Admittedly, I was down on Gilmartin, but the move was super dumb.
    Point 5 in the post: If the Braves sell off both Uptons, one of the positions needs to be filled on the cheap, and platoon players are cheap. Get 2 for 1/3 the price to create 1.

  20. I think the person most likely to be traded for something of value is Justin Upton. I’m all for it if we can get true value in return – I think we can. It would be nice to dump BJ and CJ, but the best we can hope for is not to eat all of their contracts like we did with Uggla. If we can’t sign Heyward to a long term deal I think he will be gone also. If we lose one or both of those guys it’s hard for me to see us being better in 2015. Don’t even get me started on how bad of a downgrade Bethancourt would be if Gattis is traded.

  21. I don’t think replacing Justin with Gattis would result in that bad of a decline in defense, and I would like to see the bear get 600 at bats. Also, please explain why just releasing BJ is a worse move than packaging him with a player of some value in a bad contract trade. For instance, giving up Minor and maybe more along with BJ just to get Jackson’s contract seems ill-advised to me.

    Just take BJ out and shoot him. That’d probably give CJ incentive to improve.

  22. @22

    I’m in. My barber can fix this mess.

    I think we have to hope Liberty Media gives us a pass on BJ

  23. 1.) What’s the possibility of moving Chris Johnson for a bench player? (Or at all?)

    2.) Trading Justin Upton is not a bad idea as long as the return is good enough, even if we plan to compete this year. It is not equivalent to trading Jason Heyward, which is a bad idea unless we’re punting on the next two seasons. And punting on the next two seasons is a bad idea. Heyward is a younger and cheaper player than Justin Upton, and 4 of the last 5 years (exception: 2011) he has been a better player.

    3.) I’m sure we can get some well-regarded prospects for Justin Upton. But what sort of return could we get if we ask for major league players?

  24. You can give up your first pick — you can even give up the first pick in the draft overall (which is not what Sean Gilmartin is) — for just about any old reason, and it’s not necessarily a problem. First rounders are valuable, but not sacrosanct. You can include them in a fair trade, you can include them in a trade that’s lopsided against you, and it can all turn out fine. Wil Myers wasn’t a first round pick, but it’s not hard to imagine that he is, given how he is fetishized; anybody complaining now about the James Shields trade?

  25. @24 – That’s a good question, but look at it this way. BJ is owed $45m over the next 3 seasons while Minor has some health concerns and I guess he will make about $30m over the next 3 years during the arb process.

    The Braves would have close to $75m invested in Minor and BJ over three years compared to $22m with Jackson over 2.

    That frees up a lot of salary that could be allocated elsewhere. It gets rid of our biggest offensive and monetary issue. If Jackson sucks, you cut him and eat far less salary than you would by just releasing BJ now. Everyone looks at Jackson’s W-L record and bad era, but he is capable of putting up better numbers in a pitchers park with a good defense behind him.

  26. @28
    Wil Myers for James Shields is a far cry from Ryan Doumit for Sean Gilmartin. The Braves sold their first round draft pick for a bench player.

  27. Just wanted to say, I was in Vegas this past week, and the Braves were getting 25:1 to win the 2015 WS. I think they’ll be at least an average team next year, so this seemed like a reasonable number for me to jump on. Thoughts?

  28. Wil Myers for James Shields worked out for both sides.

    I think Hart will have an easier time of moving BJ than anyone else we hire. He has more respect and may be able to find a way easier.

  29. @31, do you remember what the odds were for all of the actual 2014 playoff teams? Because 25:1 for a team that didn’t make the playoffs this year seems low to me. I’d jump on 50:1 odds, but I wouldn’t feel nearly as confident in 25:1 odds.

  30. How would the receiving side explain acquiring BJ? Why would anyone do this? If we offered to pay all his salary and give him away for nothing, would anyone take him?

  31. I agree with Alex. Heck, you could have gotten 18-1 on the Royals to win the World Series at the beginning of the playoffs once they were already in.

  32. Las Vegas makes money on people who bet on what they hope will happen, relative to what is objectively likely to happen.

  33. #35 – it has to be a bad contract for a bad contract situation. The Cubs for example could feel the same way about moving Jackson as we do about moving BJ.

  34. @30, I don’t disagree that we sold low on Gilmartin and got crap in return. And it’d certainly be helpful to have Gilmartin around right now — even if he needs everything to play up in order to reach his ceiling as an average big leaguer for a few seasons. He may not be special, but he could be useful.

    I just wouldn’t extrapolate to the notion that it’s even generally a bad idea to ever trade a first round pick.

    Anybody want to make the pro-Dayton Moore case?

  35. Dayton Moore has proven that he can take a team that has sucked for decades and stockpiled draft picks and finally turn them into a winner.

    The Braves are in the very early stages of a period of extended suckage, so Moore might be a good fit.

    How’s that for the pro argument?

  36. Not only all that, you can argue that Dayton effectively worked the market, relatively cheaply acquiring/developing speed and defense to sneakily build a contender. You can also argue that those are the skills we need in a Braves GM.

  37. @DOBrienAJC: 2 #Braves catchers ranked among top 10 in NL in most passed balls … and Gattis wasn’t among them. Laird had 7, Bethancourt 6, (Gattis 5)

    @DOBrienAJC: Gattis 89 starts, Laird 41, Bcourt 30. RT @TheMacDawg: .@DOBrienAJC What was the number of games breakdown for Gattis, Laird, Bethancourt?

  38. Dayton is clearly a very talented baseball man and he has some very notable strengths, particularly when it comes to building a farm system. But he also has some really, really notable weaknesses. You can see why he and Frank Wren were very effective Assistant GMs.

    The pro-Dayton case is: he drafted a ton of really good prospects and built a pretty good 2014 team on a pretty lean budget.

    The anti-Dayton case is: every Royals team prior to 2014.

  39. standing outside Ebbetts Field for the first time…

    walking around the perimeter, have to ask older locals, where’s the beef? don’t bother asking anyone under 60…

    crazy that with all that fame and history just a single 3′ x 2′ plaque on the outside wall of the leasing office.

  40. Just last season Dayton was the laughing stock of baseball. This season he is the mad genius that absolutely knew what he was doing when he traded one of the top if not the top prospect in baseball for a good starter and a decent reliever.

    @48 – very good point. There’s this year …… and then there are the rest.

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