By now, you all know the news: the Braves traded Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton, Jr. to the Padres for Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, prospects Matt Wisler and Jordan Paroubeck, and the 41st pick in the 2015 draft. It was a salary dump and a decent prospect haul, and as such, it fit in perfectly with the offseason.
It has been one hell of a winter. With the exception of one bizarre off-key note — signing hometown boy Nick Markakis for $44 million — the modus operandi of the new front office has been to sell Frank Wren’s roster for scrap. There were 29 players who collected at least at least one plate appearance for the 2014 Braves; only 10 are still in the organization.
There’s no doubt that the farm system looks better today than it did on September 22, when the Braves canned Frank Wren. And they clearly expect it to look even better in two months, as John Hart told DOB: “We look up at the June draft and we’ve got five of the first 75 picks this year within this draft, and obviously we’ve made some changes within that scouting staff and we feel this is going to be a home-run draft for us.”
Still, it’s hard to escape the feeling that a lot of what motivated the offseason moves by the Braves, and the three Johns in the front office, was spite against Frank Wren, and what they viewed as his terrible decisions that got the team in the morass in which they ended the season. They didn’t just rip off the band-aid; they amputated about five limbs. And they took what was almost certainly a playoff-contending team — a core that had won 96 games in 2013, that they had spent $300 million extending in 2014 — and blew it to hell, betting that a boatload of new prospects would be enough to get them back to being more or less as good as they were before they tore everything down in the first place.
The two keys to the Kimbrel deal were getting rid of Upton and getting back a good prospect and a high draft pick. The Braves haven’t acquired any no-doubt blue chips this offseason, but they’ve gotten a lot of players who strike prospect-watchers as mid-rotation starters, good relievers, league-average position players, and the like. It’s a good mixture of high ceilings and high floors. In the coming years, a lot of them will turn into pretty good major leaguers, and they’ll all be cost-controlled and cheap, which obviously was the whole point in the first place. (In this latest deal, they also got Carlos Quentin, whom they immediately DFAed, and Cameron Maybin. Neither of them really matters; they were salary dumps. Unlike the usual practice after a trade acquisition, I’m not going to write either of them up.)
It will be sort of interesting to see how Fredi approaches the season: there will be a lot of opportunities for proactive “Managing,” things like platooning and breaking in rookies and building a bullpen from scratch and figuring out whether Mike Minor’s salvageable or whether he’s just turned into hamburger meat. But it’ll be a lot harder for a lot of fans to approach the season. It was a cold bean-counter’s slap in the face, a naked announcement that the team had no interest in even attempting to win, and the strategy of dumping salary and hoarding prospects is rational if you have no money, but is hard to justify if you’re a cable billionaire.
Anyway, I’m angry but I’m still watching, and I think that’s reasonable. I miss Jason Heyward and Craig Kimbrel tremendously. I think I watched most of the games that they ever played, which was a tremendous privilege. Whatever happens the rest of their careers, I will wish them well. After Jason and Justin were traded relatively early in the offseason, it was a lot easier to bid farewell to the rest. But it’s still going to be a miserable season, and there’s only so much excitement I can draw from wishcasting 24 months into the future.
Baseball is back, finally. Let’s hope they never do that again.