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The Braves Off-Season: The Good and the Bad

Before the 2018 season, Braves President Terry McGuirk made an interesting statement:

“There will be very few teams that have as much to spend in the marketplace next winter as the Atlanta Braves.”

Interesting to say as the Braves were still in a relative rebuild at the time and from a franchise since the fingerprints of Ted Turner are no longer there and the team stopped spending on the same level as the Yankees. It also gave hope for the Braves fans that the end of the rebuild was near. And in an upcoming off-season for the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Craig Kimbrel, Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel, Patrick Corbin, etc. it gave fans some excitement.

And then the 2018 season happened. The Braves youth movement paid off with bringing in Ronald Acuña off the farm, Ozzie Albies, Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb (at least for the first half of the season), and Johan Camargo while Freddie Freeman had an MVP caliber year and a big year from Nick Markakis and clutch moments from Charlie Culberson. The result was a 90-win season and their first NL East title in 5 years. It really spiked up hope for the Braves fan base for the off-season. A fan base that a large number of fans felt angry for the fire sale of players starting after the 2014 season and the stunning move from Turner Field to Cobb County. A fan base that also felt like the Braves front office hadn’t been truthful or honest with them over the years as well as telling them to not question their moves or motives.

When the off-season began, the Braves wasted no time in using that money, signing Josh Donaldson to a 1-year, $22 million contract and bringing back former Braves great Brian McCann to help shoulder the load with veteran Tyler Flowers as well as help the young pitching staff. People (myself included) questioned the Donaldson move for the times he is oft-injured the last couple of seasons and for that price. It frustrated others as many hoped for a chance of Bryce Harper or Manny Machado to wear the tomahawk instead. However, the Braves had holes to fill with the arms, notably in the bullpen, where they struggled tremendously.

Which meant hope for another possible reunion with a former Brave, Craig Kimbrel, has pretty much gone silent (though a rumor last week was that Kimbrel and the Braves were close to a deal, but that’s what it was: a rumor). Relievers such as Joe Kelly, Adam Ottavino, Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, etc. would have helped Atlanta’s bullpen tremendously and made them the favorites in 2019 in the NL East (which right now many feel it is Washington even without Bryce Harper). Adding an arm to the rotation was also discussed and Dallas Keuchel has been brought up on a few instances, as was Patrick Corbin before he went to Washington. However, the Braves front office did something different: they stood pat.

Of course, the mentality changed from the year before. Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos went back on what his boss McGuirk said in the off-season, somewhat.

“Did we promise we were going to spend more money, or did we promise we were going to have more flexibility? Nobody is ever going to say, “We have to spend ‘X’ amount.”-Anthopoulos

And McGuirk “clarified” himself after.

“Spending now is about winning. It’s not about building as much. Alex’s mandate is to advance the ball from where we were last year in the playoffs. I read where all of the prognosticators have us winning 82 or 84 games. I love being the underdog. The fact that we can take that $126 million and put it on the field, plus an appreciable move beyond that, is unprecedented for us. We’ve been a bottom-10 payroll team for a couple of years. We’ve messaged that we want to get to the middle, and I think this year begins to get us to that neighborhood. I expect that we push beyond that in the coming five years.”-McGuirk

From an off-season standpoint, I think the Braves did okay. After re-visiting the Donaldson signing, I like the move especially if Donaldson is healthy. He could net 30 HR with ease and propel Atlanta back to another division title. And that they are “trusting the process” with their farm. They are obviously high on the farm with likes of Austin Riley (third base prospect), Christian Pache, Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, Kyle Wright, Joey Wentz, etc. A reason why the Braves didn’t get involved with getting JT Realmuto or Corey Kluber is the high value these prospects have. Now, it feels like these guys are can’t miss prospects. I’m fine with that. But if it backfires, people will point out the lack of major moves, notably for relief help.

The debate will always be about prospects is if you hold on to the wrong ones for the hope of the prospects panning out. We saw it with the Braves 20 years ago when the Braves would not include a package of George Lombard and Bruce Chen to Seattle for Randy Johnson. It may have solidified the Braves in the World Series against the Yankees in 1998 which could have been one of the best ever. But again in Atlanta, a near miss.

However, I believe the Braves did right by standing pat. I think these guys are going to be something else for Atlanta and the likes of the current starters could be the ones on the move, not really the prospects.

But what bothers me is once again, the Braves front office constantly treating the fan base wrong. And comments by Alex Anthopoulos in The Athletic came off once again as brash, arrogant, and pretty much poo-pooing in essence “fans knowing nothing” about what the Braves are doing and what the Braves aren’t doing. And it has been parallel for the longest time of how the Atlanta fans should be “happy” with all the Braves success over the last 30 years despite the one world championship.

While Atlanta fans get that bad rep for being a bandwagon sports town, the Braves fans are a passionate bunch and have been sick and tired of being jerked around by the front office for too long. They are tired of hearing that how the process should be trusted, how the fans should react, and how they should not be criticized for the moves (or in this case, lack thereof). And quite honestly, after being in this town for 25 years, I’m tired of hearing it from the Braves front office.

Look, I get I’m a fan and I don’t know more than the front office. But I also don’t like the fact that how they are treating the rest of the fan base like bumpkins and saying they in essence are better than us and want to shoulder no responsibility for their issues.

So this off-season for the Atlanta Braves to some many figure it is a failing off-season for a team that has a lot going on their plate. But for me, I would give them about a B- for their efforts. They did makes moves of signing Donaldson, McCann and brought back Markakis, but failing to at least upgrading the bullpen stings. But how they handled the off-season has been the same old same old Braves management of telling the fans “well, what we really meant to say this….but you should get over it because we know what is best and you don’t. But hey, keep coming to our new ballpark we forced taxpayers into paying and cheer for us!”

Sadly, I can’t get mad anymore given the fact this is how they have been for a long period of time. I’m always going to cheer for the Braves, but I am just hoping that at some point that some of these higher ups decide to just ride off into the sunset and install people that are more personable and at least has more of a transparent mindset with their own fan base.

But I guess I will have to wait that out.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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