It’s never easy to trade a popular player. The Atlanta Braves have done that a lot in the last year. And as hard as it is for some to accept, they’ve made the right call each and every time.
Two seasons ago the Braves were expected to do well. They had a stacked lineup, full of power and strikeouts. Injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy in spring training derailed the pitching staff. It turned out to not be a good mix of players, with the mediocre results showing in a 79-83 record.
The general manager, Frank Wren, was fired. The situation was bad. The farm system was depleted and the Braves were saddled with numerous contracts of players that would never likely lead them to a World Series.
So they started over. The Braves told us they wanted to be competitive and yet restructure the organization from top to bottom. Well, the first part didn’t go so well, as last season’s team won only 67 games. The Braves had their worst season since 1990.
But the second part is a work in progress. They never used the word “rebuild,” but that’s exactly what’s going on here. The Braves are rebuilding, which is something many fans have never been through in their life. They’re been used to the Braves winning, not rebuilding.
That’s what the Andrelton Simmons trade Thursday night was all about.
Simmons was a very popular player in Atlanta. He smiled all the time. He played hard. And about once a week Simmons would make a defensive play that made us all go, “Wow!” We’ll miss that.
Plus, Simmons was one of the remaining players people really believed they knew. There are not many players left that have been around for a while. With Simmons gone, 14 players from Atlanta’s 2015 opening day roster are now gone. And of the players on the 2014 opening day roster, only two (Julio Teheran and Freddie Freeman) remain.
The players we’ve watched for years are now gone. Players kids looked up to are playing somewhere else. I had a friend with an 11-year-old son ask me Thursday night after the Simmons trade, “Who is going to be left that my son will actually know?”
Sure, that’s hard to accept. But it’s not like John Hart and John Coppolella broke up the 1927 Yankees. The group of players that had been assembled simply didn’t work. So, they started over.
The Braves maintain, and I believe them, they did not want to trade Simmons. But when teams started calling, wondering if a team that is still a year or two away would need more talent, they had to listen. When the Angels offered their top two prospects – both pitchers – the Braves jumped at the deal.
And they should have. If they are going to rebuild, pitching has got to be at the forefront of the process. That’s what the Braves did when they rebuilt the organization in the late-1980s. The results were 14 straight division titles and one World Series championship.
You can never have enough pitching. That’s not my mantra; that’s something everyone in baseball believes. The Braves are trying to test that theory by accumulating as many young pitchers as possible.
Atlanta got Sean Newcomb, a big left-hander who is compared to Jon Lester, and right-hander Chris Ellis in the deal. Ellis is considered a potential middle-of-the-rotation starter. Plus, veteran Erick Aybar will either replace Simmons at shortstop or be spun off in another deal for more young talent.
Simmons is a great defensive player, but his offensive issues limit his overall potential. The Braves simply took advantage of the tremendous value he had to get more players that fit what they are trying to do in their rebuilding project.
They are trying to be great again – consistently great - like the Braves teams were in the 1990s. This franchise hasn’t won a postseason series since 2001, and all of the trades of the last 12 months have been made to try and break that streak. But to do that, we’ll all have to find some new favorite players who will wear the Braves’ uniform.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.