Thinking About 2015: Brother, Can You Spare a Position Player?

Here we are, two weeks to pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, and while I’m really excited we’re getting baseball back, I’m finding it hard to work up much excitement for this year’s Braves team. We have a shortstop who can field, a first baseman who can hit, a starting rotation, and a closer, and that’s really about it. It was as though the Three Johns took out their lunchbox and traded their sandwich, banana, cookie, and cheez-its for a huge bowl of salad next week. Nutritionally it may have been the right move, but it’s hard to feel good about it, and a lot of us are going to go hungry through homeroom.

What I’m trying to say is, the Braves may not be much fun to watch this year. A lot of things have happened in the last few years, too: the Braves announced they were leaving the city of Atlanta, a lot of our favorite players retired or left, the ownership group cut payrolls by a lot, the Braves started routinely collapsing in the second half, and all of a sudden the Braves may have started to look like just another team, not necessarily more deserving of support than any other. That’s how sports works, obviously, but no one enjoys the reminder.

The game threads around here are always significantly shorter when we’re losing compared to when we’re winning, and I expect that there may be a few more short threads on this blog this year. This is the path that the Braves have picked, and it’s the kind of path that sheds you some fans along the way.

But I’m going to keep watching them, because of Andrelton Simmons and our awesome starting pitching. The one good thing about rooting for a bad team is that every win feels like you stole something, because every loss is almost a foregone conclusion. On the other hand, that’s a bit like a line by Lou Reed and John Cale, in a song about Andy Warhol:
There is only one good thing about a small town
You know that you want to get out.

(That line’s a reference to Pittsburgh, Warhol’s birthplace. I guess it seemed like a small town to him.)

So I get being angry at the team. I’m angry at them. They’ve been fairly cynical about how they’ve been talking about the move, and how they’ve punted building a competitive team until the move, and how they decided to pretend that the only people responsible for the 2014 debacle were Frank Wren and Bruce Manno. The Braves have serious work to do when it comes to scouting, drafting, and player development, and if they were convinced the Wren regime wasn’t working, then some more house cleaning is in order.

In the space of a few months, the farm system was completely overhauled, but the Braves do not have a great recent track record of developing light-hitting position prospects into effective major league hitters, and I’d like for them to think about how they can improve that aspect of their player development apparatus. The hitters whom they’ve managed to develop successfully, like Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and Evan Gattis, all have pretty good power, though of course Heyward’s has declined in recent years. Even Simmons has good power for his position, though his future as a hitter is significantly iffier. Power is great, but the Braves need to figure out how to take guys who don’t have it and turn them into successful major league hitters. Like, for example, Jose Peraza. Or Rio Ruiz. Or Ozhaino Albies.

But the Braves are still pretty ace at developing pitching. One of the keys to 2015 — that could determine whether we can play spoiler and hang within spitting distance of .500, or whether we’ll be in 1989 territory — will be what happens with Shelby Miller and Mike Minor. We could never have gotten Miller if he weren’t damaged goods; his injury is what cast a cloud over his future but it’s also what made a pitcher with his talent, track record, and velocity acquirable for a one-year rental of Jason Heyward. Mike Minor’s shoulder injury and urethra scarring cast a pall over much of the season, as it basically stole his spring training and it seemed like it took him a long time to regain his feel for the zone. Both Minor and Miller had two good months to close out the year. If they’re good (and if Wood and Teheran keep pitching like they’ve done the past two years), the Braves actually have one of the better rotations in baseball. If Miller and Minor spit out the bit, then the Braves really won’t have any legs to stand on.

Still, that’s why they play the games, and I’m going to keep watching them.

40 thoughts on “Thinking About 2015: Brother, Can You Spare a Position Player?”

  1. Yeah, both the short and long term outlook for Braves offense is not looking so great. I’m in for the long haul, though, mostly because I feel like since I am too young to remember the lean years of the 1980s, it’s about time I pay my dues of sticking with a struggling team. This may be the lack of experience talking, but, to me, bad Braves baseball is a heck of a lot better than no Braves baseball.

    Good thing I’m a fan of pitching/defense, though, rather than huge offensive explosions (although those are nice on occasion). If Miller and Minor can be decent, I’ll be able to derive some enjoyment from this season…although I may have to start looking away if the ball is hit to anyone other than Simmons…

  2. As my cousins who lived in Atlanta used to say in the 70s – Go Braves, and take the Falcons with you.

  3. Manny Banuelos
    Mike Foltynewicz
    Rio Ruiz
    Max Fried
    Jose Peraza
    Tyrell Jenkins
    Braxton Davidson
    Lucas Sims
    Arodys Vizcaino
    Ricardo Sanchez
    Ozhaino Albies
    Mallex Smith
    Dustin Peterson
    Christian Bethancourt

    *prays*

  4. @1 Stick with the Braves. But I have to tell you from experience that its tough watching them when the odds are good they’ll lose. This team will be way better than some of the teams from the bad old 80’s, because if the pitching holds up we’ll at least be in the game. I am guessing we may set a record for 3-2 losses this season.

    @4 – The Braves off season summarized in a list. The odds are decent that 4 of those guys will turn out to be good. Quantity is a quality. Not enough hitters in that list for my tastes but you have to take what they give you.

  5. Another thing that factors in favor of the Braves seeming “pitching first” plan is that signing FA hitters is not as risky. Right now, it is hard to see where the 2017 payroll to sign a hitter would come from (trade Kimbrel and Minor?), but hitters are less likely to fall off a cliff.

    Wait a minute. This is the Braves. Do we remember BJ Upton? Nevermind.

  6. Actually, the thing about hitters is there’s relatively little risk involved in extending their contracts.

    /visits Cot’s

    Welp.

  7. “The one good thing about rooting for a bad team is that every win feels like you stole something, because every loss is almost a foregone conclusion.”

    I’ve lived all over, and a few years ago I was living in Houston. The Braves will always be my team, but I always adopt the local team wherever I am. There was something refreshingly relaxing about rooting for the Astros. Whenever I watch a Braves game I get anxious, and watching the Braves in the playoffs is excruciating. so much so I am sometimes wonder “Why am I doing this to myself?” Rooting for the Astros, by contrast, was easy. I would park for free on a street close to the park–no crowd to fight. My friends and I would buy some upper level seats–sometimes we were the only people in our section. We would expect to lose, and so every hit, every stolen base, every clutch strikeout, was a huge victory. The bullpen blows the save? No big deal. But when they step up and beat the Phillies in the ninth? It’s like watching your kid somehow sink the hole in one at Putt Putt.

  8. @9 Perfect description of how I followed the Braves in the 80’s. I watched on TV. I could almost time Dale Murphy’s at bats perfectly so if I wanted i could do other stuff while the game was on. It was a bonus if they actually won a game. Of course back then I had Skip and Pete to keep a lousy game entertaining.

  9. Speaking of Skip and Pete, I wonder if part of the reason they were (became?) such good announcers was having to be the announcers through all those bad times. I would think it’s much easier to be an announcer when your team is good all the time, because who cares if the announcing sucks when we are winning. On the other hand, when the team is losing, then maybe the burden of entertainment is higher on the announcers. I think it might be interesting to see how the current crop of announcers respond to night after night of suck on the field. Will they elevate their announcing skills? I’m pretty sure it was the bad Braves which drove Skip to say “on to the bottom of another 5th”.

  10. Look. If you ditch the team when they rebuild(*) you’re a bandwagon fan. If they go through something like the Hawks went through from 1994-2014, that’s different. Ditching on the Pirates in 2000, or the Cubs at any point in the last 100 years is understandable. If the product is continually and consistently terrible, there’s no reason to torture yourself with them. But a 2-3 year rebuild isn’t that, and if you can’t take a down turn of that length you may consider becoming a Patriots or Yankees fan. Whatever the hot and trendy team is these days.

  11. @DOBrienAJC: Can’t get anyone w/ #Braves to rule it out, so might be possible RT @coltongentry3: @DOBrienAJC any chance Braves try to bring Andruw back?

  12. I’m convinced that this all comes down to Peraza and Ruiz. If they can be converted successfully into major league assets, you’ve got a strong enough core that it can be the base for a contender. If both flop, you’ve got too many holes to fill and not enough resources to fill them all.

    I’ll be very curious to see what the draft looks like this year. We could argue all day about Frank Wren, but his biggest mistake might have been putting Tony DeMacio, whose idea of a good draft is a dozen number four starters and maybe a utility infielder, in charge of the draft. I would like to see the days of safe-but-low-ceiling first-rounders brought to an end. If we’re going to be bad, the least they could do is not make me have to read “His stuff’s marginal, but he knows how to pitch and will sign for slot” again.

  13. @12
    As Skip Caray used to say in the 70’s:
    As lambs to the slaughter, the Braves take the field!

  14. Charlie Sifford died – sometimes it pays to be old. What is remembered ‘live’ has an undiminished residual in the memory. More so than reading/viewing it after the fact. Unfortunately for him there was no Branch Rickey at Augusta National. He was on his own and treated like a serf. Unbelievable, animal stuff – shit in the can, literally.

    An old memory but a brave one. He and Jackie R, this country’s disgrace attenuated for others to follow. Funny how sport so often seems to lead, still happening today.

    Joe P…
    http://joeposnanski.com/joeblogs/rip-charlie-sifford/#more-2529

  15. have you heard? It’s on its way, they say. To Georgia no less. Power,our last resort.

    medicinal pot for the Braves
    brings surplus of homers and saves
    a shortened DL
    and likely as well
    the fans in a frenzy of waves.

    MLB of course would try to veto. We would file suit – an injured player’s right to heal by the quickest means possible. To lessen his pain etc etc.
    Nats would sue – unfair advantage. Tough.

    But, you say pot is not a PED. O Yes It Is. How many neurotic/obsessive/paranoid hitters have we sent to the plate these last two years?

    Their P would be ED’d. Tranquillity on call.

  16. Anyone remember the baseball video game commercial that featured Greg Maddux on the mound and Andruw Jones in the field. The batter was so nervous to hit it to Andruw that he K’d. I miss those days.

    Anyone recall the year or the game, or better yet, know where I can find that commercial?

  17. 2015 has yet to be played, so even though expectations have been tempered, don’t be pessimistic. Why? Two reasons: Pitching and defense, both of which this team has in spades.

    That said, the 2015 Bravos are no worse than the 2014 edition and they may just be better. Why? If they can get on base at a .325 clip, this team will be competitive. I’m betting that they will. John Hart subtracted HR’s and K’s, added pitching, defense, OBP and walks.

    However, I think the key could be Peraza. If he makes the team out of spring training and gets on base, his speed, defense and ability to score runs will make the 2015 Braves no worse than .500, and maybe even allow for a winning record.

    But yes, playoffs are out of the question right now, which is why the season must be played before said questions are answered.

  18. At 21,

    Most Assuredly.

    And tomorrow is the Babe’s birthday.

    The run of greatness actually started on my birthday yesterday.

  19. This guy looks like he can hit. I have a good feeling about him. He looks like a guy with composure. What other non-scientific things can I say about Dian Toscano to make me hopeful about his career despite the most modest projections?

  20. I’m not sure whether to stand up and cheer or just scratch my head:

    “The Atlanta Hawks’ starting five players were announced as co-Eastern Conference Players of the Month for January on Wednesday, marking the first time in NBA history that five teammates have shared the monthly award.”

    I mean, what sort of bupkiss National Association is this?

  21. @26,
    There has been quite a row on the ESPN comment boards over this. I think it’s great for the Hawks, and nobody gives a damn about the POTM anyway. It’s the first time a team has ever gone undefeated in a month with 17 games or more, or in other words, the greatest month for any team in NBA history. They did it with starless team ball. Players have shared the award before, so why not 5?

    I get the feeling this irks some fans who want to see ‘bron dunk on ‘melo every time down the court, so it has made some commenters on ESPN irrationally angry. Some said things like “it will put a huge smile on my face when the Hawks get bounced in the 2nd round”. Yes, screw the underdogs, what with their scrappy, intelligent, selfless brand of ball. I want to see megalomaniacs windmill dunk!

  22. #9
    In the mid- to late-’80s, we’d go to Braves games, sit at the top of A-FC Stadium in LF & we’d be the only people in that section. You’d have to walk halfway around the stadium just to find an open concession stand.

    You felt somehow blessed if, in the game you were attending, Rick Mahler or Zane Smith was starting instead of Kevin Coffman or German Jiminez–at least it might be competitive for 6 innings or so. You rooted for Dale Murphy & hit the restroom when Ken Oberkfell came to the plate. Andres Thomas was your SS.

    It was dire, but you went anyway because… it was baseball. (And that’s why 1991 felt like such a miracle.)

  23. @mlbbowman: The #Braves have acquired right-handed reliever Bryton Trepagnier from the Pirates in exchange for Edward Salcedo.

  24. @29 I can still vividly remember how terrible Thomas was as a fielder. If anyone of you has seen how bad Andre Thomas was, you would stop complaining about the things Simmons doesn’t do well.

  25. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

    Call me, Ishmael…

    Sometimes what looks bad at the beginning turns out great.
    I just got to see what happens next.

    Go Braves

  26. Remember when Edward Salcedo was our top position player prospect? Yeah, that’s the reason we are rebuilding now.

    Trepagnier walked 33 in 53 innings last year–yuck. He did miss some bats though, and opponents hit .190 against him. Tall, lanky fellow. I’m sure the Braves see major promise, though even minor promise would be good value for the walking E5 Salcedo.

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