Blame Bobby Cox and Paul Snyder for the way I feel about pitching. They are the ones that decided 30 winters ago the Braves could be a pitching organization. For years, it was believed the Braves would never have a pitching-rich team. There was no way, people thought, pitchers could be succesful in Atlanta - Fulton County Stadium. But in the winter of 1985-86, that strategy changed dramatically.
Cox traded for pitchers, and Snyder drafted pitchers. The farm system became stacked with legit pitching prospects for the first time in Atlanta's history.
The results, five years later, were historic. The Braves became consistent winners, capturing 14 straight division titles and had 15 straight winning seasons. It was all because of pitching. The strategy employed by Cox and Snyder worked.
That's how I feel you should construct organizations and rosters. The emphasis starts with pitching. The Chicago Cubs agree with a different philosophy. They used position players as their core to rebuild. That's fine. Let them believe that. There's more than one way to skin a cat. But if you've watched the Braves over the years, you probably know how important it is to have a solid pitching foundation.
So, no, I'm not crying over the trade of Andrelton Simmons. No, I'm not upset the Braves gave up a 26-year-old controllable shortstop that is currently thought of as the best defensive player in the game at any position. I think this was a tremendous trade, and I believe that for one reason.
The Braves got the Angels' top two pitching prospects in the deal - left-hander Sean Newcomb and right-hander Chris Ellis. Throw those two in with all the ones the Braves acquired from last November through the season and you've got the best farm system in baseball.
Newcomb and Ellis join the following as pitching prospects acquired in trades the last 12 months:
Zach Bird - From the Dodgers in the Alex Wood trade
John Gant - From the Mets in the Johnson/Uribe trade
Rob Whalen - From the Mets in the Johnson/Uribe trade
Touki Toussaint - From the Diamondbacks in the Phil Gosselin trade
Matt Wisler - From the Padres in the Craig KImbrel trade
Bryton Trepagnier - From the Pirates in the Edward Salcedo trade
Mike Foltynewicz - From the Astros in the Evan Gattis trade
Andrew Thurman - From the Astros in the Evan Gattis trade
Ricardo Sanchez - From the Angels in the Kyle Kubitza trade
Manny Banuelos - From the Yankees in the David Carpenter trade
Max Fried - From the Padres in the Justin Upton trade
Shelby Mller - From the Cardinals in the Jason Heyward trade
Tyrell Jenkins - From the Cardinals in the Jason Heyward trade
Arodys Vizcaino - From the Cubs in the Tommy LaStella trade
Zach Quintana - From the Brewers in the Kyle Wren trade
That's 17 young pitchers acquired in trades. Then in June, the Braves took pitchers with 12 of their first 14 and 18 of their first 23 picks in the draft.
This organization is getting back to its roots. It's doing what worked in the past. Why wouldn't they do it this way? It sort of makes sense, doesn't it?
Yes, it makes all the sense in the world. The Braves were broken a year ago. The farm system was a mess. The future did not look bright. But now, there is hope. There is a foundation for success to build a consistent winner once again. Pitching is the way to go; it's the way to build a farm system. That must be your core, and then you build around that - just like Cox and Snyder did in the late-1980s.
They surrounded pitchers named Glavine, Smith, Avery and Smoltz with position players named Klesko, Lopez, Chipper and Andruw. Those are the names of players hanging in the rafters at Turner Field. Those are the players that made the Braves special.
Trading Simmons was not easy. He's a hell of a player. But as a 26-year-old player with five years remaining on a contract that averages a little over $10 million per season, he had tremendous value. For a team in the position the Braves are in now, it made all the sense in the world to see what teams would offer. One team offered its two best prospects - both pitchers - and the Braves couldn't say no. They shouldn't have said no. This was the right call.
Newcomb is a tall left-hander coming off a great first full season in professional baseball. He's 22, and it looks like he's about a year away from being ready to join Atlanta's rotation. Newcomb's ceiling is high, as he is a potential top-of-the-rotation starter. Ellis is nine months older than Newcomb, having just turned 23 seven weeks ago. He's looks to be a potential innings-eater that could fit in the middle of a rotation.
Erick Aybar is in the last year of his contract. The Braves will trade him at some point, maybe in the coming days, weeks or months. They'll get more young talent in return.
This is about getting those two young pitchers and adding them to an impressive list of pitching prospects.
The Braves would likely not have done this without the presence of Ozzie Albies, the soon-to-be 19-year-old who just finished his first full professional season in Rome. He's a switch-hitting speedster who can really hit, and the Braves believe Albies may not be too much more than a year away. He could be in the big leagues not far after his 20th birthday in January of 2017.
Sndyer used to say that with pitchers, "the more you throw up against the wall, the more that might stick." Back in the late-1980s and early 1990s, not all of Atlanta's prospects stuck. Some got hurt. Some fizzled out. Some were traded for other areas of need. But a good number of them (much more than had in the past) made it. That's what the Braves are counting on here. And yes, some of these kids will get hurt, or fizzle out. Several will get traded. But a good number will make it, too.
Cox and Snyder never had a player with the value of Simmons to trade back 30 years ago. They could have only dreamed of making a trade like this to add to what they were doing at the time.
Now, some of you are saying, and rightfully so, "But isn't it time to start getting more position player prospects?" The answer is yes, and that will be part of this process. They've already traded for a bat in Hector Olivera. There is skepticism by many about his potential at the age of 31, but we do need to see what he can do in a full season. They've acquired Rio Ruiz, Jace Peterson, Dustin Peterson and Mallex Smith in trades. They've drafted Austin Riley and Lucas Herbert. They've signed Cristian Pache and Derian Cruz, two highly-regarded international players.
And there will be more position players acquired. But to get those position players, there is no better currency than pitching. Just think of what the Braves may be able to do a year from now. Let's say the pitchers in the system develop even more, and the organization is just packed with pitching prospects - so many that you'll be saying, "Not all of these guys will make it cause there's just too many of them." Well, that's when you use that pitching depth to acquire more position players in trades. It's the best currency a team can have in making deals.
Plus, 12 months from now, the Braves will have had another draft and another international free agent period. We've already heard rumors of the top international players the Braves are after - high-dollar, potential impact players. And with the third pick in next June's draft, the chances are high the Braves will select another potential ace pitcher. As of now, that looks to be the strength of the draft. So just imagine how much stronger the farm system will be on November 13, 2016 compared to now.
That's because of the pitching that has been acquired by the front office. This is the way to go. You accumulate as much pitching as possible and then use that strength as leverage to make your organization complete at every position. The Braves did it before, and they're doing it again. The Simmons trade is just the next step in a rebuilding process that may be painful at times, but the results should be very positive in the long run.
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