Thursday, June 6, 2019

Where Are They Now? Looking Back at the Braves "Rebuild."

To preface this article, I just want to mention that it would be difficult to mention every player that Atlanta traded during their "rebuild" from 2014-2017. While it would be nice to look back over every transaction, I think it's better to look at the players who actually appeared in the majors during that time. Also, while the "rebuild" started after the 2014 season, the Braves were already moving on from players in previous seasons. So, let's get right to it.

Starting off, let's take a look at the players Atlanta let-go (or traded) who went on to win the World Series. While they weren't all traded, Atlanta wasn't in a position to actually keep some of these players due to having an ownership group that is more focused on turning a profit, rather than actually competing to win championships.

Tim Hudson, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, David Ross (twice actually), Evan Gattis, Tommy La Stella, etc. I'm sure there's a few more, but those are the ones that stick out most to me.

In addition to those players, which I will be discussing again shortly, the Braves traded/released/moved quite a few players who find themselves having great success with their current teams.

Most notably, Mike Minor, John Gant, and Tommy La Stella. For a team that preaches the importance of pitching, Atlanta essentially let Mike Minor walk after the 2014 season. He found his way to Kansas City where he established himself as a top left handed reliever during the 2016 season. After signing with the Rangers, he moved back into the starting rotation and currently finds himself amongst the leaders in the American League in most pitching categories.

As for Tommy La Stella, he's finally getting a chance to start for a team and he's having an All-Star caliber season for the Angels. Atlanta never seemed to want to give La Stella a chance to play and he was moved for Arodys Vizcaino, who has since been traded to the Mariners. In 2014, Fredi Gonzalez wanted to play Dan Uggla everyday even though Uggla was a shell of his former self at that point. While La Stella didn't have the fanfare of some of the prospects Atlanta currently has, he always showed the ability to be a contributor at the Major League level.

Moving on, let's take a look at some of the other players Atlanta moved to "rebuild."

La Stella's teammate, Andrelton Simmons was not only a fan favorite, but was a very solid shortstop during his time in Atlanta. He was also only 25 years old and on a team friendly deal at the time of his trade to the Angels. Atlanta received Erick Aybar (who is out of baseball), Chris Ellis (who is now with the Royals), and Sean Newcomb (who looks like nothing more than a back-end starter or middle reliever at this point.) Simmons has gone on to winning more Gold Gloves since leaving Atlanta and has become a much better player offensively than he was during his tenure in Atlanta.

It would be easy to point at the fact Atlanta traded a 26-year old Justin Upton to help them rebuild and get younger, but he has also gone on to put up solid offensive seasons since leaving Atlanta. While Atlanta received a bunch of nothing in that deal, at least they acquired Max Fried, who has been one of the more consistent starters for Atlanta so far in 2019.

Alex Wood is another player I've mentioned numerous times on this blog, so it's kind of like beating a dead horse at this point. However, it was always amazing to me that a rebuilding team would look to trade yet another young cost-controlled left handed starter, but that's exactly what the Braves did in 2014. Atlanta decided to trade the 24-year old in an effort to get "younger and rebuild" and boy did they get quite a haul for Wood. They received Hector Olivera, Zach Bird, and Paco Rodriguez in the trade. Olivera was rightfully released after his numerous domestic violence issues, Bird hasn't pitched since 2016, and Rodriguez hasn't pitched in the majors since 2015. This was another great move made by the club during their rebuilding efforts (if you can't read sarcasm, well that was sarcasm.)

Atlanta was able to "rebuild" their farm system, but it's not as if that was done given the moves by the former GM John Coppolella. Frank Wren was the GM when the club signed Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Julio Teheran, Freddie Freeman, etc. I will be frank (no-pun intended) Wren did a much better job in Atlanta than people give him credit for. While most people in the organization seemed to have hated him, he took a franchise with significant financial restraints and got them back in a position to make the playoffs throughout his entire tenure in Atlanta. John Coppolella had the benefit of always drafting towards the top of the draft and folks in the industry seemed to give him every chance to succeeded while proclaiming all of his moves as "smart" and "great deals" for Atlanta. I don't find that to be accurate at all. Just looking over some of the moves he made during his tenure, you can point to a few that honestly set the franchise back in terms of a "rebuild." That's not evening accounting for the off-the-field issues Coppolella had and his eventual ban from baseball.

Coppolella also seemed to move players just for the sake of moving them. A few players that stick out to me: Ryan Buchter, Chasen Shreve, and John Gant. Gant is especially having a good season with the Cardinals.

Gant could be giving the Braves much needed relief help at the moment, but since Wren left, they've had issues putting together a bullpen. While most fans dislike Wren, you can't argue the fact that he was great at drafting/signing bullpen arms. While Gant was acquired and traded during the tenure of Coppolella, he was never given a chance to actually develop while in Atlanta. They seemed more focused on pitching older vets or players who are out of baseball.

During the "rebuild" in Atlanta, the organization gave up on numerous players who have since found their way to other organizations and are making an impact. Mike Minor is pitching better than ever, Tommy La Stella is playing like an All-Star, and Alex Wood has shown his ability to pitch in the post-season with success.

Craig Kimbrel, who just signed with the Cubs, is still the best closer in baseball and is coming off a World Series winning season with the Red Sox in 2018. Atlanta needed a proven closer, but passed on a chance to sign him to a modest contract in the off-season (and then passed on giving him a contract during the season due to worries over losing a draft pick...) As I've mentioned numerous times, other franchises rebuilt their rosters by trading closers (Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, Brad Hand, etc.) Atlanta sold low on Kimbrel just to get rid of the modest contract given to Melvin Upton.

Speaking of those trades, John Coppolella, for all his accolades, made some of the worst trades in recent memory in all of baseball. If I had to rank them:

1.) The Alex Wood trade to the Dodgers
2.) The Craig Kimbrel trade to the Padres.
3.) The Justin Upton trade to the Padres
4.) The Andrelton Simmons trade to the Angels.

These four trades have netted the Braves a total of: 5.9 wins above replacement (WAR). *Of this total, Sean Newcomb has amounted for 3.9 WAR on his own.*

In that same time, the players Atlanta traded have a total of: 49.4 WAR.

I don't claim to be an expert on analytics, but I think most fans can understand how terrible those trades were for the franchise.

While Atlanta is back to competing for division titles, their biggest issue is still the same: a cheap ownership group that isn't committed to winning. Like I've always said, until that is corrected, this team will always find themselves in a position to be good, but never truly great.

Also, if you've made it this far: hopefully you can sense sarcasm since this article is loaded with it.

Just wanted to credit Baseball-Reference for the stats.

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