Braves right to restart with pitching

The Braves have added a lot of new arms this offseason, following a strategy set in stone many years ago.


It was almost 30 years ago that Bobby Cox took over as general manager of the Atlanta Braves. He returned from the Blue Jays, who had hired Cox as manager after Atlanta owner Ted Turner fired him as the Braves skipper after the 1981 season.

Cox was in charge of fixing what had broken the previous two seasons, and one of his first decisions changed the scope of the franchise and pretty much put him in the Hall of Fame as a manager when he returned to the dugout five years later.

The Braves had been built around power hitters. The early-1980s Braves were all about Dale Murphy and Bob Horner, the two main sluggers. The prevailing thought was pitching would never work in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, a place that could make a light-hitting shortstop a home run hitter.

That strategy didn’t work. They scored plenty of runs, but bad pitching staffs kept the Braves teams in that era from doing anything special. So Cox, along with scouting director Paul Snyder, decided to scrap that plan and instead build the team around pitching.

The Braves started prioritizing drafting pitchers, particularly left-handers. Every time they made a trade, they got back a pitcher in return. The plan was to have as many pitchers as possible, and at some point a few would eventually break through and be good.

Well, we all know what happened. The Braves made history, winning the World Series in 1995 and winning 14 straight division titles.

The plan obviously worked out pretty well.

Now fast forward to the 2014-15 offseason. The Braves once again have a new front office, with John Hart and John Coppolella leading the way. They must fix something that was badly broken, with perhaps the worst season ever in Braves baseball last year.

It was not the season with the worst record in Atlanta’s history, but it was a team that no one wanted to watch. It was a team that finished next-to-last in runs scored and was full of players that looked like they’d rather be somewhere else besides playing baseball.

The Braves have blown up that roster. Three big bats in that anemic lineup - Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and just a few days ago Evan Gattis - have been traded. For the first time in many years the Braves will enter a season and not many will know what to expect.

It may be hard to accept now, but the front office is doing the right thing. In fact, it’s been a tremendous offseason for an organization in dire need of rebuilding a once-proud farm system that had become a laughingstock around baseball.

Of the eight trades the new front office has made, the Braves have dealt 13 players and received 14 back. Of the 14 new kids on the block, only four have played in the big leagues. And of the new guys, 10 are pitchers, with only two having logged major league innings.

You may be worrying about who will play left field for the Braves this season, and it’s a legit concern. But this is a big-picture offseason, with the main goal to start the process of fixing what was broken. And here’s the thing – it wasn’t broken overnight and it won’t get fixed overnight.

That’s why the franchise needed more talent, to build for the future. Sure, a lot of this has to do with a new stadium in Cobb County for the Braves that will open in 2017. But that’s a good thing. It gives the front office two years to get this once well-oiled machine back on track.

And it all starts with pitching, just like it did with Cox decades ago. There will be more trades for arms, and the draft will provide another infusion of pitching talent this June. But in getting young pitchers like Mike Foltynewicz, Andrew Thurman, Ricardo Sanchez, Manny Banuelos, Max Fried, Tyrell Jenkins and the one pitcher that will make an immediate impact, Shelby Miller, this franchise is turning the corner.

The days of Bobby Cox managing, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz pitching and Chipper Jones playing third base are over. It’s time to find new heroes and new players that will lead this team through, believe it or not, the 2020s.

This is a brand new era of Braves baseball. It will take time getting used to, but the end result should be a lot better than what we watched last year. Cox proved many years ago how important pitching is, and the Braves want that strategy to work just as well once again.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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