New president of baseball operations, John Hart, tried to convince Atlanta fans that the team was not rebuilding for the opening of the new stadium in 2017. However, with all that the Braves have lost this offseason, it’s hard to see it any other way.
The Braves traded away their most productive hitter in Justin Upton (29 homers, 102 RBIs). They also dealt Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis, who were two of their best hitters last year. They only got back Nick Markakis and Jonny Gomes to help them in the immediate future, which is a terrible tradeoff.
The good news is that the Braves will still have a solid rotation. They do lose Ervin Santana, but they replace him with Shelby Miller and could have one of the better rotations in baseball if everyone stays healthy. But no matter how Hart swings it, this is an Atlanta team that is rebuilding in 2015.
Nick Markakis (RF) – The career .294 hitter with a .353 OBP in the leadoff spot should do a good job of setting the tone for the lineup. He’ll remain the leadoff hitter until Jose Peraza is ready to take over.
B.J. Upton (CF) – Set Atlanta’s single-season franchise record for strikeouts (173) in 2014. Upton has been one of the biggest disappointments in all of baseball throughout his career, and it’s amazing that he still has an everyday job.
Freddie Freeman (1B) – After hitting .443 with runners in scoring position in 2013, that number dipped all the way down to .294 in 2014. Freeman still had a solid season nonetheless, hitting .288 with 18 homers and 78 RBIs, but the Braves need more out of him.
Chris Johnson (3B) – Finished second in the majors with a .395 average against lefties last year, but hit just .231 against righties. He hit only 10 homers with 58 RBIs and the Braves need more production from their clean-up hitter.
Jonny Gomes (LF) – This will be Gomes’ fifth different team since 2008. He is a great player to have in the clubhouse because he keeps things lively. Gomes slashed .234/.327/.330 last year with only six homers and 37 RBIs in limited action.
Andrelton Simmons (SS) – The Braves can live with his numbers being down because he has an elite glove. In his second full season last year, he hit .244 with seven homers and 46 RBIs.
Alberto Callaspo (2B) – The Braves felt the need for adding a contact hitter in Callaspo. He has averaged just one strikeout every 11.16 plate appearances over his career. He hit .223 over 404 at-bats in Oakland last year.
Christian Bethancourt (C) – He did throw out five of 15 base-stealers last year, but he also had six passed balls in only 31 games. Bethancourt didn’t do much at the plate, either. He hit .248 without a home run in 113 at-bats.
This may be the worst lineup in the National League. You just don’t replace guys like Justin Upton, Jayson Heyward and Evan Gattis. Those were three of their most productive hitters last year, and now all three are gone. The only person in this lineup that scares opposing pitchers is Freeman, but even he is coming off a down year. The Braves struck out 1,369 times last year, which was the fourth-highest total in the majors. They also were held to two or fewer runs a whopping 64 times, going 9-55 in those contests. Don’t be surprised to see the Braves score the fewest runs in the National League in 2015.
Julio Teheran (RHP) – Became the sixth Braves starter since 2000 to make at least 30 starts (33) and post an ERA under 3.00 (2.89). Teheran is the ace of this staff for now, and he clearly has a bright future.
Mike Minor (LHP) – Shoulder soreness forced a late start and an early finish to Minor’s 2014 campaign. He was never quite right as he went 6-12 with a 4.77 ERA last year. He’ll look to bounce back and show off his real talent while healthy in 2015.
Alex Wood (LHP) – Arguably the best starter for the Braves last season, Wood posted a staff-best 2.78 ERA over 24 starts and 11 relief appearances. Unfortunately, his record was only 11-11 due to a staff-low 2.75 runs of support per outing.
Shelby Miller (RHP) – The Braves are buying low on Miller after a tough 2014 campaign. After striking out 169 batters in 173.0 innings in 2013, he only fanned 127 in 183 innings in ’14. That is not a very promising sign for this youngster.
Mike Foltynewicz (RHP) – Foltynewicz is the second-best prospect on the Braves’ roster entering spring training, just behind second baseman Jose Peraza. He’ll be given every shot to win a spot in the rotation from Day 1 of camp.
You would be hard-pressed to find five better rotations than the one the Braves will be putting on the field in 2015. In fact, the Braves boasted a rotation that finished fifth in the majors last year with a 3.42 ERA. Their 110 Quality starts were the most in the majors as well. Teheran earned an All-Star spot last year for his efforts. He combines with Wood to give the Braves a formidable right-lefty combination at the top of the rotation. Minor will be better now healthy, and Miller would be a great No. 4 in any rotation. The final spot should go to talented prospect Foltynewicz, but if he falters then veteran Wandy Rodriquez will be ready to fill in.
Craig Kimbrel’s 90.7 career save percentage is third in MLB history among relievers with at least 150 chances. Only Eric Gagne (91.7) and John Smoltz (91.1) have been better. The Braves have rebuilt their bullpen around Kimbrel, trading away Jordan Walden and David Carpenter, while signing former closers Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli. Shae Simmons is a young prospect who has a Kimbrel-esque fastball and a closer’s mentality. Luis Avilan had 110 appearances to start his career without suffering a loss, which is the fifth-longest streak in MLB history. Lefty James Russell and righty Jose Veras round out what appears to be a very solid bullpen.
Betting Odds (Bovada)
- To Win World Series: 66/1
- To Win NL Pennant: 28/1
- To Win NL East: 15/1
- 2015 Season Win Total: 73.5
Prediction: 4th Place NL East (70-92 – UNDER 73.5)
There’s no question that the Braves are rebuilding with the hope of being competitive once they get their new stadium in 2017. They will struggle in the immediate future, especially at the plate as this is one of the worst lineups in baseball. You just don’t replace the trio of Upton, Gattis and Heyward, and the Braves did little to even try to do so.
They good news for Braves’ fans is that their farm system ranked just 22nd in 2014, but now it has moved all the way up to sixth for 2015. They acquired young pitchers Max Fried and Foltynewicz, and Peraza is an absolute stud. The 2015 outlook does not look bright, but the 2017 outlook couldn’t look a whole lot better. I have the Braves finishing in fourth place in the NL East this year in a battle with the Phillies to stay out of the cellar.
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