The Atlanta Braves have been one of the most active teams during the season, trying to regain the identity that saw us when 14 straight division titles. A feat I don’t think will ever be repeated in baseball because the amount of moving parts we see in the game today. The man tasked with getting the team back to our winning ways is our new President of baseball operations Jon Hart. Hart is best known for constructing those Cleveland Indian teams that had so much success in the mid-90s with players like Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome.
This season he has brought a fresh voice and an aggressive mentality pulling out all the stops to make this team a consistent winner again. He has traded fan favorites Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, Craig Kimbrel, and Justin Upton. You look at those names, and you say how are you ever going to win a game again, trust me that’s what I was thinking and many other fans were too. The crazy thing is I think we have won every single one of those trades or at least they are even. Let’s take a look at what I’m talking about.
The first trade that was pulled off was acquiring Shelby Miller from the Cardinals for right fielder Jason Heyward. This trade has turned out to be a win-win for both sides as Shelby Miller has turned into the ace of the starting rotation and Jason Heyward has turned it on for the Cardinals and continually makes web gem type plays in right field. Here are the stats to prove it Miller has a 5-4 record with a 2.20 ERA, has record doesn’t speak to how well he has pitched lack of run support has been his downfall. He then better than advertised when we acquired him. I don’t know where we would be without his dominance. Another thing that makes Shelby Miller a steal is the fact that he is controllable three years left on his current contract and even better is just 24 years of age. Although, Jason Heyward is a great player and is getting hot at the right time for the Cardinals, I think this is one of the steals of the off-season because of the fact that Jason Heyward is a free agent at season’s end and I don’t believe we would be able to meet his financial demands. The first of many big moves John Hart has pulled off the year.
Next, John Hart was able to trade slugger Justin Upton, who is a free agent at the end of this season to the Padres for second baseman Jace Peterson and a handful of top prospects. Jace Peterson was an unknown coming into 2015 he was just supposed to provide farm system depth to start off, but he has taken advantage of his opportunity and wrestled the second base job away from former Brave Alberto Callaspo. Peterson has solidified a position and the lead-off spot in the lineup two things that have been revolving doors for the Braves over the past few years.
Peterson is not letting the world on fire with his numbers, hitting .256 with three home runs and 35 RBIs and she is second on the team with 31 walks, a key stat for lead-off hitters getting on base setting up the big boppers in the middle line up to drive-in runs. Defensively he has been phenomenal paired with Andrelten Simmons making our middle infield one of the best in the big leagues.
Those two trades were miniscule compared to what Hart pulled off just hours before the regular-season opener against the Miami Marlins when he traded All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel and outfielder Melvin Upton Jr to the Padres for outfielder Cameron Maybin and starting pitcher Matt Wisler. Seems crazy on paper, but the Braves were able to get rid of one of the worst contracts in baseball history when the Padres agreed to take the remaining $46.35 million left on the deal creating greater financial flexibility for the future. Baseball is a business and sometimes to get out of a bad deal you have to give up something good and Craig Kimbrel is the best closer in the game and we will miss him, but I believe in the long run this will be a huge win for the Braves.
It is already paying huge dividends in 2015 as Cameron Maybin has made a huge impact in centerfield and the number two spot in the lineup. A guy that was an afterthought in San Diego has been able to revitalize his career with the Braves. He is hitting .295 with eight homers and 44 RBIs the best start he has had in his career. He is also mixed in some speed as well, stealing 15 bases and playing an awesome center field. His contract goes through 2017 with an option for 2018 I hope he is in a Braves uniform for a long time.
The second piece of that deal was the second best prospect in the Padres organization in right-handed pitcher Matt Wisler, who has gotten off to a very impressive start to his Atlanta Braves career with a 3-1 record and 3.13 ERA. We knew we had something special when in his debut, he went eight scoreless innings against the Mets looked like a grizzly old veteran, and the best part about it is he is only 22 years old. All I can say is thank you San Diego for helping us with our competitive rebuild you’ve made it a lot easier.
These are just a few immediate impact players that John Hart has acquired via trade thus far in 2015. He has also been very innovative in the veteran players that he has added during the season to help the young core develop on and off the field. Those players include Nick Markakis, Jim Johnson, Jason Grilli, Johnny Gomes; Juan Uribe and AJ Pierzynski It’s been amazing how this team has gelled with the amount of youth and veterans that have come in and out of this clubhouse in 2015.
Nick Markakis signed a four-year $44 million contract this off-season, I think one of more underrated moves of the entire off-season. The reason I say that is we were able to get a two-time Gold glove winner and a downright professional hitter a pitcher’s worst nightmare, because it doesn’t matter if it is 12 to 0 or 1 to 0 he will make you work to get him out every at-bat.
He is hitting .296 has yet to hit a homer and 28 RBIs and he is fifth in the National League with 97 hits. Nothing flashy, but man has he been a great addition doing everything he can to help us win ball games. On the defensive side of the ball, he had a 398 game errorless streak is an Atlanta Braves record. Showing that you don’t have to hit home runs to make an impact on a baseball field. John Hart was very smart when he made this deal because we got four years of Markakis whereas we would have only had one year of Jason Heyward and got nothing for him because his price tag would have been upwards of $100 million, another savvy baseball move that will help the Braves in the present and the future.
Jim Johnson has been a very reliable setup man for a closer Jason Grilli and has found his sinker again that eluded him last season when he was with the Tigers and the Oakland A’s that saw him post an ERA seven. This year he is more like the dominant closer he was in Baltimore, where he had back-to-back 50 saves seasons. He has a 2.14 ERA with 38 holds and even five saves when Jason Grilli needs a day off. He has been one of the constants in a bullpen that has been a revolving door a great guy for the young relievers to learn from a great pickup for this club.
Along with Johnson, Jason Grilli has been a great pickup for the Braves he had huge shoes to fill when we dealt All-Star Craig Kimberl just hours before the start of the season, he has done an amazing job filling that void at the end of the ballgame. he has converted 24 out of 26 save chances while posting a 2.67 ERA. it hasn’t always been easy he made us nervous at times, but all that matters is the W. he has found his groove in July retiring all 17 batters he has faced I’d say he’s doing a pretty good job making the loss of Craig Kimbrel hurt less and less. I also love his fiery demeanor and gives us something that I think we were sorely missing during the September swoon that we endured last season. Once again a low-risk high reward pick up for John Hart that is paying off. Unfortunately today he injured his Achilles today a crushing blow to this team. All I can say is get well soon!
You need a veteran catcher to lead your young pitching staff right? The Braves have theirs In 38-year-old AJ Pierzynski, who in his 17 year career has been through everything possible on a baseball field. He has been fantastic with our young pitching staff teaching them how to work through major league lineups. I think he has worked with a record number of pitcher’s this season and we are just a little over halfway through, it’s been amazing how he is able to get the best out of every single pitcher that he has worked with this season. the bonus is the fact that he has contributed big time on the offensive side of the ball hitting .283 six homers and 29 RBIs. pretty darn good for a player that thought he was just going to be a tutor for the catcher of the future, but his play has forced him to be the starter. A very pleasant surprise and I am super happy that he is in a Braves uniform.
Johnny Gomes is someone every baseball team needs an awesome clubhouse guy and a person that will do anything that is asked whether that is coming off the bench or start against a tough lefty, it doesn’t matter all he cares about is getting victories. You throw the stats out the window with this guy because no matter what the stat line says he will give 1010% and do whatever it takes to win. Every team in baseball would be lucky if they had a Johnny Gomes in the clubhouse. he is all heart and hustle and never takes a play off.
The last veteran that has made a great impact on the Braves this season is third baseman Juan Uribe. He was acquired in late May from the Dodgers to solidify the third-base position.We traded Alberto Callaspo who had fallen out of favor and relievers Ian Thomas, Juan Jaime who can’t throw enough strikes and pitcher Eric Stults who is not even pitching for them at this point in the season. in 40 games since joining the Braves he has hit .295 seven homers, 14 RBIs and 15 doubles, he is also a slick fielding third baseman, he makes our defense even better when he is on the field. Another one of John Hart’s out of nowhere trades that has paid off for the Braves in the present and the future. As you can see there is veteran flavor all over this team and I don’t know where we would be without them.
Farm system overhaul
Another thing John Hart has done is restock the pipeline to the major leagues with a ton of top prospects that are ranked in MLB’s top 100. Turning a farm system that was ranked in the bottom third of the league, to a farm system that is now ranked number six what a difference a year makes. Last year there wasn’t anything to write home about as we traded most of our top prospects to acquire Justin Upton and we were also financially strapped with some of the deals that Frank Wren did while he was in charge of the of the Braves. Let’s just say it was an awful mess that John Hart inherited and look at what he’s done. He has definitely gotten back to what made the Braves a perennial playoff team and that is acquiring top arms and letting them develop to help the Atlanta Braves in the near future. John Hart has been a magician in both revamping our current club and our farm system and future it’s been amazing to be a fan and see the innovation that has used in every single one of his deals that he has pulled off. There is no chance that he is finished, he is the most active GM that I’ve ever seen and it’s been very exciting to be a Braves fan that’s for sure.
Right now, the Braves are 42 and 46 doesn’t seem like much, but this team is definitely exceeding expectations as we were projected to lose over 100 games as we are in a rebuilding mode and traditionally that means you are quickly out of the playoff race. That is not the case for the 2015 Braves we sit just five games back of the division leading Nationals, we are right there to swoop in and surprise everybody even me. Keep in mind we have done this while our star first baseman Freddie Freeman has been injured with a wrist issue and we have still been able to stay in the race and that is remarkable in itself. This team is one of most fun teams we have ever had scratching and clawing and never quitting doing whatever it takes to prove the ” experts” wrong.
The trade deadline will be the most interesting one we’ve had in a while because as of right now we are right there, but that could change because baseball is so unpredictable and we could become sellers and continue to build for the future and the new ballpark in 2017. It’s going to be fun to watch either way it goes, I am very excited about it Go Braves.