The Atlanta Braves are two seasons removed from winning their division. Does that feel right to you?
They lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS in 2013. They followed up that campaign with a 79-win season in 2014. So what did they do? They shipped Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the St. Louis Cardinals for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. They also signed Nick Markakis to a four-year, $44 million deal and traded the best reliever in baseball -- Craig Kimbrel -- to the San Diego Padres for a pretty underwhelming return.
In short, nobody really knew what mode the Braves were in last offseason. However, their 67-win campaign this past season has seemed to clear some muddied waters. And the expected treatment: rebuild.
The Free Agents
John Coppolella and the rest of the Braves front office made a number of low-risk additions to their roster this offseason. They added Jim Johnson back after including him in a trade last season. They also added utility infielders Kelly Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio for reunion tours of their very own. For what it's worth, they also added Bud Norris who will look to rebuild some of his value after a down season.
Perhaps their most notable signing of the offseason was adding the under appreciated Tyler Flowers. While still a below-average hitter, Flowers earned his team 16.7 runs with his pitch framing according to Baseball Prospectus' new metrics. The 30-year old will have to share some catching time with AJ Pierzynski, but there's a good chance that timeshare could be beneficial to both parties.
This is where the Braves offseason hopefully set the tone for years to come. Realizing that the Braves had valuable assets that could end up giving diminished returns, Coppolella astutely shipped them away for more than what they were worth to his own team.
It started with defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons. The Los Angeles Angels gave up Sean Newcomb, Erick Aybar, and Chris Ellis. To make up for the difference in pay between Simmons and Aybar, the Braves also got $2.5 million cash in the deal. Newcomb -- the 19th-best prospect by MLB.com top 100 -- jumped immediately to number one in the Braves system at the time. Ellis sits 11th at the moment. While Simmons is an otherworldly glove at shortstop, the Braves should definitely be applauded for getting such a return. Both prospects are non-roster invitees to spring training.
The Braves offseason hit its crescendo with the trading of Shelby Miller. After only spending one season in Atlanta -- and enjoying some success as the team's ace -- a team looking to improve their rotation knew that, for the right price, the Braves could part with Miller. Enter: the Arizona Diamondbacks. In what most people claim to be a vast overpay, the Braves acquired Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte, and Aaron Blair for Miller and Gabe Speier. Most famous for being the first overall pick in the 2015 draft, Swanson became the top-rated prospect in the Braves system. Blair sits fourth in the Braves system and 61st in the MLB.com top 100.
In summation, the Braves replenished what was a pretty weak farm system with some top-tier talent by parting with Simmons and Miller. If they're committed to this rebuild, then Coppolella still has some tantalizing players to deal -- and one in particular.
Reasons to worry
If worrying about the current welfare and productivity of your favorite team is your thing, then there is definite reason to worry about the Braves. FanGraphs projects them to win 68 games, second worst to only the Phillies.
Furthermore, it does feel as if the Braves kind of fell into this rebuild. It doesn't feel especially well-planned. In fact, it feels like the Angels and the Diamondbacks fleeced themselves on the deals, rather than the Braves finding the highest bidders. Perhaps that's just general pessimism, but something about this rebuild doesn't seem as thought-through as Jeff Luhnow's in Houston for instance. There are going to be even tougher choices going forward, and Coppolella will need to continue sticking to this plan.
Lastly, the 26-year old Freddie Freeman may have to wait a long time for the Braves to be competitive again. In the best-case scenario, the Braves are competitive again by 2018? And that's optimistic. Is it worth keeping a star first baseman for two years of diminished returns, or could he help expedite the rebuild by fetching a stellar return? Time will tell, but Freeman isn't getting younger, and the Braves have little to lose by at least making him available.
Reasons for hope
The farm system is incredibly strong. Stocked with six of the top 100 prospects, the Braves turn around is well underway. While Swanson's ETA isn't until 2018, it seems like the shortstop position will be vacant for him when the time comes. He's also a non-roster invitee to spring training, so Braves fans will get a look at their top prospect very soon.
There's a lot to be generally hopeful for with the Braves, but not much in the way of going into 2016 unfortunately. Julio Teheran is good at baseball, so there's that. So too is Ender Inciarte. Perhaps the most exciting thing about them though is what they could fetch by the trade deadline.
The Braves' future success is incumbent upon the fact that this rebuild continues. Through what might be a very painful 2016 season, the path is laid out for Coppolella. Sticking to this plan could seem difficult at times, but its necessary for the future prosperity of the Braves.