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Colby Wilson’s Braves Report: The Market Speaks

You’re going to be stunned to hear this, but it turns out that most everyone thinks the Braves are going to stink in 2015. According to early power-rankings…

28th over at SweetSpot. [1]

27th at Bleacher Report. [2]

26th at SI.com. [3]

And on. And on. And on.

Look, nobody here, me least of all, is here to sell you a bill of goods on the 2015 Atlanta Braves. By my count, they have two true MLB-level hitters and three-and-a-half guys that belong anywhere near an MLB rotation at this point (although Mike Foltynewicz is enticing).

Atlanta Braves pitcher Julio Teheran [4]

Atlanta Braves pitcher Julio Teheran

If this team reaches 80 victories, it has to be considered a huge victory for everyone involved.

If this team, as presently built, reaches 80 wins I will passionately campaign for Fredi Gonzalez as Manager of the Year. I might even print up some leaflets.

But those rankings… man, I’m bearish on the whole thing and even I don’t think it’s going to get that bad.

For starters, those starters – a great many teams in baseball would do backflips at the idea of having Julio Teheran and Shelby Miller entering their respective primes, Mike Minor out to prove he’s worth his arbitration figure and a long-term salary commitment (from Atlanta or someone else) and potential rejuvenation years from Chien-Ming Wang, Wandy Rodriguez or Eric Stults or potential coming-of-age years from Foltynewicz, Manny Banuelos, Alex Wood (Chris Sale Comparison Alert [5]!) or even James Russell.

Thing is, they don’t need much – Wood is almost a guaranteed No. 4, meaning if one of the old guys has some ‘Aaron Harang in 2014’ potential or one of the youngsters breaks out in a ‘Tommy Hanson in 2009’ way, that’s a rotation you can go do some damage with. It’s upper-half of the NL, I’d say – you can’t convince me the Cubs, ranked nine spots ahead of the Braves in the SI poll, wouldn’t rather go Teheran-Miller-Minor-Wood-Mystery Starter No. 5 over Jon Lester-Jake Arrieta-Kyle Hendricks-Jason Hammel-Travis Wood, because that way lies madness.

And that’s just the rotation! Look at the bullpen – Craig Kimbrel, Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson are all not far removed from being All-Stars, plus hard-throwing Juan Jaime, The Return of Arodys Vizcaino, Luis Avilan and Russell, should he not wind up in the rotation, can compete with just about any other bullpen, in either league.

Those pitchers will be buoyed by a defense that sheared some roses to allow the rest of the garden to bloom. Losing Jason Heyward – the best defensive outfielder in baseball by this metric [6], and this one [7] and this one [8] too – smarts a bit. Losing a minus-defender in Evan Gattis, a no-range second-baseman in Tommy La Stella and the continued adventures of Justin Upton in the outfield will make the defense more sound, even if the Gomes half of the Jonny Gomes-Zoilo Almonte platoon could stand to be sturdier defensively.

The offense, to be certain, is the concern, say most. The good Upton got dealt, while the bad one remains to patrol centerfield and get four hits a week. Alberto Callaspo, La Stella’s de facto replacement at second base, is not exactly a slugger.

Christian Bethancourt is still learning to hit. If Almonte and Gomes combine to hit .250 for the year, that’s a win. Andrelton Simmons and Chris Johnson violently regressed at the plate a year ago. Only Nick Markakis and Freddie Freeman strike fear into the hearts of an opponent, and Markakis only if his offseason neck surgery doesn’t turn him into Frankenstein’s monster.

So… there’s that.

But it’s not all bleak. Almonte and Gomes strike out a lot, but Callaspo and Bethancourt should at least put the ball in play more than their predecessors. The remaining Upton is rumored [10] to have been hard at work fixing his swing. If (big if) Simmons and Johnson settle somewhere between their 2013 break-outs and their 2014 swoons, the lineup will… still suck, but perhaps not so much as many have rumored. The offense averaged a hair over 3.5 runs a game last season, so it’s not like things are going to get any worse.

Regardless of what John Hart says about punting on 2015, the moves made during the offseason were made with 2016, 2017 and beyond in mind. But that doesn’t make this a 100-loss team in the immediate future. To borrow a theater analogy (yep, going there, so just get comfy) the wattage behind some of the names may be dimmer, but the marquee isn’t about to fall in, shatter windows, ruin the electrical and burn the theater down.