At this stage, the 2015-2016 offseason, it gets far off from reality where I feel it best just to highlight the condition of the time based on the payroll, roster, and prospects they have at these junctures and pause here to let you decide what they should have or should not have done. I personally think that it wasn’t a slam dunk to rebuild. I think had they made some smart trades, found some relievers here and there, and developed a reclamation project or two, they would have still been competitive in 2015, and they would use their resources to continue to keep the team competitive.
So here we are at the 2015-2016 offseason. Jason Heyward and Justin Upton have left for free agency. The Braves will have the draft position based on their 2015 finish, but they’ll have the picks from those free agency departures. Julio Teheran had a step back at the age of 24, but Alex Wood (who was not traded, of course) has sort of a breakout year. And in our scenario, they pretty much emptied what was left of the farm to acquire the third cost-controlled starting pitcher. Otherwise, the rotation is in a rough spot. The outfield lineup is pretty much non-existent other than BJ Upton’s slight recovery in 2015. You also don’t have a third baseman, but you have Evan Gattis, Freddie Freeman, Tommy La Stella, and Andrelton Simmons. Not a bad core, especially if the Braves would have followed through and still signed AJ Pierzynski for the 2015 season. While his age would show and his career would fade quickly in 2016, they undoubtedly re-sign him for 2016. BJ Upton is still under contract, and after his recovery in 2015, they’re going to obviously run him out there.
The farm is actually in better condition than you might think. Ozzie Albies would be your #1 prospect, and Kolby Allard, who would still be drafted with the 14th pick in the 2015 draft, would be your #2 prospect. But since they probably had to trade Lucas Sims and/or Jose Peraza to acquire the cost-controlled starter, Mike Soroka is your #3 prospect. From there, it’s bleak. Braxton Davidson, Manny Banuelos (his acquisition is probably a deal Coppy makes, contending or rebuilding), Ricardo Sanchez, Lucas Herbert, Jason Hursh, and Mauricio Cabrera form a heavy portion of your top 10 list. But one of our presuppositions is, of course, that Coppy is the GM, so you have to assume there will still be some AA/AAA low ceiling guys traded for higher ceiling guys that are lower down the system. They probably don’t take injured guys like Jacob Lindgren or Daniel Winkler in the Rule 5 and instead settle for less talented but healthy relief types. A guy like Andrew Thurman undoubtedly gets traded for a higher ceiling pitcher. So the philosophy is still there except they don’t have the benefit of consolidating so many resources in the minor league system; more major league talent is necessary.
The amount committed in 2016 payroll is interesting. They wouldn’t have traded for Carlos Quentin’s contract, Dan Uggla’s contract expires, they probably don’t trade Chris Johnson’s contract for Nick Swisher’s and Michael Bourn’s, and Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp don’t exist. So realistically, they only have about $55M committed. So while they have holes, they have ample resources with which to replace them. You could re-sign Justin Upton if you want to. Sign a free agent third baseman. Sign a starting pitcher because, after all, only Julio Teheran is making any money. The bullpen consists of Craig Kimbrel will make $13M in 2016, and there’s no other long-term money committed to the bullpen. What makes the prospects of 2016 look bleak is the moves they made after they decided to rebuild: the trade for Hector Olivera and then Matt Kemp, the money still owed to Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, and the signing of Nick Markakis. If those monies are uncommitted, the only significant salaries they’re on the hook for are Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, BJ Upton, Chris Johnson, Julio Teheran (still only $3.3M in 2016), and Craig Kimbrel. So while no one can realistically speculate how exactly the Braves would field a competitive team in 2016, it’s easy to say that there are resources with a few top prospects and a stout draft class coming up in 2016.
The point of this is not to say whether or not the Braves should have rebuilt. There are so many factors that influence how things would play out. Perhaps the strongest statement I would make is that the rebuild’s completion was delayed at least a year because of the moves after they decided to rebuild. Oh well, there’s always 2019.