New-look Braves not buying into rebuild narrative
Camp opens with players focused on winning this year despite offseason overhaul
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After spending the past few weeks and months reading and listening about how they are destined to have a down year, the Braves have opened Spring Training excited about the opportunity to prove their doubters wrong.
"Everybody is starting in the same place and everybody has the same goal, which is to win," Braves reliever Jason Grilli said. "I don't think there is a man in this room that is not here to win. [The media] kind of sets the parameters of who is good and who is not. We're just going to go out and play baseball and try to win ballgames."
There certainly wasn't a sense of gloom and doom floating around Champion Stadium's home clubhouse early Friday morning, the first day Atlanta's pitchers and catchers were scheduled to report to Spring Training. Many members of this group and some position players, including Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson, arrived earlier this week to begin what they hope will be a memorable and fulfilling journey.
"You come here for one reason, and that's to win," Braves left-hander Alex Wood said. "You don't play at this level to say let's try to surprise everybody. If we do so in the process, that is fine. But I and pretty much everybody in here are competitors -- some more than others. But you don't get to this level by throwing in the towel before you have the first day of Spring Training. My goal is the same it's always been -- to come out here and help us be the best team we can possibly be and to play as long as we possibly can."
Though the power of Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis might have been replaced by the impressive prospect crop acquired this winter, this year's Braves are not buying into the thought that they might be a few years away from regaining their status as consistent threats in the National League.
"I think we try to keep our expectations exactly where they have been the past two years that I have been here," Johnson said. "Like every other team in the Major Leagues, you want to win the World Series this year. Those are the goals and we're not going to change them just because we made some trades in the offseason."
This is the dawn of a new era for the Braves, who signed veteran free agents Nick Markakis, Jonny Gomes, Grilli and A.J. Pierzynski to provide leadership and bring some attitude back to what was a lifeless clubhouse last year.
Along with standing as one of the many newcomers to the Braves' clubhouse, Shelby Miller is one of the primary reasons Atlanta could once again boast an impressive starting rotation. Miller, Julio Teheran, Wood and Mike Minor would provide a solid foundation, as long as Minor has indeed distanced himself from last year's shoulder ailment.
"We shipped out a lot of big pieces, but we also got a lot of good prospects and some older guys to put in the bullpen," Minor said. "I don't see us not competing. I think everybody is saying we're not going to compete this year, but I think once the team jells a little bit, we're going to be good."