Every Braves fan remembers the 2014-15 offseason, it’s impossible to forget. Coming off a disappointing 79-83 season and with the farm system in shambles, the team fired then general manager Frank Wren, and announced John Hart as president of baseball operations and John Coppolella as the assistant general manager. The team had been boom or bust for the previous two seasons, seemingly either striking out or hitting a home run every at bat, and had little to no depth at any position on the field. Hart and Coppolella wasted no time molding their team, trading Jason Heyward for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins, trading Justin Upton for Max Fried, Jace Peterson, and Mallex Smith (along with others), and trading Evan Gattis for Mike Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz, and Andrew Thurman. Before these three trades, Braves fans had been expecting to challenge for another division title in 2015. Any hope still lingering for the next season was definitely lost after trading Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr. to the Padres the day before opening day for Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, and Matt Wisler.
In just one offseason the Braves had gone from possible division contender to having no chance at the playoffs, but that was not necessarily a bad thing.
John Coppolella (Coppy) has been at the heart of this rebuild from the beginning, and he has since been named the general manager. Many fans in Braves country won’t even speak his name, but he has the opportunity to return this franchise to dominance. Coppy has done an excellent job at maximizing value for his players. Both Heyward and Justin Upton were entering the final years of their contracts, and figured to be too expensive for the team to resign in the future (Heyward signed an 8 yr/$184 million contract, and Upton signed a 6 yr/$132 million contract.) Coppy and Hart managed to flip both players and got back two top tier pitching pitching prospects in Fried and Tyrell Jenkins, a viable starter in Shelby Miller (who was traded for a massive haul from Arizona this year, but we’ll get to that another day,) solid hitting and base stealing outfield prospect Smith, and utility man Peterson. All of these players (with the exception of Fried) have already made their way to the big leagues and had a positive effect on the team.
While both of these trades immediately bolstered a depleted farm system and also helped the major league roster, both seem to pale in comparison to the Gattis trade. According to baseball-reference.com Gattis accumulated a 2.9 WAR over his two seasons in Atlanta, and since being traded to Houston his war is 1.0 while hitting a sub-par .238/.284/.452. Coppy capitalized on a Houston team that was trying to win their division for the first time in years and sold high on Gattis to get an exciting unfinished prospect in return. Folty has always had electric stuff, but struggled much of last year with command and home run issues. This past offseason he seems to have worked some of the kinks out in his delivery and at times this year has shown brilliance, the kind of brilliance you see from the ace of your staff.
Another very overlooked move of the 2014 offseason was trading infielder Tommy La Stella for reliever Arodys Vizcaino and international bonus pool money from the Cubs. La Stella has been solid for the Cubs as a backup infielder, and according to baseball-reference.com has hit .273/.349/.424 in limited time. Vizcaino, on the other hand, has been a revelation for the Braves. After Grilli ruptured his achilles midway through last year Vizcaino was thrown into the closer’s role where he has thrived. In his time with Atlanta Viz has a 2.79 ERA with 19 saves and a 10.4 K/9. He is struggling a bit with walks with a 5.5 BB/9 this season, but if he can get his command under control he can definitely be a solid 8th or 9th inning reliever in the future.
While nothing is guaranteed, Coppy and Hart set themselves up very well for the future of this franchise in just one offseason. If Folty can continue to develop and be the number 1 or 2 starter alongside Teheran this team has a pretty good chance of competing in the next few years. Obviously prospects do not always work out and it is not an exact science, but having more high level prospects certainly increases your chances of finding major league stars in the future. Coppy and Hart have been very creative finding ways to get prospects into the system, by seemingly buying Touki Toussaint from Arizona, receiving competitive balance picks in some trades, or by trading for international bonus pool money. The future for this team is very exciting, and I, for one, finally believe the Braves have the right people in place making decisions.