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Baseball is a Business

Nov 19, 2014 -- 9:58am
Monday, November 17th, the Braves sent shockwaves through their fan base by trading outfielder, Jason Heyward. For most fans, this move left them absolutely stunned. "How could you trade our best player?" "This team couldn't hit last year, why are we trading for pitchers that no one has ever heard of?" "This move makes no sense, I'm never rooting for the Braves again." I could go on and on with quotes like this, because that's all I heard on Monday. Be it by Twitter, Facebook, the water cooler....whatever, that was the general consensus. Several fans were down-right venomous after hearing of the trade.
Let me break this trade down and explain why this could be a great trade for the Braves. First off, was Jason Heyward really THAT good? People would lead you to believe that he was Willie Mays or Stan Musial, but this is a player who's been in the league for five seasons, has had almost 2,500 Major League At Bats, and has never hit higher than .277 in his career. The year he hit .277 was his rookie season in 2010. Over the last three seasons, his average is .266. When it comes to power numbers, he's hit 20 or more home runs just once (2012), and he's driven in 80 or more runs just once (2012). He's never scored 100 runs. I'm not pilling on and saying he's a bad player by any means, but be honest with yourself, is he an elite ball player with numbers like that? I say no. I will give Jason Heyward credit for being the best defensive outfielder in the league, winning two gold gloves, being a pretty good on-base guy and, above all, being a GREAT guy to have in the clubhouse. In no way am I doubting any of those intangibles, but I fail to understand the outrage in trading a career .262 hitter, who has just 25 home runs and 181 strikeouts in his last 1,013 at bats. 
Heyward's current contract runs through the end of the 2015 season. He's owed almost 8 million dollars next season. Once that contract ends, he'll hit the free agent market, and according to Fangraphs.com, they believe that Heyward will command around 175-200 million dollars for his next contract.........200 million! Let me be blunt, after the Dan Uggla and BJ Upton contracts, the Braves aren't in a position of offer Jason, or anybody else, a contract that large any time soon. So, with that being said, the Braves were faced with three possible outcomes:
1. Keep Heyward and attempt to sign him to a large extension (which I mentioned above they can't afford).
2. Keep Heyward and let him walk after the 2015 season, getting NOTHING in return for him.
3. Trade him now and get value in return.
In my opinion, the Braves did the right thing. John Hart made a bold decision. A decision that wasn't motivated by emotions or nostalgia. He has a business to run, and if you run a business on emotions and nostalgia, you'll find yourself sitting at home in October rather than playing in the postseason. Do we like Jason Heyward? Hell, we LOVE Jason Heyward. He's the kind of ball player your want your 10 year old son trying to emulate. He played as hard as he could. He showed up, he worked hard, he respected the game and he always did his best. Defensively, he's as good as it gets. But let's also keep this in mind, as things stand right now, Ervin Santanta and Aaron Harang will not be back for 2015. That's 40% of your pitching staff gone. A pitching staff that has Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Mike Minor. Teheran and Wood were awesome last season, Minor was not at all. Sure, you have David Hale and Kris Medlen as well, but are you ready to go into the season betting on those guys to be effective and make every start? I'm not. To win in this league, you MUST have pitching. By making this trade, you add a 24 year old Shelby Miller, who is controllable for the next four seasons. Miller has a bright future and has a high ceiling in this league. He won 15 games his rookie season, and followed that up with 10 wins in 2014. Sure, wins can be a deceiving statistic, but this guy proved at an early age that he knows how to win games. His fastball is very good and his secondary pitches have gotten better. Last season, he developed a sinker, and you can expect that sinker to be enhanced with Roger McDowell as his pitching coach. The Braves received some good arms in this trade, and I like the idea of getting these two guys a lot more than I like the idea of letting Heyward walk at the end of 2015. 
You have to understand that the Braves aren't anywhere close to being finished making moves this offseason. Chris Johnson, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis....heck, even Craig Kimbrel could be traded this offseason. It won't shock me. John Hart has a farm system to replenish, a pitching staff to reform, a lineup to reconstruct and a limited payroll in which to do so. It isn't fair to evaluate everything until they are finished making moves and are ready to report for spring training. We'd all love to see BJ Upton traded, but that is so much easier said than done. Trading BJ Upton isn't an easy thing to do. Why? Because nobody wants to inherit a 75 million dollar contract for an ineffective ballplayer. Quoting one scout I spoke to last season, "I wouldn't trade a used vacuum cleaner for BJ Upton." Harsh, but true. 
In conclusion, from a business standpoint, I really like the trade. Jason Heyward certainly plays the game the right way, but the statistics don't merit keeping him and giving him 200 million dollars after next season. John Hart, while not the most popular man in Braves country today, is making the right moves. Moves that will benefit this organization in the long run. He's been in baseball a long time and has done some pretty impressive things. I trust him, and look forward to all the things he's going to accomplish over the next three years. 

Ben Ingram

Atlanta Braves Radio Network/680 The Fan beningram@680thefan.com

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An Active Offseason In Atlanta

Nov 18, 2014 -- 8:05pm

For those of us who predicted a busy offseason for the Braves Front Office, the recent trade of Tommy La Stella to the Cubs was only a preview of what’s to come. Monday morning, Atlanta completed a trade that sent homegrown, Gold Glove right fielder Jason Heyward along with setup man Jordan Walden to St Louis. In return, the Braves acquired a pair of young righties, including Shelby Miller who finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2013. On the surface, the trade signals that the team is seemingly headed towards a rebuilding mode for 2015 and beyond. The question is, will it be a complete rebuild, or will the Braves look to build around young talent that was locked up last offseason (Freeman, Simmons, Kimbrel, Teheran, etc).

The answer will certainly come over the next few months, as the Braves have pieces like Evan Gattis, Justin Upton and Craig Kimbrel that could bring big returns to help replenish a depleted farm system. However, if it’s not a complete rebuild, Atlanta may choose to keep Gattis and Justin in hopes of continuing to find pieces to compliment the young nucleus of the club intact. One thing’s for sure, as the Winter Meetings get underway in San Diego the second week of December, expect to hear the Braves included in many conversations  when it comes to trade discussions and free agent interest. Perhaps the biggest name on the free agent market when it comes to starting pitching is Jon Lester, who makes his offseason home about 30 minutes west of Atlanta. Is it realistic to think the Braves could really land a starter of the caliber of Lester? At first glance, a bidding war is likely on the horizon with teams that have less payroll limitations than the Braves. However, with a new ballpark set to open in 2017, a back loaded deal is certainly a possibility.

One thing is for sure…you haven’t heard or seen the last of the Braves when it comes to offseason news and notes. The unknown remains…what does the Heyward trade mean for the future of the club. Complete rebuild? Mini rebuild? Time will tell, but it’s clear that John Hart will be fielding many phone calls between now and February 19th when pitchers and catchers report to Orlando.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Braves Waste No Time Making Changes

Sep 22, 2014 -- 2:54pm

About 16 hours after discovering their Postseason hopes were dashed, the Atlanta Braves dismissed both General Manager Frank Wren along with his assistant Bruce Manno. Wren had spent the past 15 seasons with the organization, including the last 7 as the teams GM. Many have asked about the timing of the decision to fire Wren. My take from the timing is that the team is not satisfied with being 3 games under ,500 and having to play the final 7 games of the season as the role of spoiler.

Before we point out the teams shortcomings, I'd be remiss if I didn't first recognize some of the great moves Wren has made in his tenure. Going out and finding players like Eric O'Flaherty, David Carpenter, Anthony Varvaro and more off the proverbial scrap heap was outstanding. How about a few of the more recent longterm contracts, namely Julio Teheran for 6 years and 32 million dollars? 

However, the misses were major as over the last few years, both Dan Uggla and BJ Upton have woefully underperformed. While it's easy to say Wren's moves may hurt the Braves longterm, let's not forget he was able to put a perennial contender on the field with a budget that was typically in the $90 million dollar range, while teams like the Phillies ($180 mil) and others have twice the payroll and not nearly the success over the last five years.

Big picture, the Braves aren't going to sit around and waste any time. The term "Braves Way" was used nearly ten times during Monday's press conference. A change of culture both on an off the field is coming to Atlanta and it will likely be a very busy offseason with changes coming to not only the Front Office but the 25 man roster as well. One thing is clear, the Braves aren't sitting around and wasting any more time.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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What A Difference A Year Makes

Sep 15, 2014 -- 8:09pm

It really is amazing what a difference one year makes. 365 days ago the Braves were flat out running away with the NL East. After 149 games, Atlanta had an 11 game lead over the second place Nationals and were sitting at an even 30 games over .500 (89-59). However, the 2014 club hasn't had the same fortunes. Fresh off arguably the worst road trip of the season to Miami, Washington and Texas, the Braves find themselves 4 games back of the Pirates for the second Wild Card spot. Yes, I realize the squad had an 0-for-8 West Coast trip, but looking at the timing and more importantly opponents, I'll say that this was the most frustrating trip of the season. Last season, the Braves boasted one of the best offenses in all of baseball as they averaged 4.24 runs per game. After 149 in 2014, Atlanta's offense is averaging nearly a run less per contest.

Two outstanding pitching performances from Alex Wood and Julio Teheran went for naught, and the Braves struggles with RISP. But really, unfortunately, that's been a recurring theme all season long. Losing Medlen and Beachy within a few days of each other in March could have been crippling. However, the additions of veterans Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang have helped carry the Atlanta pitching staff to the 4th best ERA in the NL (6th in the Majors) entering play on Monday. 

Many of you have asked what changes need to be made if the 2014 Braves find themselves on the outside looking in come October. But honestly, take a look at the rosters and you'll find that this is nearly the same team returning from a 96 win season just one year ago. It truly can be mind boggling the difference one short year can make. 

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for @680_The_Fan. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Another Setback for Jonny Venters

Aug 26, 2014 -- 7:58pm

Braves reliever Jonny Venters is headed to see Dr James Andrews. Again. The 29 year old lefty has already undergone two Tommy John surgeries and as of a few weeks ago, was headed in the right direction. Venters had been throwing bullpen sessions and as of ten days ago, hoped to start facing hitters in live BPs in the coming days. However, during a recent session, Venters had to cut things short after experiencing even more soreness in his elbow. During his pre game media session on Monday, Fredi Gonzalez said he’d exchanged texts with Venters and he felt like the southpaw was in a relatively upbeat frame of mind. All along, Venters has understood the setbacks that come with not one, but two major surgeries on his pitching elbow.

Meanwhile, the Braves have officially entered the home stretch. As they opened play on Tuesday night in New York, they trailed the first place Nationals by seven-and-a-half games. However, they find themselves just one game out of the second Wild Card spot. While a Wild Card berth seems increasingly more likely, with two series head to head against Washington ahead in the coming weeks, Atlanta could make up ground in a hurry.

Looking ahead, the Braves won’t see a team north of .500 for two more weeks when they travel to Washington. Just for fun, let’s imagine the Braves earning a one of the two Wild Cards. They go into San Francisco and beat the Giants. They’d likely get the Nationals  in the NLDS. Based on recent history, that sure seems like a favorable and entertaining matchup in October. Now, all they’ve got to do is get there.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow him on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin.

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After Rough Road, Time For Braves To Make A Statement

Aug 07, 2014 -- 6:23pm

The Braves just completed a historic road trip…but it wasn’t the type of history they hoped to make here in early August. Atlanta went winless on an 8 game West Coast swing to Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle. In those 8 games, they had the lead for just 12 of the 77 innings. 7 of those came in the same game (Saturday in San Diego). So, what exactly went wrong? For starters, the Braves had back to back games where they loaded the bases and came up empty. Starters struggled to get the shutdown inning, and once again, the issues with runners in scoring position reared its ugly head.

While it’s still only the second week of August, the upcoming homestand against Washington, Los Angeles and Oakland sure could be a “do or die” type moment in their season. Atlanta will open a 10 game set on Friday, trailing the first place Nationals by four-and-a-half games. When it comes to the Wild Card standings, the Braves are three games back of the second spot. The Nationals suddenly hold the largest lead in any division in baseball, yet, they’re just 11-9 since the All Star Break. Washington has struggled with consistency since losing Ryan Zimmerman and that’s helped keep the Braves alive in the NL East race.

Can the Braves make the playoffs? They absolutely can. We will certainly have a much clearer understanding of their odds once this ten game stretch wraps up. The month of September is extremely favorable for the Braves. Now they need to make a statement at home, get through another long road trip and finish strong. While it may look bleak, there’s still nearly seven weeks to right the ship, finish strong and head into October with a head of steam.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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