Over the past few days, we have seen the Value City of major league franchises, the Miami Marlins, spend $191 million on three free agents and the Los Angeles Angels give Albert Pujols a contract ($254 million) that exceeds the gross national product of several small countries.
Meanwhile, the Braves have done nothing. They may continue to do nothing, or at least very little.
And that’s OK.
I know. You want a splash. Everybody loves a splash. Splashes are a fan’s barometer for knowing that an owner cares as much as they do. But splashes aren’t always wise, and the Braves are a perfect example.
It has been two months since their collapse was complete. There’s a lingering hangover from blowing a 10½-game lead for the wild-card spot in roughly a month and missing the playoffs. (The team passing them, St. Louis, went on to win the World Series.) The Fredi Gonzalez bandwagon flipped over. It’s natural to demand change.
Take a cleansing breath.
As currently constructed, the Braves remain a potential World Series team. To believe they’re not assumes that having the third-most wins in baseball on Aug. 25 last season amounts to an aberration. (The only two teams ahead of the Braves at that time were Philadelphia and Boston. The Red Sox missed the playoffs. The Phillies were bounced in the first round by the Cardinals. So should the new blueprint be: Struggle for five months, rally and then hope the last spasm gets you into the postseason and pushes you to a World Series? Good luck with that.)
Several months later, we still don’t know exactly why the Braves belly-flopped. We don’t know why Jason Heyward struggled, Brian McCann faded and Dan Uggla was like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. We don’t know why pitching fell apart and body parts suddenly exploded. It just happened.
“I don’t think anyone knows,” general manager Frank Wren said Thursday when asked for his postseason analysis. “We all have our theories. We all can point to things that started the September slide. All we know is, once things started rolling downhill, we couldn’t stop it.
“You can make a knee-jerk reaction: ‘We didn’t make the playoffs. We have to fix everything.’ But that would be the wrong approach. Are we working to get better? Yes, but I don’t think we’re going to react to something that happened in a 30-day window.”
Nor should he. Generally, I’m not shy about jumping into the blow-it-up camp, but that’s not applicable here.
A .280-hitting, Gold Glove shortstop would be great. So would a right-handed, power-hitting left fielder. Any candidates? Who are you trading to get them. How are you fitting them into the payroll? (Stop the Jimmy Rollins fantasy.)
Wren has long resisted dealing any of the organization’s top prospects. That leaves the two lone marketable and relatively available veterans: Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado. Both are due significant raises in arbitration. Hence, their availability.
Personally, I think dealing either would be risky. Moving Jurrjens would turn the starting rotation into a relative kiddie corps. (Behind Tim Hudson, who is coming off back surgery: Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran.) Moving Prado means there’s no backup plan for Chipper Jones at third base, as well as no strong candidate to start in left. Also worth noting: Prado was this team’s relative MVP two years ago.
Wren insists, “I don’t feel desperate” to make a trade. The Braves will have Michael Bourn for a full season. They’re assuming a bounce-back season by Heyward. Maybe there’s some risk in that, but it’s the logical stance right now.
The Braves aren’t the Marlins. Miami needed to become relevant, moving into a new stadium, so they signed Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.
The Braves aren’t the Angels. L.A. needed power and figured it can make back some of Pujols’ ridiculous contract with new sponsorships in that market, and probably by charging $17 for a hot dog.
The Braves don’t need a splash. Maybe a tweak. You can’t assume the final month is reality and the first five were an aberration.
Unless, of course, they collapse again.
By Jeff Schultz