Where Do We Go from Here? Introduction

So who am us, anyway?

Fredi Gonzalez’s 2016 Braves were one of the worst teams that we’ve ever seen in Atlanta. Brian Snitker’s 2016 Braves were a not-very-good team with a decent number of young players who might be able to improve, and a farm system full of promising talent.

Can we ignore April and May, and chalk it down to Jeff Francoeur and Erick Aybar and Fredi Gonzalez and A.J. Pierzynski, all of whom are gone? Well… maybe, kind of, mostly. The trouble is, as AtlCrackersFan noted, the Braves were actually worse at starting pitching at the end of the year than they were at the beginning of the year. So the improvement in offense helped to mask a decline on the other side of the ball. In other words, despite the team’s near-.500 record under Snitker, this is not actually a good baseball team.

As Mark Bowman writes (in response to a question I tweeted at him), the Braves essentially fired Roger McDowell as a way of expressing their belief that a different pitching coach could turn Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair into bona fide major league starters.

Naturally, new pitching coach Chuck Hernandez will be tasked with many of the most important answers to the question of “Where do we go from here?” The Johns chose to focus the rebuild around young pitching, the area of the game that the Braves franchise still believes it does better than other teams. We’ll see if they’re right.

There are a lot more open questions around the lineup: can Ozzie Albies come back and be Ozzie Albies? If so, we’ve got a second baseman. If not, we’ve got a tough row to hoe. Catcher and third base are even further from being settled. And in the outfield corners there are two veteran placeholders and a speedy fourth outfielder.

So, does all this add up to a good team in 2019? Are these bums going to turn into the Braves of the 1990s, a collection of young guys who all turn into aces at the same moment? Or the Braves of the 1980s, a couple of stars surrounded by a bunch of busts? Or the Braves of the 2000s, a decent team that has a couple of bright moments but never managed a breakthrough?

What do you think?

109 thoughts on “Where Do We Go from Here? Introduction”

  1. “So, does all this add up to a good team in 2019?”

    Dang. I didn’t know we were already writing off 2017 and 2018. I feel stupid now for thinking they might contend next year. :(

  2. I am eager to see how the Braves handle the offseason. Truthfully, I’m good with the outfield as it is. Whether Coppy and the gang can upgrade our starters without salting our farm is where my concerns lie.

  3. There’s always a chance that the Braves pull a fast one and contend for a wild card in 2017. But I wouldn’t bet on it. 2018 is a better possibility, but until we can find even one above-average starter other than Teheran, it’s hard for me to say that we got next in 2018.

    That said, I may be being ungenerous. And hope springs eternal! I would just say that by 2019, we will almost certainly know whether the 2014-2015 teardown strategy is actually working to yield a potential champion.

  4. My take is the team for the foreseeable future will be about .500 and until legitimate power on offense is acquired other than Kemp, that’s about our zenith. As well as power arms at SP.

  5. If we’re projecting a .500 club (81-81), they simply have to luck into 4 wins (85 wins) to compete for a WC slot. (The NL WC teams both had 87 wins this year.)

  6. Oh, sure. It kind of depends on what you mean by “compete.” Even if the Braves luck into 85 wins, I don’t think that we’re likely to make it any further than the WC game. We have the makings of a decent team, but we don’t have a Bumgarner, let alone a Kluber or a Kershaw or a Bryant or a Rizzo.

  7. Sorry for the confusion yesterday. There were some reports that Marksberry was on life support at some point yesterday. DOB shot that rumor down after talking with some of his family members. Haven’t seen any updates today

  8. @6 & 7, I don’t think the group we finished the season with really has the makings of a .500 team. The question becomes: what changes do we make to that group? A few good moves could put us there, and *then* we can talk about possibly lucking our way into a few more wins.

  9. @4 It’s just so presumptuous to not only jump over next season but to jump to 2019 when you are framing that question. It assumes that if the Braves don’t change their pattern of transactions, we will be waiting a couple of seasons for talent to mature.

    I would look for them to break .500 next season and be “in the wildcard hunt” provided things don’t go south. In order for them to get there, they will have to make some shrewd transactions, but this is the offseason I would expect them to shock the baseball world and get a possible staff ace.

    I’m iffy on whether I believe it’ll happen this offseason, but if it’s there I expect Coppolella to be in play for it. That’s because I think he really truly means to field a decent team in 2017.

  10. For me, “where do we go from here” starts with this: http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/team_compare.cgi?year=2016&lg=NL&stat=WAR

    We were awful (last or next-to-last in the league) at C, 2B, SS, and 3B last year. And after Julio the pitching stunk – 11th in the league.

    But I am actually really heartened by this. Based on what the FO has said, I think we’ll be better at C, 2B, SS, and SP. I’m optimistic, and I think .500 sounds about right given good work this offseason.

  11. We play in a pretty weak division so I think playoffs should never be out of the realm of the possible. If you don’t start the season next year with the worst on-paper roster I’ve ever seen then you have a chance to at least keep all of us interested though the summer.

    I don’t think the 2nd half offense is sustainable, but I think the pitching almost has to be better. Newcomb and/or Sims (or someone we get back from trading them) will push Wisler and Blair down a notch, and you have to think we sign a half-decent free agent SP.

  12. Also, if we’re actually in the hunt then they will be forced to at least think about calling up some of the young guns pitching at AA. I don’t see us trotting out the Bills and the De La Cruz’s again next year, unless we start really poorly once again.

  13. It was a perfect situation for Jason Heyward: a leadoff double puts a runner on second with no outs, so all you need is a lazy grounder to second. Heyward escapes his inevitable fate by getting hit by the pitch.

  14. Spring Training is going to be really tough for a lot of these fringy pitchers. If someone like the Bills have a hot spring, then sure, I could see them getting a spot. But if you get a couple-few kids in the starting rotation and they’re half-way decent, you’re probably going to stick with them. Even in a year with reasonable expectations, you have to be at Blarian levels of ineptitude to get given up on. So if you don’t make the roster out of Spring Training, you may not ever.

  15. Adrian Gonzalez is not covering himself in glory as a good fielding first baseman in this inning. Three makeable plays he has not handled well. FF would have stretched out enough to make the last one an out. And fitting Heyward makes two outs in the inning.

  16. Sorry. I guess Jason made the last out of the previous inning. He looks like he just doesn’t have an approach at the plate.

  17. I must admit that I very much like the way everyone’s hero Joe Maddon has managed this series. That having been said, I don’t understand leaving Baez in this game in the slightest.

  18. Has anyone else ever noticed the weird way Heyward takes his warmup swings? He sorta draws his elbows and forearms in to his body and then pushes his hands out and up. It doesn’t look natural or normal, and I have always thought it was strange. Is that something that is taught or is this his own quirk?

  19. @24, Heyward has bad mechanics, but those mechanics got him to the majors. At this point he’s probably so mentally exasperated that it’s all just a lost cause. He needs to not swing a bat for 2 months and start over.

  20. @24

    Yeah, it’s odd.

    He has just lost his bat speed. Pitchers are throwing 92 MPH fastballs down the pike and he can’t catch up.

    He’s always had a massive hole in his swing too. He use to be able to hide it some, but his bat has slowed so much he can’t compensate.

    I agree he really needs to just change his swing.

  21. This is the fourth or fifth off-season in a row where Jason needs to just “take two months off and stop thinking about baseball for a while…”

  22. I asked a Cubs fan friend of mine last night if he’d pinch hit Arrieta for Heyward against a lefty in an important late game situation. He said he would and he do it against a righty too.

  23. Read Detroit is open for business. If we took on all the salary ($28 million a year for the next 3 plus an option), would anyone do Newcomb and Wisler (or something similar) for Verlander straight up?

  24. Braves re-acquire Jed Bradley but instead name him Sam Freeman.

    I guess Sam Freeman is a little better…

  25. @28, This is the fourth or fifth day in a row where you’ve showed up just long enough to say something audacious

  26. Everything about Heyward’s approach in the batter’s box makes me squirm now. It’s like nails on the chalkboard, especially that bizarre (and subtle) head jerk he does just as the ball is about to be pitched. That added with his inability to hit makes him unwatchable when he’s at the plate. It’s a shame because he’s a personal favorite player and the non-Brave I most have a rooting interest for (even though he’s on the super-lame Cubs).

  27. On the subject of former Braves outfielders with iffy contracts, it looks like the Tigers are going to try and dump Justin Upton’s contract one year into the deal. That contract has to have as little upside as any in the game right now — either Upton has a good year in 2017 and opts out, or he has a bad one and you’re stuck with a four-year albatross.

    Show of hands — who had Melvin Upton as the best contract value going into 2017 of the three outfielders the Braves traded before the 2015 season?

  28. @33 – my thoughts as well. A year ago it would’ve been crazy (more on Verlanders performace than anything else), but they say they’ve all this money to spend and I can’t see anyone worth spending it on.

  29. The Cubs won a pennant. We’re off the map now.

    Two years ago the Cubs lost 89 games and came in last. Hope springs eternal.

  30. @44 I’m Team Extensions. Always been curious about cheap long-term deals on unproven guys.

    How much would 8 years of Wisler cost today? Are deals like that restricted?

    The idea of paying your favorite prospects $10-20 for a decade’s work seems like an appropriate gamble. Seems like a team could afford a lot of deals going bad if they acted before a real major-league future is guaranteed.

    Again, might not even be allowed.

  31. @46

    I’m sure it is allowed, but the economics can never make sense. That’s how I cheat the game on Baseball Mogul. After a player has, say, a half-season or a season of success, I’ll sign them to an 8-year, $14M deal. The game has its algorithm for establishing value based on historical success (or an insufficient amount), but the player will always sign an extension. You do that 20-25 times, and eventually you have a dynasty on a $90M payroll. And if a guy flames out, usually you have enough historical success where you can trade the player or, since they’re so cheap, stash them in AAA.

    In real life, the player has no incentive to sign that deal. He’s essentially agreeing to a risk-free deal for the other side, and the benefit for a player to sign a long-term deal is to force the other side to take some risk. The balance of a top-of-market deal like Joey Votto or Jason Heyward and what we’re talking about are the deals that Teheran, Freeman, Longoria, McCann’s first deal, etc. signed. There’s an equal transfer of risk for each team and depending on the personality of the player, they go for it. I do wonder why there aren’t some players out there that would take an 8-year, $25M deal a year into ML duty considering how many guys have 1-2 years of success, make about $900K in ML salaries, and are never heard from again. But the team couldn’t do that deal unless you made enough deals to where the value is created in the aggregate.

  32. Pretty sure I would take the under on Wisler.

    Some guys do sign low-dollar deals very early. Sally Perez is a great example. Thing is, if you sign 10 guys to those deals totaling $100 million, when one of them hits and becomes an all star, a bunch of fans will take to Twitter and shriek over how the corporate fat cats are making bank off the labor of such-and-such poor schlub, totally ignoring the other bad investments. Best to just save your money and pay the guy who gets good.

  33. Cubs have what the Braves don’t: an owner that spends. Sure, the Cubs have some great minds in the FO, but try achieving those goals with a Tampa Bay or Atlanta budget. They’ve been able to take a Yankee-lite approach augmented with young homegrown talent. It’s not very surprising that they’ve been successful.

  34. @47 I feel like there is a huge risk to turn it down when a player still has a fair chance of not having a major league future. I’m more talking about signing Teheran, Freeman, Longoria deals one or two years earlier. Basically, player gets enough to retire easily and the team accepts that it is even odds or worse that it pays off.

    @48 That’s more the downside I see, players being pissed off about being underpaid

  35. @49 — I would characterize the Cubs as a core of young talent augmented by a few savvy free agent pickups, not the reverse. Lester and Zobrist were big-ticket signings, sure (although Zobrist turned down more money to play for a winner), but Heyward is looking like a flop and you can find a John Lackey on just about any given free agent market. The core of the team was built around drafted and developed players and a couple of smart trades, not simply outbidding everyone for the best free agents.

    The Braves can’t simply buy solutions to all their problems, but they certainly have enough money to fill a couple holes if that’s all they need.

  36. @41: We do have Columbia this week, which gives me hope for a second win, as a team that can’t play defense plays a team that can’t score… But this is the worst team I’ve seen in 42 years of watching Yale play football. Makes me wonder how anybody could be a Columbia fan, who get to see this level of play every year. Why, I bet we’d even lose to Vanderbilt at home.

  37. @50

    I think players are inherently competitive enough to bet on themselves vs. taking the conservative routes. They’re in Spring Training and around MLers, and they see the cars, the women, the this, the that, and they want it too. It probably takes a type of grounded person to take that deal that may also make them not the best baseball player in the world. You probably have to be motivated so heavily (almost obsessed) by the big deal to keep you working as hard as you need to to even make it to the major leagues. I think that’s really why we don’t see that deal getting done. The Teheran/Longoria/McCann Vs. 1 deals are just lucrative enough for the player to take it.

    @51

    Even if the Braves increase their payroll to the $140M mark that has been speculated, that still only puts them at 16th in the league based on Sportrac’s numbers. It’s scary to think that if a team like Detroit enters full rebuild, they will have the resources a la Boston to do what the Cubs/Braves/Phillies have done but with even more severity. When faced with being banned from the international market for a year, they may buy up even more players. They can buy more slot money in the draft than the other teams. And then they can overpay for free agents. The rich can get richer even in rebuilding. Scary.

    start politics/That’s why the stadium thing just doesn’t hit me as hard. They signed the deal, sure, but if Liberty Media truly inherited a bad TV deal, then they’re going to look to the stadium route to increase revenue. There are only so many streams, and if the politicians are handing out money they shouldn’t, then that’s on them. Imagine the day where the Braves have a good TV deal, finally a good stadium, and a winning culture. /end politics

  38. The flip side is that those deals don’t always work out. Jedd Gyorko didn’t work out, for example. Before 2016, it looked like Matt Moore could be an injury bust. Rocco Baldelli is one of the more famous injury busts of recent years. All of them got long pre-arb extensions. That’s another reason that players have an incentive to take the deal — they don’t know that they’ll stay healthy, or stay effective.

  39. Columbia alum here, and I can report that it is indeed difficult to identify as a CU football fan. On the other hand, there is this NYT piece, which is one of my favorite all-time game stories. (That final line!)

  40. Nice, Jay. That’s exceptional.

    When someone asked the 42-year-old McElreavy, whose record with Columbia is now 1-23, at what stage he thought his team would win, he laughed aloud and said, ”About four minutes after the game was over.”

  41. Good writeup ryan c…

    The Yanks’ asking price for McCann is ludicrous. Even taking him on for just money would be a losing proposition, but your proposal is a fair one.

  42. Considering the emergence of Gary Sanchez, the Yankees aren’t very believable when they claim they won’t move McCann unless they get a major piece back. McCann is barely worth the cost of his contract — and he’s probably underwater. (Depends on whether you believe he’s the 3-win guy he was in 2015, or the 1.3-win guy he was in 2016.) He certainly doesn’t have much surplus value on top of it, unless the Yankees are in the mood to throw in a truckload of cash.

  43. Kyle Schwarber is really going to DH in game 1 tomorrow night? That’s kinda crazy. Has a player that didn’t play the whole season ever played in a WS game?

  44. Pretty sure being left off the World Series roster in lieu of a guy with no knee and Chris Coughlan is the low point for Jay-Hey…

  45. @66 — Lindor and Kluber? You mean that guy the Indians drafted eighth overall after losing 93 games, and the guy they got as a lottery ticket while selling off a temporary asset during a lost season?

    Yeah, you’re right; no way the Braves could get any decent players from those kinds of sources.

  46. The numbers are just so heavily in our favor that we will see players like Lindor and Kluber come through. My concern is whether or not we see players like Kris Bryant or Madison Bumgarner. Watching Lester, I can’t help but hope that Sean Newcomb improves his control, and starts resembling Lester in more than physical appearance, velocity, mound presence, and mechanics. Is there not a more important player/skill that influences how 2017 and 2018 will go than Newcomb’s command? If he finds the strike zone, watch out.

    But the snakebite that appeared in Chicago’s lineup does concern me that you can’t win a World Series with such a young team. Chicago is so talented, but they’re so young, and Cleveland just looked like the more poised team, and that certainly is reflected in average roster age and the specific veterans they have.

  47. I don’t understand why bWAR likes Kluber so much more than MadBum. Is it because of the league differences?

  48. I think the Cubs just missed blowing that game open. They had a few chances and just missed. I think they will bounce back tonight

  49. @68, every team has chances to do that. The Cubs got Arrieta basically for free, and the Indians got Kluber basically for free, and the Blue Jays got Encarnacion and Bautista basically for free. And every team gets a chance to pick in the first round pretty much every year. But since 1990, the Braves have drafted precisely three first-rounders who have been roughly as good as Lindor: Chipper Jones, Adam Wainwright, and Jason Heyward.

    The point is, the Braves have all the opportunity in the world. But they have to not screw up.

    Our last first-round draft picks have been, in order:

    2016: Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz
    2015: Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Austin Riley
    2014: Braxton Davidson
    2013: Jason Hursh
    2012: Lucas Sims
    2011: Sean Gilmartin
    2010: Matt Lipka
    2009: Mike Minor
    2008: Brett DeVall
    2007: Jason Heyward, Jon Gilmore
    2006: Cody Johnson, Cory Rasmus, Steve Evarts
    2005: Joey Devine, Beau Jones
    2003: Luis Atilano
    2002: Jeff Francoeur, Dan Meyer
    2001: Macay McBride, Josh Burrus, Richard Lewis
    2000: Adam Wainwright, Scott Thorman, Kelly Johnson, Aaron Herr
    1997: Troy Cameron
    1996: A.J. Zapp, Jason Marquis
    1995: Chad Hutchinson
    1994: Jacob Shumate
    1992: Jamie Arnold
    1991: Mike Kelly
    1990: Chipper Jones

    That’s actually a pretty bad record. We’ve arguably done better in the second round (Alex Wood, Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Yunel Escobar, Brian McCann) relative to the talent that’s supposed to be available in that round. You can’t routinely pooch the first round as bad as we have for two decades and not pay the piper.

    So the Indians drafted Lindor in 2011. We drafted Sean Gilmartin. That’s one reason they’re in the World Series and we aren’t.

  50. Even while the jury is out, Sims/Hursh/Davidson just looks awful. 2008-2015 will get a GM fired every time.

    But it really goes deeper than all of this. Trading for Teixeira and then getting nothing back. Letting Brian McCann leave for free agency. Getting stopgaps that then either leave for FA or retirement and you get nothing back (Chipper, Wagner, Saito, Melk Man, McOut, Lowe, Hudson). Running guys into the ground until they’re mush and you can’t get anything back (Venters, O’Flaherty, Beachy, Medlen). It’s just an utter lack of long-term foresight. Even if we’re a contender next year, if there are buyers for them, they had still better trade Jim Johnson, Nick Markakis, and whatever starting pitchers we get. We’ve just let so much talent walk out the door for nothing.

  51. @77 — I will certainly concede that point; however, the Braves have generally been making their top picks at the bottom of the first round or in the supplementary rounds, where the talent is generally thinner. There is certainly a difference between a consensus top ten talent like Lindor and trying to hit on some guy in the high twenties. (Which is not to say that never happens — there are countless examples — but it’s rarer.) When they’ve picked higher, they’ve generally done pretty well for themselves — Chipper, Heyward, Minor, and (so far) the hauls from the past two drafts. In addition, the Braves were run for years by a pretty abysmal drafting outfit — Tony DeMacio never met a low-ceiling college pitcher he wouldn’t draft, with either the Orioles or Braves.

    I guess my point is that the Braves have just as much chance to get these guys as anyone, and I don’t see the point in automatically assuming they won’t. Their recent collection of amateur talent has been praised around the game, and not just by their usual organizational mouthpieces. Who’s to say that two years from now fans of other teams won’t be looking jealously at Dansby Swanson and Kolby Allard?

  52. There’s so much wrong with using your first round picks on guys like Hursh, DeVall, and Gilmartin. Even if they hit their ceilings, you’ve got a back-end starter that you could’ve just as well signed for a few mil. There’s nothing wrong, however, with whiffing on a Lucas Sims (jury’s still out on him) or someone with ace potential.

  53. @78

    I think Sims is going to be fine, but I agree with your point.

    Gilmartin was a terrible pick. Everyone said so at the time too.

  54. Joe Panik, Jakie Bradley or Trevor Story would be nice additions to this team. We were just being cheap

  55. Heyward not in the lineup in game 2. If the Cubs don’t win the World Series, a big part of that is they paid $22M for a guy to not hit in the middle of their order. They had to hit Schwarber 5-hole, and the guy hadn’t grabbed a bat since April. I know it’s difficult because Rizzo is a lefty, I guess, but this lineup should be Fowler/Heyward/Rizzo/Bryant/Schwarber/Zobrist, and Heyward really screws up the symmetry with his body weight OPS. As a result, you’re going S/R/L/S/L/R/R and Bryant is in the 2-hole. Then you’ve got Chris Coghlan and Jorge Soler, who are not good, playing in a World Series game. It’s really disappointing.

  56. @78 and among many others releasing Kelly Johnson outright the first time while he was still team controlled

  57. Yeah, cutting Kelly Johnson after a down year when he was just entering his prime was the stupidest move I can recall. I think we only saved something like $3 mil in doing so.

  58. Arguably bringing Beachy and Medlen back from TJ so quickly was running them into the ground. The Braves now seem to think so at least. But what we do know.

  59. Kelly Johnson has had really only one good year since leaving Atlanta. It’s unfortunate that it was the year after he left, but still I’m not sure I can fault the team too much for not seeing that coming after the year he had with the Braves.

  60. I think when you lead the league in TJs, you’re doing something wrong. It’s no coincide Beachy and Medlen had two TJs.

  61. They may have done something wrong to break Medlen and Beachy, but it wasn’t “running them into the ground.” And neither were candidates for flipping for other assets anyway. They WERE the young cost controlled assets.

  62. Well, a penny saved is a penny earned. If you don’t send shoulders and elbows through the cheese grater, you don’t have to keep getting immediate help in the draft. Medlen’s elbow and Minor’s shoulder is not why we’re rebuilding, but all of this works together towards being where we’re at.

  63. This totally shocked me but were you aware that Markakis came in 2nd in the NL for Defensive Runs Saved for RFs with 10 behind Heyward (14)? Also he was second in the NL regardless of position with 28 Total Zone Runs one behind Heyward and one ahead of Inciarte. Who knew.

  64. Markakis made a few really nice plays this year. He showed much more range this year than last, although he’s not elite in the way he covers ground. His best attribute is that I don’t think I ever saw him make a mistake. Sort of the anti-Justin Upton, who had pretty good range but could be a real nincompoop way too often.

  65. Part of it is that Heyward also did some good work in center field this season, and part of it has to do with the fact that what goes into defensive WAR numbers is an incredible mystery.

  66. @77: AAR, please never type Sc*tt Th**m*n again. I can’t see the full name without picturing the swing in my head, and it hurts.

  67. Part of saving runs is not making mistakes. Markakis may have lost a step or two, but he takes good routes, doesn’t bobble balls or over-throw bases, and that probably has just as much (if not more) value than a burner who takes bad routes (like, say, Mallex).

    I’m interested to see what interest, if any, Markakis generates. Veteran presence (TM), durable, solid all around player who had a 1.7 bWAR last year. If you assign any value to minimizing flaws in your game and veteran leadership, both of which have roster construction value, you could make the argument he has surplus value. I’ve taken quite the liking to Markakis, but if he can bring more power to the lineup, then so be it.

  68. @98: that is funny. If Fowler opts out of his contract this offseason, which he should given he had another pretty good season and can make a lot more money than 9 mil on the open market, you have to wonder if the Cubs will decide to stick Heyward in center and try to take advantage of his glove. They need to try to get his bat going again but have other options that can provide much better offense from the corners.

  69. Heyward’s such an enigma, which explains why we talk about him so much. But I don’t see how you don’t force a dude making $22M and has no stick to play the most important defensive position that he can play well. It’s just such a no-brainer.

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