Braves charted new course in 2015
Atlanta restocks farm system with big-time trades
ATLANTA -- If all goes according to plan during the Braves' rebuilding process, their fans will have a chance to look back on this past year and better understand the pain it brought.
After enduring a winter in which Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis were all traded for some of the prospects who have greatly enriched Atlanta's farm system and future, Braves fans were stunned on the eve of Opening Day, when they learned that beloved closer Craig Kimbrel had been traded to the Padres for more prospects and the unexpected opportunity to unload the remainder of Melvin Upton Jr.'s contract.
Still, even with expectations lower than they had been in Atlanta for more than two decades, the Braves held steady throughout most of the season's first half and owned a .500 record (42-42) as late as July 7. But the rebuilding efforts led to a pair of significant trades that decimated the roster by the end of July and consequently led the season to conclude with an embarrassing and frustrating two-month stretch that left the Braves with a 67-95 record -- their worst since 1990.
"We aren't building for one year and then have it all fall apart," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. "We want to be good for a long time. We don't want to have the bottom fall out like it did during the second half of 2015, when we went to look for young players [in our system] and there were none to be found."
Since being promoted to the GM role in September, Coppolella has continued to work in unison on the rebuilding efforts with president of baseball operations John Hart. They recently traded two more of the club's most popular players -- Andrelton Simmons and Shelby Miller -- in an effort to create the kind of financial flexibility and farm system necessary to have longstanding success in the near future.
"As we've made these deals, we've realized there is going to be a short-term fan reaction," Hart said. "Don't think we're not feeling as bad as our fans do for the short term, but we're living this every day. We have total and complete confidence in what it is that we're doing and where we're going."
Here is a look back at the top five events for the Braves from 2015:
5. The Kimbrel trade
When the Braves exited the 2014 season, there was an expectation that they would trade Heyward, Justin Upton and Gattis. But there certainly wasn't reason to anticipate what occurred during the early evening hours of April 5, when it was announced that Kimbrel and Upton Jr. had been traded to the Padres. Kimbrel learned of the trade approximately an hour after the Braves had arrived in Miami to prepare for the following day's season opener against the Marlins.
Though some Braves fans found it hard to accept this trade, which was centered around Atlanta's opportunity to lose responsibility of the $46.3 million Upton was owed through 2017, Jason Grilli's reliability in the closer's role eased the loss of Kimbrel and helped the Braves win six of their first seven games, including their first five.
With this trade, the Braves also acquired Cameron Maybin, who was arguably the club's first-half MVP, and the 41st pick in the Draft, which netted them Austin Riley, a young third baseman who has quickly established himself as one of the club's most intriguing prospects.
4. Shelby's odd year
Miller was 5-1 with a 1.33 ERA after he came one out shy of completing a no-hitter against the Marlins on May 17. More than four more months would pass before he was credited with his next win, courtesy of the gem he fashioned against the Cardinals in the first game of a doubleheader played on the regular season's final day. Along with rightfully earning his first All-Star selection this year, Miller gained the dubious distinction of becoming the only pitcher in Atlanta history to go winless over 24 consecutive starts.
Nobody had a better feel for Altanta's offensive woes than Miller, who received one or no runs of support in 20 of his 33 starts. He finished with a 2.36 run support average, the 10th-lowest mark ever for a Major Leaguer with at least 30 starts. His 3.02 ERA joined him with Fred Glade (1905 St. Louis Browns) and Joey Hamilton (1995 Padres) as the only pitchers to notch six wins or fewer while producing a sub-3.10 ERA across at least 30 starts.
3. Freeman's absence
The fact that the Braves scored the fewest runs in the Majors in 2015 could be partly attributed to a right wrist injury that Freddie Freeman suffered on June 13 and battled over the remainder of the season. Freeman was hitting .307 with 12 home runs and a .914 OPS when the injury sidelined him until late July. He missed another two weeks with an oblique strain suffered shortly after returning from the wrist ailment.
Before experiencing his first stint on the disabled list, Freeman had the active Major League streak of consecutive games played (234).
Freeman hit just .236 with six home runs and a .745 OPS over the 56 games he played after first feeling the wrist discomfort, which lingered into September and essentially sidelined him for the season's final week. The Braves are hoping the offseason will provide Freeman the rest he needs to return to his healthy and productive form in 2016.
2. The late season collapse
The Braves traded Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe to the Mets on July 24 and then further depleted their roster six days later, when they sent three pitchers -- Alex Wood, Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan -- and their top prospect Jose Peraza to the Dodgers. Hector Olivera was the only player included in these returns who made an appearance for Atlanta in 2015, and he did not do so until he struggled through a disappointing September.
It did not take long for the Braves to feel the effects of these trades. They went 21-40 after completing the trade with the Dodgers and lost 30 of the 36 games played from Aug. 9-Sept. 17. Though Grilli would have likely been traded as well, the team's second-half collapse was also influenced when he was lost for the season when he ruptured his left Achilles on July 11.
1. More rebuild
Once the offseason arrived, it did not take the Braves long to get back to their wheeling and dealing. On Nov. 12, Simmons was traded to the Angels for two highly regarded pitching prospects -- Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. Less than a month later, Miller was traded to the D-backs for outfielder Ender Inciarte, pitching prospect Aaron Blair and infielder Dansby Swanson, an Atlanta native who had been taken with the first overall selection in June's Draft.
While the baseball industry lauded this significant return for Miller, the Braves viewed it as a pivot point in their rebuild. With Inciarte, they gained a player who could serve as their center fielder and leadoff hitter for the next five seasons. Blair is regarded as a bona fide middle-of-the-rotation starter who could reach Atlanta in 2016. With Swanson, they gained one of baseball's top 10 prospects and a middle infielder who could soon team with Ozhaino Albies to serve as a formidable double-play duo in Atlanta for many years to come.