After possibly the most disappointing season in the last 25 years, the Atlanta Braves seem to be intent on cleaning house this offseason. The changes began before the season even ended. On Sept. 22, the Braves announced general manager (GM) Frank Wren had been fired, and named former Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers GM John Hart as the interim general manager.
While fans still waited to find out the fate of manager Fredi Gonzalez, the Braves announced that hitting coach Greg Walker had resigned and four days later announced that Gonzalez would be retained.
Now come the player-personnel changes. The Braves made a minor deal that sent starting second baseman Tommy La Stella to the Chicago Cubs for Arodys Vizcaino, a relief pitcher formerly in the Braves minor league system. However, the first big splash of the Major League Baseball offseason came on Nov. 17, when the Braves announced right fielder Jason Heyward and relief pitcher Jordan Walden had been traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for starting pitcher Shelby Miller and minor league prospect Tyrell Jenkins.
Heyward, a Henry County native and career-long Brave, was a fan favorite on the team and the decision to trade him has been met with plenty of controversy. The 25 year-old began his career with a fantastic rookie season, but his production has been steadily declining ever since.
The Braves are clearly targeting starting pitching 24 year-old Shelby Miller—one of the best young starters in the league. His contract is also cheap, which is an added bonus. The Braves would have been forced to sign Heyward to a new contract after this season, and many believed Heyward would demand more than the Braves would be willing to offer. Miller’s current contract does not end until 2019.
This also makes an already young starting rotation even younger for the Braves. Three of the Braves’ five projected starters (Miller, Julio Teheran and Alex Wood) are all under 25 and have cheap contracts.
With the Heyward trade, the Braves have proven that they are willing to trade almost anybody, also hinting that left fielder Justin Upton and catcher Evan Gattis could be traded. This leaves fans wondering if anyone on the current roster is safe. To answer this question, one simply has to look at the moves the team made last offseason.
By signing first baseman Freddie Freeman, shortstop Andrelton Simmons, closer Craig Kimbrel and starting pitcher Julio Teheran to long-term contracts, the Braves have assured fans that those four will not be traded. Other than them, no one is safe.
Most believe Frank Wren signing Dan Uggla and BJ Upton to long-term contracts is essentially what lost him his job. Hart is still faced with the tall task of finding a suitor for Upton, who has probably been the most disappointing player on the roster. If he can do that, he will begin to win over more of the fan-base, but until then, there will be plenty of skeptics.