The Ticking Time Bomb of Atlanta’s Rebuild

The Ticking Time Bomb of Atlanta’s Rebuild

Recently here at WalkOffWalk, we’ve been attempting to put together a playoff team for the Atlanta Braves in 2018. I took the first stab at it and put together a more aggressive plan to improve the talent level of the team while sacrificing some of the club’s better prospects. Tommy followed that up with a more conservative approach by keeping all the major prospects and building a team around internal call-ups, minor trades, and veteran free agent signings. Ryan just dropped his own that includes a little bit of both. But regardless which of those plans you prefer, there’s a greater point to be made outside of just a fun exercise. The Braves need to have a sense of urgency about contending. They’ve got a ticking time bomb attached to this rebuild.

This isn’t a post on how the Braves organization owes it to the fans to put a contender on the field as soon as possible and if they don’t, fans will leave in droves. Although as a fan I’d love for my team to consider me and my loyalty when making decisions, the sad truth is teams don’t really have to consider the fan’s feelings. While some will swear off the team forever and some will even walk away from the team for a bit, usually the losing bit, front offices know as long as they eventually build a winner, the fans will come back. At least most of them. No, there’s a much more concrete reason Atlanta needs to be so urgent in wrapping up its rebuild. Freddie Freeman.

Freddie Freeman is the best player on the team, one of the best players in the game, an undoubtedly is the cornerstone from which the organization plans to build their empire. And he’s good enough to be that cornerstone. When other veterans and fan-favorites were being traded left and right and the team made it clear the future was more important than the present, Freeman remained. The now former GM, John Coppolella, famously wagered his right arm that he absolutely would not trade the all-world first-baseman, and though most of what John said and did is now under investigation, that proclamation remained true. They remain steadfast in building around Freeman.

And while that sounds like a perfectly logical plan, there is one glaring problem. The timeline doesn’t seem to line up. Most rebuilds take 5-6 years to complete. Usually 2-3 years to build back up your farm system and another 2-3 years to get those players to the majors and competing at a high level. Looking back on some recent rebuilds in Chicago, Houston, and Kansas City, this timeline holds up. Even looking at where Atlanta is in the process, the timeline holds up. Most teams don’t go from 90 losses to 90 wins in one season. If you let things develop naturally there’s usually a gradual build-up. 3 years into their rebuild and Atlanta has won 67, 68, and 72 games respectfully. With more of their high-end talent either in, or close to Atlanta now, we’ll probably start seeing bigger jumps in wins. Maybe 77-78 wins in year 4, 83-84 wins in year 5, and by year 6, a playoff contender. That’s a perfectly natural, perfectly normal rebuild. Tear it down is 2015, back to the playoffs in 2020.

But Freddie Freeman’s contract is up after the 2021 season. That seems like a long way from now but it really isn’t. That’s 4 years away. And really, you have to know what you’re doing with Freeman by 2020 because if it gets to 2021, and he’s now a one-year rental, all leverage and a large chunk of his value goes down the toilet. And you absolutely cannot just let him walk out the door for nothing in 2021. Big market teams may be able to get away with that but not Atlanta. Of course, an extension is always possible but remember, player salaries are about to go up. Guys like Harper, Machado, and the rest of the 2018 free agent class are about to reset the market for all players and you have to assume any extension is going to cost you market price. It’s nice to hope for a home-town discount but you can’t plan for it. If Freeman is still playing at this level, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t, he could command 35-40 million per year which means he’s probably playing somewhere else.

So what does all this mean? Well for me, it means if you want a shot at contending with Freddie Freeman on the team, then the timeline needs to be accelerated. Aggressive moves need to be made to drastically improve the team’s talent level. I wouldn’t touch Acuna, Albies, Gohara or Wright but everyone else would have a certain level of expendability. I’d also quickly adhere to the concept of sunk cost. If you view these next 3 years with Freddie Freeman as precious commodities, then not one of them can spent with the likes of Matt Kemp or Nick Markakis on the team. There’s no time for that. If you have to eat money to move them, do it. If you have to cut them to move them, do it. The goal should be to build a playoff contender in 2018 and give yourself at least a 3 to 4 year window with your best player, playing his best years, on your best teams.

Some fans didn’t like the Chris Archer trade I made when building my playoff team but this is one of the main reasons I made it. Yes it dealt away some serious prospects but it also built a contender for the next 4 season at least. Imagine having Archer, Freeman, Acuña, Albies, Inciarte, Gohara, and Teheran to build around the next 4 years. What could they accomplish? Or go with a plan like Tommy’s or Ryan’s. The point is to not to waste the prime years of the core of this team.

Because it’s not just Freeman at stake. Julio Teheran’s contract is up in 2020. By 2020, Ender Inciarte will still be under contract but he’ll be a 30-year-old OF whose primary value is derived from his defense. The odds of him still being a 3 or 4 WAR player then are slim. Basically, the current core of this team doesn’t line up with the timeline  a standard rebuild. Which means if Atlanta wants to win with them, they can’t keep operating a standard rebuild.

The other option of course is letting the rebuild develop naturally. Grow your wins incrementally, year by year and when you’re ready to compete, make your moves. In a vacuum, this is usually the best option. Don’t rush things. But this option comes with the stark possibility that the next time the Atlanta Braves field a playoff team, Freddie Freeman won’t be on it. Or if he is, it’ll be a 1-year window. And if he’s not going to be on the next playoff team you have to trade him for players that will. And as uncomfortable as trading top prospects makes Braves’ fans, it’s nothing compared to the idea of trading Freddie Freeman.

Atlanta has a choice. If they still want to build around Freeman then they can’t just let this process play out naturally. The timeline doesn’t work. It has to be accelerated and moves have to be made. If, however, they want to let the rebuild play out and build around the new core of Acuña, Albies, and Gohara, that’s fine too. Then you have to trade the current core for players that you can add that new group and build a winner from there. But the absolute worst thing you can do is continue to waste the prime of Freddie Freeman’s career on terrible teams. They can pick A or B. But they can’t pick C. It’s a tough choice and I don’t envy having to make it. But the clock is ticking.

3 Comments

I’m sure that when Coppy started dealing off the talent after The 2014 season, he asked Freddie Freeman if he wanted to stay/was willing to endure a painful rebuild. Obviously Freeman said yes..OR Coppy would have traded him/gotten A LOT MORE prospects in return!

Freddie knows what time it is! He signed up for this rebuild! The Braves would be FOOLS to ‘accelerate’ The Rebuild by using cheap/talented prospects to acquire players who ONLY would be here for a few years at higher costs. Also, as I’ve stated a number of times, we simply DO NOT KNOW exactly what we have, for sure, with our highly touted pitching prospects! Sure, we have A PLETHORA of them. However given how variance/injuries/flaming out as Major League Starters regularly occurs….we simply need TIME to figure out who is for real/who isnt!

Ironically, I feel that even though we have FAR LESS position player prospects…the highly touted ones we do have are FOR REAL (like Albies, Acuna, Swanson DESPITE his offensive troubles in 2017. Albies and Acuna have a chance to be ALL-Stars for a number of years…while Swanson can be a dependable shortstop/leader during those same years. If Alex Jackson and Austin Riley both pan out….you’re talking about 5 players that we get THREE YEARS EACH of cheap production before they are even eligible for salary arbitration).

Coppy, for all his faults, seems to have drafted/traded for prospects who have it in them to adjust/rapidly rise through The Minors! Triple A will have Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard and Tooki Tousiant ITCHING to make The Majors…Double A will have Kyle Wright….High Class A will have Joey Wentz, Bryce Wilson. Those are some SERIOUS ARMS who have ‘swing and miss’ capability!

Teheran and Folty will feel the pressure to seriously produce in 2018 OR risk being traded to make room for our Triple A guys….OR….if Gohara, Newcomb and Fried/Sims dont show the ability to develop a 3rd pitch that helps them avoid needing 100 pitches to get through the 5th inning….then they risk being replaced/relegated to the bullpen to make room for our Triple A guys.

We have OPTIONS…SERIOUS OPTIONS! All our eggs ARE NOT in one basket when it comes to our starting pitching options! By 2021,at the latest,…I feel that this will more than all be sorted out (hopefully sooner).

True dat. I agree that the Braves should be looking to make a contender as quickly as possible. I think the Braves actually tried to do that this year. If Bartolo had worked out better and they had kept Garcia and Phillips, they might have been able to get near .500. BTW, I think Phillips has been extremely underrated for his performance last year. With Phillips batting second the whole lineup clicked – I could swear he was getting a clutch hit every day. As each year goes by, the attempts to contend should be getting more aggressive. I do still think your profile was too aggressive and Tommy’s not enough so. Ryan seems to have hit a good medium (swap out Peacock for Arrieta or Darvish) and the Ellsbury deal is a genius idea if the Braves don’t mind rolling with him for three years vs. Kemp’s two. Whatever Cameron at Fangraphs says, the Braves are not that far from contending. Cameron has been saying the same thing as this post – the Braves have not done well at putting forth a major league product and should put more of the focus on the on-field product as opposed to the farm. They need a stable rotation, better fielding, and an infusion of power. An outfield of Ellsbury/Inciarte/Acuna with Frazier at 3B takes care of the power and fielding. And either Arrieta or Darvish with Teheran would anchor the rotation enough to let the young guys grow. An anchor for the bullpen would be good too – might be the element that puts us over the top – but is not necessary to hit .500 and might be something that could be added at the trade deadline if the team is in the hunt. But, by not trading too many prospects, you leave the cupboard full to try again the next year even harder. One of these years, these moves are going to work.

Take a look at the 1990 and 1991 rosters. They are not that different. The SP are basically the same (Avery being the most notable turnaround). The bullpen was a work in progress which was stabilized with Pena as a deadline pickup. The biggest change was adding Pendleton at 3B, trading Murph, moving Justice to RF and picking up Bream at 1B (and subtracting Marty Clary….. LOL). A few other bit players (Nixon, Blauser) and a career year (Treadway) and you’re a World Series participant.

Next year we could pick up Frazier at 3B, Acuna in RF, trade off Kemp/Markakis, pick up J. Garcia (a Charlie Leibrandt type), get a lockdown reliever (Neshak or Britton or Reed), get a few bit players (Valbuena, LF, etc…). If Dansby comes up big (Avery went from 3-11 to 18-8), it’s playoff team.

Until we know what we have with our YOUNG starting pitching talent…it would be HELLA PREMATURE to make serious moves to compete in 2018! What is wrong with saying “WE NEED MORE INFORMATION”? We get that information…by letting our young talent SHOW UP during The 2018 Season who legitimately has it as a starting pitcher/who would be more effective as a relief pitcher/who should be dealt to other teams with ‘lower expectations’?

The suffering of the past 3 seasons IS OVER! I dont mind having one more year of STRUGGLING at The Major League Level….IF we can find out what we really have by the end of The 2018 Season! Plus, payroll savings for 2018 by staying PUT….can be used to eat whatever part of Matt Kemp’s 2019 final season contract we have to swallow when we attempt to trade him to an AL team in need of a DH (Kemp can still hit…he just should not be playing any significant time in the field. He’ll be MUCH EASIER to trade when he only has one year left on his contract)!

I dont want any part of Ellsbury or Frazier! We’ll be totally free and clear of any bad contracts by The 2018 offseason (again, trading Kemp’s final year will be MUCH EASIER after The 2018 Season)! We’ll be MUCH BETTER positioned to make serious upgrades via Free Agency in The 2018 Offseason AFTER we know how things stand with our Starting Pitching after The 2018 Season!

Braves Nation…please be patient! I feel that one more year will better position us to begin another 15 year run of success…starting in 2019!!!!!!!!!!

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