The July 31st Trade Deadline is approaching, and the Atlanta Braves are seriously contending for the division crown for the first time since 2013. Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. have electrified the top of a lineup featuring All-Stars Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis. The end of their rebuild is close, but the goal of winning a World Series may not be the proper aim for this team.
The Bravos have experienced a flux of changes over the last four seasons, beginning with John Hart taking over as President of Baseball Operations in 2014. The team bottomed out over the next three years and shipped off All-Stars Jason Hayward, Shelby Miller, Craig Kimbrell, Justin Upton, and Andrelton Simmons. The fans complained about the on-field product while the front office announced a new ballpark outside the city.
Despite the cries from a minority of disgruntled fans, the Braves are ahead of schedule on their 5-season rebuild of the major league roster.
The front office has nailed the rebuild thus far as prospects from the draft, international signings, and trades make up the best farm system in all of baseball according to Keith Law. The six pitching prospects in the overall top 70 prospects on the MLB.com Top 100 Prospects list make up what may be the most impressive pitching farm system of all time.
Touki Toussaint hits 97 MPH and shows off the curve pic.twitter.com/02DdAGoZ64
— Matt Powers (@MattPowers31) July 15, 2018
Keith Law hates to give out compliments, but he did have this to say about the state of the Braves’ farm system:
“I’m fairly certain this is the first time a team’s entire top 10 has made my top 100.”
With all these prospects, the Braves have the best collection of expendable assets to acquire MLB talent at the trade deadline.
But now is not the year to make trades to improve World Series odds.
The division is entirely win-able. The Braves sit 10 games over .500 and 0.5 games back of the Phillies. The Nationals, preseason favorites to win the division, sit five games behind the Atlanta Braves. With roughly 80 games left in the season, the Braves should lean on their youth to make a run at the division and gain valuable postseason experience.
— Braves Lineups ‘n Extras (@ATLBravesLineup) July 16, 2018
The Braves’ major flaw is their bullpen, which ranks 19th in the Majors with a 4.24 ERA. To prepare for a World Series run, the team needs to add multiple bullpen arms and have young arms like Vizcaino and Minter grow up quickly. And there is still no guarantee young starters Foltynewicz, Teheran, and Newcomb are ready to headline a postseason staff.
Giving up future assets for an uncertain present would be a mistake. Even if the Phillies and Nationals make trade deadline moves, the Braves must stay the course knowing they are the future division powerhouse.
The Braves will go into 2019 with $46,226,043 on the books. The league average payroll in 2018 is $150 million, and the top 7 payrolls (consisting of most World Series contenders) all exceeded $190 million. The Braves will offer arbitration contracts to several of their young players to raise their payroll to around $90 million before entering free agency.
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The list of free agents in 2019 is impressive, including Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Dallas Keuchel, Andrew Miller, Michael Brantley, Zach Britton, Cody Allen, David Robertson, and Craig Kimbrell. Atlanta has the money to add two or three All-Star talents without giving up prospects, bolstering the team and keeping the future intact.
Pitching, defense, and consistency are the last three elements keeping this Braves franchise from hoisting another Commissioners Trophy. Patience, free agent spending, and a little luck could push the Atlanta Braves into World Series contention as early as 2019.
Braves bench coach Walt Weiss understands this team’s position is enviable:
“The thing that’s really exciting for me when I look at the future here is that window is pretty big. It’s a large window we’re talking about because we’ve got 20-year-olds, 21-year-olds running out here every night and there’s more on the way.”
Ozzie Albies- just 21 years old and already an MLB All-star. ???????? pic.twitter.com/msCI36w8PN
— Hotlanta Highlights (@HotlantaHlights) July 9, 2018
Soon, the word “rebuild” will not anger fans but instead stir up memories of how the Atlanta Braves obtained their young superstars.
This year’s trade deadline must not subtract from the franchise’s future as this team looks to rebuild a dynasty.