Before yesterday happened, I mentioned to Tommy and Ryan that I really didn’t think what was happening to Atlanta was all that terrible and I thought I could make a compelling case they are actually better off in the long run. I even started writing said post. Then yesterday happened and I almost deleted the thing from my hard drive.
If you somehow missed it, Braves lost 13 players, a 3rd round pick and basically have some sort of sanctions on international spending for the next 3 years. Their former GM was also banned for life. MLB dropped an unprecedented, historic hammer on the Braves yesterday, the likes of which would make Thor envious. It was a terrible day.
But if I’m honest, I still have this idea in the back of my head that the actual, tangible effects this will have on Atlanta have been, in my opinion at least, overblown. And I still believe the Braves may be better in the long run. I know that’s insane to most of you but let me explain.
First, we’ll look at the negatives. The negatives obviously start with these historic penalties MLB just levied. I think it’s fair to say the most punitive part of these sanctions are the 13 players no longer in Atlanta’s system and the international restrictions placed on them for the next few years. One third round pick isn’t hard to get over, and Coppy’s ban has zero effect on the team given he was never going to work for them, or maybe anyone in baseball, ever again.
With the players, there’s two things to keep in mind. One, if Atlanta hadn’t cheated, just about all of these guys would be playing baseball somewhere else anyways. It came out yesterday that Atlanta went over their bonus pool in 2015, and had they played by the rules, would’ve been restricted from signing any of these guys in their now infamous 2016 class. Cheating didn’t cost the team talent, it got them talent they never would have otherwise. And when they got caught, MLB simply took those players away. The only scenario in which Kevin Maitan and the rest of that group were ever going to play for Atlanta is if they cheated, and didn’t get caught. MLB taking the players wasn’t actually punitive at all. They simply restored the situation back to what it should’ve been. The Braves gained an advantage by cheating, MLB took that advantage away.
The second thing to remember about the players is that many of them had already started seeing negative reports on how good they actually were. Whether you choose to believe these reports or not is up to you, but the fact is there were objective, third party reports from Fangraphs, Keith Law, and Baseball America that the hype on some of these guys, specifically Kevin Maitan, was overblown. Again, these guys are 18 years old and we have basically zero idea how they will turn out but it’s absolutely fair to say the industry opinion on them had dropped. Whether you agree with it or not.
So once you arrive at the conclusion that these guys might not be as good as initially advertised and that they absolutely should have never been on the Braves to begin with, you’re left with the international spending restrictions as the main penalty. And those are real. There aren’t that many avenues to acquire talent in MLB and one of the main ones has basically been taken away from Atlanta for the next few years. But it’s not the only avenue to acquire talent. Organizations have built playoff teams with basically zero contributions from international free agency before and usually it means you just have to be better in the other pipelines. There will be an added importance on domestic drafting in the short-term, but Atlanta just hired one of the best drafting GMs in baseball. Braves are still going to have plenty of opportunities to bring in high end talent.
And it’s not like the shelves are empty. Even with the guys they just lost, Atlanta has a top 5 farm system and because MLB left them most of their 2018 draft picks, more talent is coming. In 4 or 5 years, yes, the depth of the system may be affected and that does suck. But these restrictions don’t stop them from accomplishing any of their goals. It just slightly changes the way they’re going to have to go about it.
Then we’re left with the positives. Yes, there are positives here. The fact is, Braves had a universally disliked, morally questionable GM running their baseball ops the last few years and even though none of us really knew it, the industry did. And sooner or later that was going to bite them. Not only did Atlanta have a time-bomb at GM but they also had a convoluted and unclear power structure in their front office. John Hart, who was supposed to be overseeing everything, wasn’t really doing anything and John Schuerholz was doing who knows what. And if you ever asked who had final say on baseball decisions, you’d usually get a long answer. Combine that structure with this obsession with whatever the hell the “Braves Way” is and the confidence in this team had begun to waver. Between some highly questionable trades, a disconnect from how good the team was vs how good they thought it was, and some bad bets on big contacts, I personally, had lost a lot of confidence.
But now? Now Atlanta has one of the most respected GMs in baseball running their ops in Alex Anthopoulos who has the experience to match. Not only that, they streamlined and clarified the power structure. Anthopoulos has final say on all baseball decisions. Full stop. And not only that he has full authority to build his staff and his department however he wants. Full autonomy. He reports to the team president who basically serves as the proxy for Liberty Media in regard to the financial parts of the job but baseball decisions? They are made by one man. This is huge. With so many crucial decisions to be made at this stage of the rebuild, having full confidence in the person making them means everything. The day they announced Anthopoulos as GM was the first day in a long time I felt fully confident in the direction of the team. And to get all that they had to give up players they never should’ve had to begin with and few years of spending restrictions on 16-year-olds. I don’t know. I don’t see the doom and gloom others do.
Add that to the 2018 team, which will be the most talented team Atlanta has had in 4 years, arguably the best prospect in baseball, and army of young pitching and an already sitting superstar and honestly, I’m ok.
Yesterday was tough day. No doubt. But in this writer’s opinion, the mourning period should be pretty short. Braves have plenty of talent, both already here and coming soon, and the right guy in charge for the next chapter in Braves baseball. Cheer up Braves’ fans. It’s really not as bad as it seems.