Here’s what I’ve been hearing from many Atlanta Braves’ fans recently, paraphrased of course…
Well, we didn’t win the NLDS and advance to the NLCS, and we didn’t advance our attempt at another World Series, but we did have a great year, a great record, and we won our division! There’s always next year!
Is that really any consolation? Truly? For me, I guess it’s a little consoling that the Braves had as good a year as they did, but I cannot get away from thoughts about what might have been. No, I don’t always think that way. When the Braves lost in the wildcard game last year, I didn’t focus on what might have been. I was truly glad we got that far, and thought the Braves should have no regrets.
This year though, I just don’t feel consoled by the success the Braves did have. I cannot help but feel that so much more could have been realized. I suppose the central question many fans are asking is, if we had a good enough team to reach a 96 win season, win the NL East division but fail in four games in the NLDS, what went wrong? Was it a lack of key personnel, or was it simply bad managerial or strategic moves?
It’s an important question, but rather than look back at mistakes that might have been made, or personnel decisions that may have went awry, I’ll try and look forward to next year instead. The year is over, and looking back only helps to the degree that you can analyze mistakes, and try not to make them again.
I know the 2014 season is a LONG way off, and a LOT can change. That said, if we look at the probable makeup of next year’s team (as far as we know at this point), will the Atlanta Braves be any more successful than they were in 2013? We can’t analyze and attempt to answer that question (just yet) from a strategic (on the field) perspective, but we can analyze from a personnel perspective.
For a more indepth look, I’ll refer you to our own Alan Carpenter’s recent Locker Clean Out Day article on what the Braves may look like next season. Let me sum it up by looking at the probable, positional list that we might expect in 2014:
Now, there’s still unanswered questions about whether or not Brian McCann will be a Brave in 2014, what role Gerald Laird will play, how Evan Gattis will be used, and how soon (or if) Christian Bethancourt is catching as an Atlanta Brave. It’s too soon to know, although I personally believe Bethancourt has proven himself adequately and should be brought up. Gattis is not a very good catcher, not yet anyway, and in my opinion the Braves shouldn’t put him there just to get his bat in the lineup. He’s good, but not that good. We’ve had those debates, and they will continue.
A better question is – whoever is catching in 2014, will their steady presence in the lineup make a huge different in the 2014 outcome? Some will say yes – that if you have Gattis catching, improving defensively, and being used every day, you will have improved offensive output even if you also have a few defensive hiccups. Perhaps, but I’ll say that after only one year on Gattis, the jury is still out long term. I might even argue that if you have Bethancourt in the lineup day-in, day-out, you might get just as much production. You might sacrifice some power, but you’ll get just as much or more overall production. I think this “power” philosophy the Braves have should change anyway.
There’s no question about First Base. Freddie Freeman is Freddie Freeman, and he will not only be at 1B, but I fully expect this guy to just keep getting better and better. His increasing abilities alone make for increased hope each successive season.
Second base is a mess for the Braves. I still believe (against my own hope) that Dan Uggla will be at 2B for the Braves next season. Atlanta still owes him $26 mil or so over two years, and even a partial amount of that is a big chunk of change for the Braves. Because this was the first season Dan has slumped start to finish, I think the Braves may well give him another chance, at least in the first half. If not (and again I hope not), then Ramiro Pena and Elliot Johnson are in the wings.
Pena was hurt and missed the majority of the season, and EJ was brought in to fill some gaping holes. In my opinion, Pena is much better overall than EJ, so outside of the Braves making other offseason moves, or deciding to keep Ugla, I’d expect to see a battle and a win by Pena for 2B. Tommy LaStella has shown great potential in the minors, and if he has a great spring he could end that question. Whoever wins that battle, do you have vast improvement at that position?
Third Base is set in stone, but as the Sabermetric guys will insist, we’re not likely to see that kind of bat from CJ in 2014 again. Oh, his bat will always be pretty good, but questions remains about whether he can maintain 2013 levels.
Shortstop is set in stone as well, and Andrelton will keep getting better. Will he be so much better though than he has been? Simba will continue to be a wizard defensively, but there’s no clear evidence statistically that he will produce at a much higher level than he did in 2013. Certainly he has improved, and his power stats have increased, but I don’t think his offensive output will be considerably higher.
Outfield: Let’s sum it up. Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, and Justin Upton will be back. I truly believe that the best is yet to come from Heyward, and while Justin is capable of having a tremendous season, I have serious doubts whether BJ will ever be a “good” player in the future. In short, I don’t think we’ll see too much more production overall from the OF than we did in 2013. With Heyward and Justin Upton though, it’s entirely possibly they could have an amazing 2014, and frankly the Braves need to see more consistent production out of both of them!
Questions also remain about the pitching, but we’re likely to see something like this…
Who will be the 4th and 5th starters? Who knows? Tim Hudson should be back to good health, but will he be a Brave next season? That remains to be seen, and if he is then he should be the #1 or #2 starter in my opinion. Then there’s Alex Wood and David Hale. Too many questions! The main question, again, is whether or not the Braves’ rotation, whatever it is with the current stock, will be much better than this past year? Possibly, if the Braves go out and make a major move to get a player like, say, David Price. That’s a BIG IF!
Let’s not forget Atlanta’ bullpen. I agree with Alan Carpenter that we’ll likely see most of our current bullpen back, including Jonny Venters (who missed the season due to TJ surgery), but we can probably say goodbye now to relievers like Scott Downs, Freddy Garcia (used in a starter role as well in 2013), and Kameron Loe. Eric O’Flaherty is a big ?? at this point, although I hope the Braves will make an effort to keep him.
Again the question is, will the current bullpen make a huge difference in the possibilities for 2014? Atlanta has one of the best pens around, but getting Venters and possibly O’Flaherty back will make most fans feel considerably better.
You can’t teach an old dog news tricks easily, but I feel that Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez and Co. need to change a few things about the way they manage games. Here’s some small thoughts off the top of my head: Stop thinking every hitter/pitcher matchup HAS to be righty-lefty, lefty-righty! Stop playing players that are clearly mired in a slumping crevasse! Don’t be afraid to play the player who has the hot-hand! (I know some of you will will try and rake me for that last statement). Stop experimenting almost daily with your lineup. Instead, trust your players and your lineup, and make changes only when slumps or streaks are obvious. I could go on, but you get the idea. I realize all that, too, is debatable depending on how you think about baseball. However things change though, they need to change!
Final Thoughts – For Now
Unless the Atlanta Braves make some major moves, change the way they think about personnel, change some of their current culture and philosophy regarding how to use the personnel they do have, and stop making bone-headed moves and bone-headed contract extensions, the future doesn’t look, immediately at least, much brighter than the past.
The positive side… the good news…. is that things could possibly be much better if the Braves will work hard to get another good starter, a productive second baseman, and figure out a way to plug the gaping hole we have in center field as regularly as possible. Just a few tweaks are all that is required really, but I have to wonder if the Atlanta Braves’ front office has the wisdom and foresight (not to mention hindsight) to fix what’s broken. We’ll see.