What an odd winter we as fans of the Braves have experienced. It began with the announcement the Braves would be moving into their own house beginning in 2017 to a location 17 miles north of the Ghetto. Away from the site of occupancy they have plied their trade for nearly fifty years now.
I guess when we think about a club making a “big move”, that is not exactly what most fans would let come to mind. Not that I blame the Braves organization for wanting to look at how they can stay relevant. They are saddled with what is considered one of the worse local TV deals in all of professional sports. That’s right, not just baseball but in all pro sports.
Well, if you are handed lemons, it is good to know how to make lemonade and a little lemon zest to get maximum return on your lemons. Maybe even plant a few seeds to grow your own lemon trees, too. Looks like the Braves may have done just that.
No big free agent signing occurred this season by the Braves. It was really more of a subtraction than an addition in that respect. Former Braves “Baby Brave” Brian McCann signing long term with Yankees for $85MM and mildly surprising bull dog and former staff ace Tim Hudson bolting to the west coast for a 2 year $23MM deal. I would suspect that is about double what the Braves were willing to risk for a guy who is in decline. I can’t really fault either party for that one. The Braves just did not value Tim that much and BMac’s departure has been long seen by many as a one-trick pony whose future is in a place where he needs to hit only four times a game to be successful. Big Poppi in Boston has certainly been able to make a living doing just that.
In a real baseball league, everyone has to hit and play the field on a fairly regular basis. So, how do you stay relevant where your competition are getting 2 billion dollar local TV deals? Looks like the Braves have made a good start. They have taken a page out of the government’s play book and put in a bunch of back loaded contracts. Not that I don’t applaud Frank Wren and company for thinking outside the box a bit by locking up the core of their home grown talent that has some pretty significant balloon payments at the end. (Didn’t they outlaw those in the mortgage industry?) Anyway, if it looks good and gives the Braves some stability in keeping their core players together, all the better.
It looks like a lot of money but the way the contracts are structured, it will be the problem of the next owner and General Manager when 2018 rolls around. The Braves will likely have to pay Heyward if he finally develops into another Freddie Freeman as far as a reliable, everyday player or super star. Other than Robinson Cano, I did not really see player contract escalating this past off season. Heck, in five years, who knows what the dollar will be worth?
So! Where does that leave us? The Braves had a surprisingly good team last year. They really were a .500 hundred team for the most part but they took full advantage of a couple of 14 game winning streaks and the too late surge by a disappointing Nationals team who for all intents and purposes took their pre season press clippings a little too seriously. What was their greatest weakness? Their bullpen, and all of us have seen that movie before.
So, what to expect this season from the Braves? A lot has to go right for the Braves to repeat as NL East champions:
– An Evan Gattis who can continue to inspire blue collar guys everywhere by swinging a big bat and tape measure home runs. That and he continues to hold up behind the plate.
– A Fab 5 who continues to be clutch at the plate and keeps saying infield errors with the incredible ability to snare baseballs off the deck and way off the mark at first.
– A super star shortstop who is beginning to look like the next Ozzie Smith, who shows a bit more maturity at the plate and improves his on base percentage with more walks and line drives and fewer pop ups.
– The Braves have to hope that the guy who was considered a “throw-in” for fan favorite Marteen Prado continues to amaze with a a hot bat and an improved glove at third.
For the Braves to stay on top, in addition to the above, two of the most disappointing players in Braves history have to at least be among the league average when it comes to hitting. They say strike outs are no worse than any other out. But, with automatic strike outs every at bat, far too often we see the bases loaded with no outs – yet no one scores.
A young pitching staff full of number twos and threes are going to have to step up and stay focused on keeping their team in the game and hope the good guys can hit a three run homer or two and not feel the need to be perfect every game. It is that feeling of continuous pressure which leads to ulcers and gray hair.
The Braves secret weapon still has to be their shut-down bull pen. That is the real reason the Braves finished where they did last season. No team outside the Yankees can bludgeon the opposition into the submission every game – and even they found out what it means to have a weak pitching staff.
The Braves may have lost O’Flararty to the A’s this season but they have been without him for quite a while. They still have the best closer in baseball and don’t ever think that the last 3 outs in a baseball game isn’t the hardest to get. The only people who don’t think so are the teams who don’t have that “go-to” kind of guy . Just like having an Ace at the top of the pitching staff who gives your team confidence they can put up a W whenever he takes the mound, having a shut down guy at the end of the game helps everyone on the team try to turn it into a 6 inning game.
SO LET’S GO BRAVES… LET”S REPEAT!!!