What John Hart said and what he meant


John Hart, the man in charge of the Atlanta Braves, said last week the “future is brighter,” though he didn’t say how much brighter or how much longer into the future.

If Hart is talking about 2015, it looks dim, and his words would seem to be in conflict with every action he’s taken since he chaired a search committee which didn’t have to look beyond the boundaries of its meeting room. If it’s a question of veracity, let the record show Hart said he wasn’t interested in the position he now holds.

“We may not be the prettiest girl at the dance,” Hart said last week, according to the Associated Press, “but we’re going to be a lot of fun to dance with.”

The Braves can practice their dance steps, but when Zoilo Almonte is your projected starting left fielder, you’re going to be a wallflower at the prom. An outfield of Almonte, B.J. Upton and Nick Markakis doesn’t sound like a lot of fun no matter how much the punch is spiked.

“I’m excited to be on a team that’s looking to win next year, immediately,” said Evan Gattis, and he wasn’t talking about the Braves.

Gattis was talking about the Astros, who have won 70, 51, 55 and 56 games respectively the last four seasons. Ouch.

The Braves this offseason have traded Gattis, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, who hit one more than half of the team’s 123 home runs last year. They replaced them with Almonte, Markakis and Christian Bethancourt, who hit 15 home runs, or 49 less, in 791 at-bats last year.

Most of the the headlines on the wire service story said Hart insisted the Braves would be a “contender” in 2015, but that was their word, not his. Presumably, his “future” has a longer shelf life.

If the Braves are a contender in 2015, Dale Murphy is a Hall of Famer, and we all know how that vote proceeded for 15 years, or one longer than the Braves once won division titles.

Maybe the Braves could have been a contender, but that was before Hart started dealing. The Braves won only 79 games last year, but were hurt by pitching injuries after winning 89 or more the previous four years. They won’t be better this year, no matter how Hart tries to fox trot around it.

Braves fans deserve some empathy, because tanking isn’t chic, as anyone who has watched the Philadelphia 76ers the last two years would know. It has to be a blow to their dignity when the Braves are trading stars and the Padres and Astros are trading prospects.

“Look, we weren’t going to be favored even if we kept everybody and added two pitchers,” Hart said. “But I think the future is significantly brighter because of what we were able to do this winter.”

Maybe. The Braves acquired prospects for Heyward and Upton, who have expiring contracts, and Gattis, who’s expired defensively. New Braves Max Fried, who came from the Padres, underwent Tommy John surgery; Tyrell Jenkins, who came from the Cardinals, struck out just 41 in 74 innings; Mike Foltynewicz, who came from the Astros, finds it easy to throw hard but hard to throw strikes. And Bethancourt, the homegrown new catcher, has a .679 career OPS and nearly four strikeouts for every walk.

The Braves still have a good young nucleus — first baseman Freddie Freeman, closer Craig Kimbrel, shortstop Andrelton Simmons and pitchers Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Mike Minor. Maybe what Hart really acquired is time to rebuild the farm system and the salary scale, which is still out of whack thanks to B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. You have to wonder how Freeman, Kimbrel, Simmons and Teheran feel about the extensions they signed, and whether they think the future is brighter. You have to wonder how Foltynewicz feels about leaving the team Gattis said is “trying to win next year, immediately.”

Because no matter how Hart put it, don’t pretend the Braves can keep up with the Nationals this year. If that’s what he was implying there hasn’t been as big an untruth in baseball since Danny Almonte — no relation to Zoilo — claimed to be 12 years old.

If Braves fans can handle the trading of Upton, Heyward and Gattis, they can handle whatever it is Hart is doing, no matter what euphemism you give it.

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