Back in March I took my annual trip to ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida to take in the Atlanta Braves’ spring training. It was easy to see that after the off-season trades that shipped off Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Evan Gattis it was obvious that the 2015 edition of the Braves was going to have a different look and probably a different result in the win-loss column. Boy was that an accurate assessment!
Well, that catastrophic season is now over and few of us could have imagined that it would be so horrific. We can now take a deep breath. We don’t have to cringe when we check the nightly scores for the Braves’ result. We don’t have to watch them on TV and wait to see how they are going to lose another one. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, this 162-game headache is over.
But wait! The Braves are going to be contenders in 2017 when they go to their new baseball home in Cobb County. At least, that’s what the team’s front office has inferred without actually saying it out loud. I’ll be anxiously waiting!
Well, just how will they do that? The Braves top dogs, John Hart and John Coppolella, have traded away almost all of the Braves’ top performers with only Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons remaining. They got a plethora of young players back in those transactions and have high hopes that they will develop into top-notch performers. The key word there is “hopes.” There is no guarantee.
Most of the new players are pitchers and when I say most, I mean almost all of them. The Braves obviously want to revert back to the Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Avery, Neagle days when they won with pitching. OK, who can argue with that, but I remind you that the Braves also had some quality hitters during that time. Guys like Justice, Galarraga, Andruw Jones, Sheffield, Lopez, Jordan, LaRoche, McCann, Teixeira, Giles, Castilla, Drew, and Chipper. They got few hitting prospects in their trades.
Yes, I know that the Braves now have some money to spend since they have rid themselves of the contracts of both Uptons, Craig Kimbrel, and Chris Johnson. How they spend that money in the free agent market is a key to their return to success in the win column. They have to find some hitters in free agency as well as the draft, where they will draft very high because of their low finish. We’ll have to wait and see.
Hopefully a good percentage of the young pitchers will develop into quality chunkers and make up a solid, if not championship, staff. Hopefully we can also find some bats to support them on the scoreboard. Hopefully the Braves can get this thing tuned around just as quickly as it turned south. Who knows?
I’m just glad that 2015 is over! It was very deflating. I tried to find a few positive points but they were hard to find. Hopefully I can recover.
I still have plans to go to spring training again in 2016. I want to see what names are on the backs of the Braves’ jerseys when they gather for another season. Hopefully I’ll recognize a few!
Jim Fowler is a sports columnist and retired teacher and coach who worked in the local school system for many years. He is a founding board member of the Thomaston-Upson Sports Hall of Fame and is also the statistician for the Upson Lee football team, and has written a book about the history of football at R. E. Lee High School.