It’s tough to be a Braves fan these days. Just two years ago, this was a franchise that seemed to have a lot of name-brand, promising young stars that were poised to end Atlanta’s cold streak in October and breathe new life in a team that had been spoiled by a decade of such regular season dominance that it will (most likely) never be seen again. The dynamic right fielder, the human highlight reel at shortstop, a catcher with a movie-like ascension to stardom, and a closer that made even the most accomplished hitters flinch at the mere mention of his name.
Then John Hart came to town, and now they’re all gone.
It’s fascinating to watch, reminiscent of the trade deadline scene in “Moneyball”, where Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill go one a tirade of phone calls and double talk, swapping real life people like they were stocks, and in the blink of an eye, it was over. What John Hart is doing is much more drastic than Billy Beane did in Oakland (in terms of pure turnover), but not dissimilar in the sense that we’ve never really seen it before. We’ve seen rebuilds, ask anyone in Houston, Kansas City, Minnesota, San Diego or Miami what it’s like. What makes the recent happenings in Atlanta so different, is that it was a team that wasn’t an obvious candidate for one. Sure there were flaws, including a lacking bullpen, a strikeout-prone lineup, and a certain individual that we shall just call “Melvin”, but nothing that jumped out at anyone as “hey, let’s tear this all down and start over”.
At least, on the surface…
John Hart showed up and looked under the hood, saw two outfielders that were dying to test free agency (Heyward/J. Upton), a catcher who had caught lightning in a bottle (Gattis), and a top notch closer that didn’t do much good if you couldn’t supply enough runs to be winning in the 9th (Kimbrel). He saw a depleted farm system, and several bloated contracts that did anything but float. He saw an opportunity, and he took it.
As a fan, these were hard pills to swallow, but we needed to face these facts, and in this particular case, action is what made us face it. The Braves have what’s widely regarded as the worst TV deal in baseball (maybe even in all of sports), which has crippled the payroll of an already stretched team. The days of signing Greg Maddux and David Justice were over, there was no Smoltz or Jones in the pipeline, it was time to re-evaluate, and John Hart removed our collective heads from the sand. He took decisive action, and traded away the talent we had grown to like for those we would have to learn to love.
And now we wait….
And while the waiting game is brutal (i’m anticipating some pretty cheap tickets next season), it is necessary. For we will emerge from what may be the quickest, most comprehensive rebuild in the history of the game destined to repeat one of two decades: The 80’s, a decade of embarrassing loss and seemingly endless failed experiments, or the 90’s, where (almost) everything just seemed to work with a core of players that grew up together as a cohesive unit, not just a group of hired guns brought in for the sake of hardware and ticket sales.
I will guarantee this, Braves Nation isn’t the only ones watching what Hart and Copollela are up to…. All of baseball is watching. If this succeeds, look for other franchises across the game to tear down their own teams and use this very model to reinvigorate their fan base and buck the trend of mega-contracts that even now saturate the game today. It is the new “Moneyball”, except instead of trying to beat the system, they’re trying to use it to their advantage.
Then there’s the issue of “disenfranchising the fan base”…. Ya know what brings them back? Winning. How do you bring back a (generally) apathetic fan base, who have seen pretty much nothing but winning their whole lives? You build a winner. I am not a brain surgeon, so if I have to have brain surgery, i’m certainly not going to tell the guy about to cut my head open how I would have done it (unless his name is Ben Carson). I’ll just be glad to be blinking after it’s over. So why not take that attitude here, with the team that occupies our hearts? I would love to see a revival of the 90’s just as much as the next Braves fan, but we have to accept that a broken bone takes time to heal, even if we don’t want it to interfere with our daily lives. Sure this could totally fall flat. Sean Newcomb could be a bust, Ozzie Albies could be a strikeout machine, Hector Olivera could be all hype, and this pattern of Freddie Freeman injuries could be a normal thing now, but my crystal ball is fuzzy, so if you happen to have one that is in HD, please let me know. The fact is, that if there is any shot at contending, we had to rebuild, and we are shoulder deep in now, after only one season, which, if we were to really turn this around in 2017/2018 as projected, it would literally be the quickest rebuild the game has ever seen, and the template for any rebuild going forward. We just have to make it through a couple of tough seasons, and collectively hold our breath that with new walls brings new possibilities…
It’s tough to be a Braves fan……
Right now at least…..