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.