After making the postseason three of four years from 2010-13 (and barely missing the fourth on that amazing final night of the 2011 season), the Braves dropped under .500 in 2014, their first losing season since 2008.
Naturally, that meant ripping the team apart. Two of their three starting outfielders and their starting catcher from 2014 were traded away and a pair of their rotation starters left via free agency.
But wait! They went and signed Nick Markakis to a four-year, $44 million deal. Then he had neck surgery. Now:
Nick Markakis saw the doctors yesterday and was cleared for baseball activities. Won't have any restrictions but will ease back in. #Braves— Kevin McAlpin (@KevinMcAlpin) February 25, 2015
Markakis says he hopes to be ready for Opening Day, but he won't rush himself to realize that goal.— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) February 25, 2015
Sounds like a fun way to start spring training, right? Add A.J. Pierzynski to that mix -- he'll likely back up top prospect Christian Bethancourt behind the plate -- and you could have a toxic brew going in Braves camp.
Atlanta still has one Upton left after trading Justin to the Padres, so that whole "brother act" thing lasted just two years. And even that Upton is "new," to an extent -- B.J. Upton has let it be known that he now wants to be called by his full given name, Melvin Upton Jr., in an attempt to get his career back on track. It'll take more than a name change, I'm thinking.
The Braves' rotation still has three very good young returning starters in Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Mike Minor, plus Shelby Miller, acquired from the Cardinals in the Jason Heyward deal. Beyond that we're talking retreads (Eric Stults), guys whose name is hard to spell (Mike Foltynewicz) and the carcass of Wandy Rodriguez.
The bullpen is still anchored by Craig Kimbrel, who is probably the one guy the Braves should have traded, while he still is at or near peak value. They've accumulated a bunch of former closers from other teams: Jim Johnson, Jason Grilli and (heaven help them) Jose Veras in an attempt to squeeze out a setup man or two. Former Cub James Russell returns, and Arodys Vizcaino, who the Cubs returned to Atlanta in the Tommy La Stella deal, has a chance to make the pen.
If you can figure out what the Braves are doing here, feel free to post your thoughts in the comments.
The Cubs won't face the Braves until the series following the All-Star break (July 17-18-19 in Atlanta), and then they'll have a four-game set against them at Wrigley August 20-21-22-23. By then, maybe the Braves will have a plan.