The Braves were supposed to be bad in 2016. They were expected to finish near the bottom of the league in nearly every category worth counting, and would use this season as a spring board for 2017. With a new ballpark set to open next year, the plan was to get young players the experience they needed so that they would be ready to compete for the NL east once again. While that's still technically the path that Atlanta is on, their timeline for competing in 2017 doesn't seem realistic, as the Braves have been flat out terrible thus far.
As of this writing, they have a record of 5-17, and four of those wins came consecutively. They rank 27th in batting average (.229), 24th in OBP (.302), and dead last in SLG (.288), wRC+ (59), and fWAR (-2.7). On the pitching side, they're 27th in ERA (4.98), 22nd in FIP (4.32), and 24th in fWAR.
Finding a bright spot in the Braves' season is nearly impossible, and barring an unforeseen change in everyone's skill set, the 2016 season is going to be difficult to watch for everyone in Atlanta. However there's one person that might not have to stick around to watch the Braves struggle for much longer; Fredi Gonzalez.
"The Braves are 5-17. The season is lost. Manager Fredi Gonzalez will be fired. So much for the final season at Turner Field, which was never all that promising to begin with."
Rosenthal wasn't sure when exactly the decision will be made final, but noted that it's hard to imagine that Gonzalez will last beyond the Braves' current eight-game road trip.
While Gonzalez has endured his share of scrutiny ever since he took over as manager, the failures of this Atlanta team cannot be placed squarely on his shoulders. Sure, a better manager like Joe Maddon or Bruce Bochy might have been able to get more out of his players, but nobody could have molded them into a .500 team; and as Rosenthal notes, the roster construction of the Braves could cast some doubt on the current front office group.
"General manager John Coppolella, after the team started 0-9, told the Braves' MLB.com website that he believed the club's 25-man roster was better than the group that finished last season 67-95.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution followed up by asking Coppolella why he thought that way.
'I think it's a deeper lineup, better bullpen, growth of young players and improved health,' Coppolella said. 'Those four factors, I think, put a better team out there for us. Whether or not it leads to a better record ... it's a better 25.'"
The Braves have placed an incredible amount of faith in their ability to evaluate prospects, but Rosenthal identifies a potential problem, not with their plan, but with the people behind it.
"If the Braves failed to properly evaluate this year's roster -- an understatement, the way things are turning out -- who's to say their other evaluations can be trusted?"
Of course, Rosenthal's point seems to boil down to a single answer that Coppolella gave to the Braves' official website, where his answers could have been skewed in order to inject some enthusiasm and faith into Atlanta's fanbase. Thus far, their new front office group has received high praise for their ability to extract prospects with high ceilings that they'll be able to have for years to come; and according to Jeff Passan, they're even willing to take on horrible contracts in order to secure draft picks.
Sources: Braves are desperately trying to "buy" tradable draft picks by offering to take on bad contracts if teams include picks as well.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 28, 2016
This wouldn't be a completely new practice for Atlanta, as this is essentially what they did to acquire Touki Toussaint, as well as Hector Olivera. In recent years, the importance of having cost controlled assets has skyrocketed. Not that it wasn't something that front offices ignored in years past, but with the ascension of so many über prospects in just the last few years, organizations are now trying to build as much of their team with young talent as possible.
While we can't predict with any certainty how the Braves' plan will work out in the long-run, we do know that their 2016 is shaping up to be extraordinarily awful, and that Gonzalez won't be around for much longer.