While the teams themselves have yet to publicly announce this trade as official, just about every other source in the country has confirmed it as true. Justin Upton, and a played to be named later, will be playing for the San Diego Padres next season. They will be joining the new-look Padres outfield, which has also added Matt Kemp and Will Myers, most notably, this off-season. Not to mention, a just announced acquisition of David Ross, to add to the acquisitions of Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks. While it seems apparent that the San Diego Padres are keyed in on competing immediately in the 2015 season, they at least appear to have a definitive plan of action during this off-season.
On the Braves side of things however, this move signifies one of two things; either the Braves are fully committed to a “rebuilding” phase, or they don’t really have any real plan of action for the short-term. If you want to argue the former, I can’t say I totally disagree with you or the organization for moving in that direction. Considering the disappointment of the last few seasons, and the financial outlook at the end of 2014, I tend to carry the notion that it is better to rip the Band-Aid off now, and deal with the immediate short term pain, with the assumption that it will be better for the team as a whole in the long run. But there are simply too many of the signs thus far, that point me to the latter. While I didn’t disagree with the Markakis signing, the amount of money, especially learning the Braves were aware of his need to have back surgery, seemed curious. An interesting juxtaposition to the idea of “rebuilding”, the 4yr/$45M contract doesn’t really coincide with the apparent desire to offload contracts and free up as much money as possible for FA signings over the next two seasons. Even respected Atlanta journalists, who have much better connections to the team and player than I do, were befuddled by this question as well…
So what are we getting in return? Four prospects; and while they are not terrible players, they are certainly unproven in the majors and are doubtful to have any immediate ML impact, further supporting the case that the Braves are full on rebuilding. The most notable player in this trade is Max Fried, a 6’4/185lb LHP, who was the #7 overall pick in the 2012 draft. Fried was shut down early in 2014 however, as a precautionary measure after concerns around his health and a high volume of pitches during his HS career. After a subsequent MRI, and a long rehab program, the starter returned and blew his elbow out after only a few starts in. He underwent TJ surgery in August of this year. He is due back in the Fall of 2015 to start rehabbing in the Instructional Leagues. During his career thus far, all minor league, he is 6-9, with a 3.61 ERA in 147.0 IP, with 127 SO and a 1.38 WHIP.
The next “best” pickup in this trade was utility infielder Jace Peterson, who can fill in at 2nd and 3rd, and initially came into the league as a SS. He is the only player of the four who has spent any time in the show, after having a cup of coffee with the Padres in 2014, and only batting .113 in 53 AB. His slash line in the minors was better at .287/.381/.411 with 148 SB over 389 games and 1,732 plate attempts. He will still certainly require more time to develop in Gwinnett, but he does seem to have the highest potential out of the three position players to some day compete for a starting infield spot, especially if Chris Johnson gets moved, which you really can’t completely write-off as a possibility for the organization at this point.
Also in the deal were OF Mallex Smith and 3B Dustin Peterson. At ages 21 and 20, respectively, both appear to be destined for some time in the Braves farm system as well, as both still need time to develop. Peterson hit .233 last season, with 44 XBH and 10 HR’s in A-ball last year, and was a 2nd round pick for the Padres in 2013. Smith on the other hand, carries a significant talent in his speed, and hit .310 with 88 stolen bases in A ball last season. With effective and efficient development for either player in the Braves farm system, both could be utilized (most likely in 2016) as last season roster additions or spot fill-ins if injuries force the Braves to consider temporary options. Obviously, as part of the territory of being a prospect in an organization, proper development could also allow the Braves to use either of these players as trade pieces in the future as well.
There are still two major questions that bother me, no matter what happens the remainder of the off-season and heading into 2015. First off, why give that amount of money to Markakis who, while consistent/serviceable, does not appear to be worth the money, and is coming of a major back surgery? Unfortunately, I doubt we are really going to find an answer to this question, barring a major step-up in his level of play over the next four years. Second, and more importantly, what is the priority/direction/plan of this organization moving into the 2015 season? In trying to find my own answer to this kerfuffle, and in trying to maintain a positive attitude with my most beloved franchise, I keep coming back to one, slightly reassuring notion. This new management team has proven that they are capable of putting together a championship team, and in Cleveland no less. Back in the Braves heyday, the Indians were, for a time, a perennial contender in their division and in the playoffs. The man behind those plans was John Hart. I’ve never lived in Cleveland, nor have I ever been invested in any of there franchises, but I would be interested to know from an Indians fan of that time, what types of moves that team made, and how they were received among the fan base.
Regardless of your current emotions and or position on the current direction of this franchise, todays trade made one thing clear. Hart is not afraid of making any deal he deems is better for the long-term strategy of this club. Call it rebuilding, or don’t. Either way, as he discussed recently with Jeff Schultz of the AJC, he recognizes all of the inefficiencies of the club, including a hamstrung payroll and finishing last year as one of the worst offenses in the league, and he is not afraid of blowing-up the current roster. To quote the man himself:
“Let’s be honest: This team finished 29th in offense,” Hart said. “It’s not like I’m breaking up the ’27 Yankees.”
We have to realize; He’s right. Simultaneously, its unclear as to how the moves we’ve seen thus far really help to fix that, at least in the short term. As Schultz writes in a subsequent AJC column:
“The Braves’ struggled to score runs in 2014. But Upton and Heyward created a significant portion of the offense they had. Upton led the team in home runs (29) and RBI (102), ranked second in total bases (278), third in batting average (.270) and second in OPS (on-base percentage and slugging percentage, .833). He struck out a lot (171) and ran hot-and-cold, but he was a solid player and not a problem in the clubhouse.
Heyward ranked second on the team in hits (155) and batting average (.271), third in total bases (220), third in RBI (58), despite mostly hitting leadoff, fourth in OPS (.735), tied for the lead in stolen bases (20) and third in runs scored (74).
Conclusion: The Braves won’t be the ’27 Yankees next season, either.”
As I heard the news this morning, and sat down to write this piece, I found myself staring at a blank document. I am not one to overreact, or to try and find some “hot take” just to try and get traffic. I am one, however, that tries to focus on suppressing the immediate emotional reaction and taking a reserved, analytical approach to any and all news related to ATL/GA sports teams. Regardless, this one continues to position the Braves in a seemingly desperate position moving into next season. (And with more moves potentially to come, including Gattis and some ominous news and tweets today surrounding Chris Johnson, I predict there is still much to come before training camp opens this spring.) Keep your head up Braves fans, we’ve still got the Hawks to cheer for!