Are the Atlanta Braves Rebuilding or Reloading?
If someone can explain to me what the Atlanta Braves are doing right now, I'd appreciate it.
Days after trading outfielder Jason Heyward and relief pitcher Jordan Walden to St. Louis in exchange for starter Shelby Miller and minor league pitcher Tyrell Jenkins, rumors were rampant that the team could be looking to move some of their veteran position players as part of a rebuilding process.
Our own Michael Stern broke down the trade earlier this week, and Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal suggested that Hart could also be interested in moving center fielder B.J. Upton, third baseman Chris Johnson, outfielder and catcher Evan Gattis, and perhaps even outfielder Justin Upton, who is on the last year of his contract.
That sure sounds like a team that is entering rebuilding mode, coming off their first losing season since 2008.
However, it also appears as if the opposite is true.
The Braves have a meeting with Jon Lester this week.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 18, 2014
So, uh, what is going on here?
The Braves are losing Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang to free agency. No big losses there, but they are arms that needed to be replaced. Bringing Miller on board takes care of one of those spots. But a meeting with Jon Lester, who is sure to score a huge deal with some team in need of an ace, is not the act of a team looking to rebuild.
Signing Lester and trading Upton or Gattis would make no sense.
So are the Braves looking to reload in 2015? Or are they setting themselves up for 2016 and beyond?
If Hart lands Lester, you would assume he'll probably look to sign Justin Upton to a contract extension. Power hitting outfielders are still a rare commodity, and it's unlikely he'd be able to find a suitable replacement elsewhere. Gattis could play left field, giving the Braves some solid pop in the outfield, although the outfield defense would take a big step back.
When Atlanta traded Heyward, it appeared as if the team was looking more towards 2017, when they open their new stadium, to return to contention. But perhaps the Heyward trade was simply more about disappointment in that one individual player than a larger rebuilding plan. They did save $11 million on next year's payroll and added an arm they desperately needed for their rotation in the deal as well.
If the Braves can somehow find a taker for Chris Johnson and/or B.J. Upton, that will free up even more space on the payroll to sign Lester. And frankly, neither Johnson or B.J. had much of an impact offensively last year, with Upton posting a nERD of -1.22 and Johnson a -0.75 - meaning they were both below league average at producing runs. Losing one or both would be addition by subtraction.
As a whole, the Braves finished 20th in nERD last season, posting a team nERD of -0.41, which indicates that they would be expected to lose to an average opponent by 0.41 runs. Their 79-83 record was just 23rd in the Majors last year, too.
Given this, they are on the wrong side of average and might be in better position to rebuild than to add veteran pieces, but currently, they may not be entirely sure what they want to do at this point in the offseason.
Whatever their intentions are, Atlanta has clearly become a team to watch over the next few months.