Coppolella, Hart looking forward to 2016
Braves have financial flexibility, strong farm system to support rebuild
ATLANTA -- Still feeling some of the effects of spending the past year rebuilding their organization, Braves president of baseball operations John Hart and general manager John Coppolella returned to Turner Field on Monday morning to discuss why they are confident that the 2016 season will be much more satisfying.
"We will be better," Hart said. "We can't overhaul the whole offense. We know there are some limitations offensively. As we sit here today, we think that we can make progress offensively. We can make significant improvements with our pitching. We're going to have young pitchers who are a year older and a year better. I think we'll have a bullpen that will have a lot of depth. Does that translate to another 15-20 wins? Maybe."
As the Braves distance themselves from this year's 67-95 record and attempt to construct a club that might at least flirt with a winning record next year, they recognize the obvious need to reconstruct a relief corps that posted Major League Baseball's second-worst bullpen ERA. At the same time, they know the addition of an outfielder or catcher could help strengthen an offense that scored fewer runs than every other Major League club in 2015.
Over the past year, the Braves made a number of moves to acquire high upside starting pitchers, some of whom are at least two years away from being Major League ready. Still with Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran and Matt Wisler, they have a solid base for a rotation that could be enhanced by either a healthy Mike Minor, who is recovering from left shoulder surgery, or the addition of an experienced veteran.
In other words, after spending much of this past year as sellers, the Braves are ready to do some buying.
"When you are in a spot when you can buy, you can see exactly what you want and go after it," Coppolella said. "Whereas, when you are selling, if you can't get certain guys in that trade back, you can't just wait and hold."
The Braves are certainly in a much different position than they were last year, when they recognized they had an attractive property with a decaying foundation. Instead of making cosmetic changes to keep the likes of Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis around for another year, they opted to begin their reconstruction with a demolition process that enabled them to strengthen a previously weak Minor League system and gain the financial flexibility they lacked when they were saddled by the contracts of Chris Johnson and Melvin Upton Jr.
In order to get rid of Upton's contract, the Braves had to attach Craig Kimbrel to an Opening Day Eve trade with the Padres. This move provided further confirmation that they were in the midst of this reconstruction process, which was accelerated after Freddie Freeman injured his wrist in June and Jason Grilli ruptured his left Achilles on July 11. During July's final week, the Braves zapped the roster by trading Alex Wood, Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan in exchange for one Major League-ready player -- Hector Olivera, who did not make his big league debut until Sept. 1.
Still, while it was painful to trade the likes of Kimbrel and endure the 12-40 stretch from July 24-Sept. 17, the Braves now find themselves with a much more attractive farm system and financial flexibility that will provide some assistance in 2016 and truly make a difference as they prepare for 2017.
"At the end of it, I feel we're in a much better position sitting here this time this year than we were this time last year," Hart said. "Despite the fact we had 90-plus losses. We are in a much better position. We have much better financial flexibility. We have absolutely grown our farm system between the trades that we made.
"It was not without pain. We feel for our fans that had to go through that six-week stretch. It was tough. It was tough for all of us, but we kept our eye on the mark, and we know we're positioned to go forward much better than we were a year ago."