Up next: Where to begin? The Braves have the top farm system in baseball, according to ESPN.com’s Keith Law, thanks in part to the largesse of the Diamondbacks and Padres. Four of the Braves’ top 11 prospects were acquired by trade from them, which cost Dave Stewart his job as D’backs GM and hasn’t helped secure A.J. Preller’s as Padres GM. When the inevitable happens to Preller, there will be multiple reasons (trading Drew Pomeranz to the Red Sox and obscuring his medical records as if the doctor had ties to Russia should have already cost him his job, not a 30-day leave). Here’s another: Preller sent four minor-leaguers to the Braves for one season of Justin Upton, who hit .251 and 26 homers before he left for Detroit (who leaves San Diego for Detroit?). One of the four was Max Fried, a left-handed pitcher who couldn’t pitch in 2015 because of a bad elbow. He can now and is expected to advance quickly after fanning 112 batters in 103 innings in Low A last year. Fried attended the same California high school as the White Sox’s Lucas Giolito and the Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty. It’s still a question which will be the best major leaguer.
What he said: “It’s not lost on us we have to deliver two things at once. We have to make sure the baseball environment at this new ballpark has everything to offer, and I believe will satisfy even the most discerning baseball fans. Then we also have to deliver a very good baseball team,” Braves president of business Derek Schiller on moving into a new stadium. What he meant: “One out of two isn’t bad.”
Outlook: The Braves have a long history of moving to get what they want, from Boston to Milwaukee to Atlanta. This was the shortest travel of all, from downtown Atlanta to the suburbs, but it might have the most important message of all.
The Braves said Turner Field, built for the 1996 Olympics, needed repairs and didn’t have adequate parking, and presented a less than satisfactory experience for fans.
You could say the same about the Braves, who have won 67 and 68 games in the last two seasons when their aversion to winning was transparent: they traded almost any veteran of value but for Freddie Freeman, acquired any prospect who would evoke a positive reaction from Baseball America and fired their manager because it’s what fans expect losing teams to do.
The Braves wrote off 2015 and 2016 as if they were writing off business losses on a tax return; they didn’t plan to open Sun Trust Park in 2017 with a stadium worth millions and a team worth loose change.
Braves fans have a reputation — deserved or not — of fickleness, and team officials didn’t want to bring one tradition into the new stadium: apathy.
The new stadium itself wasn’t without controversy — it’s not accessible by public transportation, weeknight start times were pushed back half an hour to mitigate potential traffic problems and the vote to approve paying for the stadium was either rushed or rigged, depending on your point of view. Guess who’s paying for it?
The Braves have been almost as resolute in building a new team as they have a new stadium, though it may not be obvious for another year or so.
This year’s Braves will be better, and they’ve added a layer of experience to Freeman and young shortstop Dansby Swanson, if only for appearances. The patchwork of Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia and R.J. Dickey to the rotation is unlikely to hold, but Brandon Phillips, Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis give a veteran feel to a lineup that needs it, if not for long. The offense, which hasn’t scored more than 700 runs in a season since 2010 and was 29th in MLB last season, needs all the credibility it can get.
The Braves know winning — thanks to the strike of 1994, they won 14 division titles in a row, and even without it, 11 straight isn’t bad. But that began more than a generation ago, and they’ve won the division just once and made the playoffs only three times in the 11 seasons since, though they weren’t trying to in the last two.
They’ll be back in the playoffs soon — 2017 seems too soon — and very few of their fans will hold a grudge over the last two when they are. Rebuilding an image is always easiest when a team is winning.
Team song: Jan Garbarek: In Praise of Dreams