MLB

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Time Waits For No One

By: Mike Anthony

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

There is still plenty of speculation about how much of the 2020 Major League Baseball season – if any – will be played.

But one sure thing is that when play resumes the Atlanta Braves will still be one of the better teams in baseball, with every reason to believe that a World Series title is within their grasp.

However, the agreement reached by MLB and its players’ association regarding pay and service time could put a dent in the length of the Braves’ current run of great play.

Over the last decade, many baseball teams have adopted a roller-coaster philosophy to competing. They will ride out success for a while, but are now more apt to trade off aging and expensive talent.

The rebuilding process can be painful for fans and is done for financial benefit of the club – the thought being that there’s no reason to pay top dollar for declining veteran talent that won’t make the playoffs when a roster full of marginal veterans and young players can lose just the same at a much smaller price.

That’s where the current pandemic and suspension of play is hurting the Braves. If play resumes this season, all will be fine. Atlanta will contend for a third consecutive NL East title, although a shortened season figures to be a disadvantage for more talented teams better suited to handle the grind of a full schedule.

If a shorter 2020 hampers the Braves’ competitiveness or the worst case scenario happens and there is no baseball until next spring, that’s when the numbers will start working against them.

The biggest item in the agreement is that, in the event of a total cancellation of the current season, all players will receive an identical credit of their MLB service time accrued in 2019.

That would mean the Braves’ big offseason adds of Cole Hamels and Marcel Ozuna would again be free agents as both are signed to one-year deals.

Mark Melancon would also be a free agent as the contract he signed before being traded to Atlanta expires this year.

There is also the issue of age as Freddie Freeman will turn 31 this season and has just one year remaining on his deal.

Losing players is one issue, but adding on payroll seems to be an even bigger concern for Braves ownership group Liberty Media, which had often been criticized for being tight with money prior two the last two seasons of winning baseball.

The wave of youth that has been instrumental in the Braves’ rise is about to get a considerable pay raise. Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, A.J. Minter and Chad Sobotka will all be arbitration-eligible next season, guaranteeing a pay raise for all and increasing in accordance with their performance over their first three seasons.

Star outfielder Ronald Acuna will be the biggest hit on the payroll. Acuna is slated to make just $1 million in 2020, but the contract extension he signed last year bumps that to $15 million in 2021 and levels out at $17 million per year after that.

Ozzie Albies will also be breaking the bank as he will make an additional $2 million in 2021.

The Braves’ roster, as currently constructed, will remain relatively young, even if no baseball is played this season. But the contract structure of the team shows that 2020 is definitely the year Atlanta thinks it can make a World Series push.

If the Braves don’t see any action this year and want to be in a similar spot for 2021, they’ll have to make tough decisions on free agents while the payroll begins to soar.

Hollywood Baseball

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

It should have been Opening Day 2020.

Unfortunately, global circumstances beyond MLB’s control led them to delay the start of the baseball season. While there’s still hope that we will all get to hear “play ball” before too long, there is currently no end in sight for our collective lack of professional baseball.

If you’re like me, this has been a frankly depressing couple of days but, if you’re like me, you’ve turned to the best substitute available for the hole in your life (outside of re-watching actual games, which for whatever reason I don’t find all that enjoyable): baseball movies.

There have been dozens of baseball movies made and several of them are wonderful and remind me of why I love the game so much. So, in lieu of being able to write about actual baseball, I’m going to provide you with my top 5 favorite baseball movies.

5. A League of Their Own: You know the line. You’ve said the line. Despite the fact that I’ve seen plenty of baseball players cry and in fact I’ve cried over baseball before. Stripping the ideology that “there’s no crying in baseball” of any semblance of truth, the late Penny Marshall’s love letter to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is a warm blanket of baseball goodness any time you watch it.

Tom Hanks is great, but the focus of the movie is the team of women (not girls), led by Geena Davis. It’s a joyful and funny movie and a notable one. Sports movies starring women continues to be a hole in Hollywood’s resume.

4. Bull Durham: This one feels the most like inside knowledge. Probably because writer/director Ron Shelton actually played minor league ball in the Baltimore farm system.

The main plot of this movie, a love triangle between Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins, doesn’t actually do much for me. However, the on field stuff, like meetings on the mound and Costner’s catcher Crash Davis telling the opposing batter what’s coming is why this movie is in the top 5.

3. The Sandlot: Is this movie great? Probably not. But I’m 32 years old and I dare you to find a single baseball fan anywhere near my age who doesn’t absolutely love this movie. You won’t.

This movie is childhood for so many kids who just loved playing pickup ball anywhere they could. It’s top 3 and I won’t apologize for it.

2. Field of Dreams: I’m a sap. You don’t know me well enough to know that, so I’m telling you.

This movie is sentimental, probably to a fault, but this movie celebrates baseball as a pastoral, innocent, and elegant miracle of a game.

Going to an MLB game early and watching players take batting practice and shag fly balls, while the grounds crew puts the chalk down the first and third base lines is the purest form of contentment imaginable to me.

That’s what this movie strives for (it notably doesn’t strive for accuracy – could they not find a lefty to play Shoeless Joe?!) and often succeeds.

It’s always one that I like to revisit during spring training in order to get reacclimated with the love of the game. So, I may have to watch it a few times this year.

1. Major League: Surprised, perhaps? Major League is neither the most acclaimed work of cinema, nor the most celebrated baseball flick by baseball fans. However, it’s a classic sports movie.

It’s still really funny after 31 years (see: literally everything Bob Uecker says) and believe it or not it’s really the only movie on this list that’s actually about a baseball team playing baseball.

My friends and I quote this one constantly; from opposing teams’ home runs being “too high” to the rapid-fire monologue of “hell of a situation we got here,” Major League is full of joy and it’s my favorite baseball movie.

And right now, that’s all we’ve got.

 

The Shorter The Better

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a shadow over the entire world for weeks, forcing people into quarantine and changing the way people live and work.

One of the most publicized effects of the pandemic has been that of the sports world and the now lack of its existence.

First, it was a few basketball and soccer games being played without fans in the arenas and stadiums, followed by March Madness being cancelled. Then, after Utah Jazz Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, the NBA suspended their season.

The NHL followed suit, as well as just about every other sport going on and suddenly ESPN was showing replays of bowling instead of SportsCenter (this may be an exaggeration).

Major League Baseball hadn’t yet begun their 2020 season and instead was about halfway through Spring Training when they decided to call it and delay Opening Day.

At first, MLB was going to delay two weeks. As time has gone on, the rumors have swirled about when baseball will be played again. Memorial Day maybe? Sometime in June?

Like pretty much everything else, when baseball starts is up in the air right now but the owners and players seem intent on getting a season in. This is, of course, happy news.

Whenever “play ball” is finally called for the season, it will certainly be the start of a diminished calendar. Even if the schedule is loaded with double headers, there’s really no way of getting a 162-game season in and still having playoffs at a time of year in which baseball is still playable.

That is, and bear with me here, good news for the Atlanta Braves. Continue bearing with me, because I’m about to make an argument based on an incredibly small sample size of evidence, but you don’t have any actual sports to read about so what else are you going to do?

The Braves are famous for winning 14 straight division championships, a record. They are equally notorious for winning only one World Series in that 15-year stretch.

Did anyone catch the math?

14 consecutive championships in 15 years doesn’t make sense; unless you know that in 1994, there were no division championships.

There was also no World Series. That’s because the players went on strike and the season was called. They were still on strike in the spring of 1995. Eventually, the union went back to work and 18 days after the season should have started, baseball began.

If that year sticks out to you, it’s because that’s the year Atlanta won it all.

That’s significant, because in all the rest of Atlanta’s postseason stints, that world-class pitching in the regular season often couldn’t meet its own high standards in the playoffs but with (slightly) less wear-and-tear on their arms, the Braves were able to run through their opponents and win the big prize at the end of the season.

The baseball gods tend to abandon Atlanta come October but maybe it’s just that the Braves run out of gas after a grueling full schedule.

Granted, every team plays the same number of games, but the Braves always seem a little more beaten down than their opponents do, with the exception of the shortened ’95 season.

Maybe, with a guaranteed shorter season on the horizon, the Braves will get a little of that 1995 mojo working.

Maybe two less months of regular season games will put life into Mike Foltynewicz’s arm come the fall. Maybe four months of games instead of six will keep Freddie Freeman healthier than he’s ever been in October.

Maybe, it’s a small sample size, but hey, the track record is there.

Talking Braves

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

More than a week has passed since Spring Training games officially rang in the start of the 2020 Major League Baseball season.

In that time, the Atlanta Braves have won three games, lost five, and ended one in a tie (a Spring-only event).

Win/loss record aside (a meaningless ratio at this point anyway), there’s plenty from the past week to unpack as we roll merrily along towards the first pitch of Opening Day at the end of the month.

First, to briefly follow up on my article last week, Felix Hernandez has gotten off on the right foot. With two solid starts under his belt and Cole Hamels expected to start the season on the Injured List, Hernandez has begun to make believers out of a lot of folks who maybe didn’t think he had anything left.

It’s too early to make a true judgement call, but if he keeps it up, King Felix will be holding court at Truist Park to start the season.

Next, we have to talk about Freddie Freeman. After spending nearly the whole back half of the 2019 season playing hurt, Freddie healed himself up during the offseason and said he felt great when he reported to Florida.

However, he was scratched from a game early in the week and hasn’t played since. Everyone and their mother has told the press that they aren’t worried and that the extra rest is merely precautionary. We’d better hope that’s true.

A healthy Freddie means everything to this team, so we’ll be on the lookout for him to start getting more spring at-bats here in the coming days.

Mike Soroka seems to have picked up where he left off. The Braves lost his one start so far 5-3, but Soroka pitched two scoreless innings in his Grapefruit League debut, scattering three hits.

The real proof that he’s seemingly in mid-season form already is that after the game he talked about inducing a ground ball thanks to a scouting report. A scouting report. In his first Spring game.

Moving on. The biggest positional battle (fielding-wise, anyway) in Braves’ camp this year is that for third base. In which, once and hopeful future Johan Camargo is competing for at bats with erstwhile left fielder and early-on slugger Austin Riley.

So far, both have come on figuratively and literally swinging, with each prospective operator of the hot corner hitting over .300 in this brief period of judged time.

Next, beloved Brave, Charlie Culberson has disappointingly failed to get a hit in 10 Abs. Culberson has managed four bases on balls.

It’s not a stretch to imagine that all of Braves Country is rooting for Charlie Clutch to make the MLB roster out of Spring Training this year, especially given the cruel end to his season in 2019.

His path to the team isn’t cleared for him and therefore he’ll need to start turning heads beyond pulling walks out of pitchers, who are just getting their mechanics in order.

Lastly, let’s talk about the future: top prospects Christian Pache, Drew Waters, and Ian Anderson have all seen game time. The hype may very well be real.

Sure, Waters and Pache don’t have the sexiest stat lines in the game, but they’ve looked good enough to instill excitement in the hearts of those paying attention.

Anderson got into two games over the course of the week, pitching 2 and 1/3 innings and allowing one run. That isn’t not too shabby for the kid.

Overall, with these three, who we already know won’t make the roster at the start of the season, things are looking good. We might even prepare ourselves for their debuts sometime before September.

 

King Felix

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Any professional sports team has to know that a projected roster is just about the furthest thing from a guarantee there is.

Whatever a general manager does, injuries, slumps or any number of other things can change what a roster looks like.

In baseball this is a rule with no exceptions, as a 162-game schedule that takes place over more than 6 months dictates that no 26-man roster will be consistent from Opening Day through the end of the season. It’s a safe bet that no teams will make it to the end of the season’s first month sporting one roster throughout.

But with roster turnover comes opportunity for those who weren’t expected to be on the team just yet (or at all). Sometimes those opportunities even present themselves before the first pitch of spring training.

The Braves’ newest member of the starting rotation – or should I say projected member – is Cole Hamels, who has a minor injury and is shut down for three weeks.

As a consequence of that, he won’t be on the roster come Opening Day. Now, barring injury, Mike Soroka, Max Fried, and Mike Foltynewicz are expected to be in the rotation when the regular season kicks off on March 26th.

Hamels was to be the fourth starter (his spot is still guaranteed upon his delayed return), and the fifth starter was to be determined during the exhibition games on Florida.

With Hamels out for the start of the year, the Braves are now needing to fill two spots in the rotation to begin the season and one might be filled by a very unexpected pitcher.

Erstwhile Seattle Mariners legend Felix Hernandez was inked to a minor league contract by the Braves last month.

That’s 6-time All-Star, Cy Young Award-winner King Felix, as he was affectionately known in the Pacific Northwest.

Once Hernandez was one of the best pitchers in the game of baseball. Hernandez has fallen enough that I had completely forgotten that the Braves had signed him until I turned on Atlanta’s first spring game and there he was on the mound.

His 1-8 injury-plagued season in 2019 contributed to his “forgotten man” place in both my mind and on the roster, though he hasn’t been the Felix Hernandez that made him famous since 2015.

That being said, Hernandez is only 33 years old. His best fastballs are behind him, but he was special enough for a long enough time that he must have developed enough pitching know-how to survive without the arm of a 22-year-old version of himself.

With an extra spot opening up in the rotation and one belonging to a veteran, no less – Hernandez’s two-inning stint on the mound to kick off Atlanta’s spring slate suddenly took on a lot more meaning and pressure and Hernandez delivered.

Hernandez allowed one walk and no hits with two strikeouts against the Baltimore Orioles. He looked comfortable, capable, and healthy on the mound. It’s a small sample size, but it could be the beginning of an impressive enough spring that pave the way to a rotation spot come the end of March.

A healthy Felix Hernandez, who is even half of what he was during his prime in Seattle, would be a MASSIVE feather in the cap of Alex Anthopoulos and the Braves.

This is a guy with 169 career wins (and would easily have over 200 if he’d played on better teams). He is also a guy who has never pitched in the postseason. That’s the kind of motivation that leads veterans to have career resurgences (Nick Markakis’ career year in 2018 could likely attest to that).

We’ll have to keep an eye on Hernandez as spring goes on and the competition becomes a little stiffer (he did after all face not just the awful Orioles on Saturday, but their early spring training road team).

But if he can seize the massive opportunity in front of him, everyone wins.

Spring Hope

By: Mike Anthony

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Opening day is still over a month away, but the first members of the 2020 Atlanta Braves have officially arrived at Spring Training in Kissimmee, Fla.

For those who live for baseball, the date, which sees pitchers and catchers report, may as well be the first day of spring, even if there is currently snow on your front lawn.

Teams that came up a bit short of their expectations last season will use the next week to remind themselves that hope springs eternal, dreaming of what could be with plenty of new faces and infinite possibilities laying ahead in the 162 game schedule.

The Braves may well have some of those feelings. After all, it’s impossible not to hope – and want – more after consecutive heartbreaking exits from the divisional round of the playoffs.

Then again, the team’s title of two-time defending National League East champions also allows the Braves to storm into 2020 with some hard-earned bravado.

Despite plenty of notable moves being made by teams throughout the division this offseason – and even with the defending World Series champs residing in Washington – it’s hard to keep from thinking of Atlanta as the favorite to win the East yet again.

While Atlanta bid farewell to Josh Donaldson and his resurgent 2019 season, the Braves continue to boast a young team that still has everyday players coming into their primes, to say nothing of a minor league system that remains one of the deeper and more talented farms in the game.

The starting pitching additions of Cole Hamels and Felix Hernandez would have been much more impressive about five years ago, but Hamels is still very effective and the Braves are risking next to nothing on what amounts to a lottery ticket that could always produce a few games of Hernandez in his old form.

Simply put, there will never be another 14-year run of division titles – for the Braves or any other team. Baseball rosters just don’t work like that anymore and Atlanta was never going to be able to keep everyone from the 2018 or 2019 squads in hopes of matching and building on success.

But the Braves can take solace in the fact that they currently possess the sort of blueprint that is leading to playoff success. Atlanta has a solid starting rotation – although they still lack a shutdown ace. The Braves completely overhauled their bullpen at the end of 2019 and should have a solid back end again this year.

Most importantly, the Braves have a potent mix of young, cheap and improving talent in Ronald Acuna, Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley. Throw in the veteran MVP-level talent and leadership of Freddie Freeman and this season’s hired help in Marcel Ozuna and you’ve got a lineup that is going to be a tough out all season long.

For two seasons, the Braves have had to end a season with the promise of “Wait ‘til next year.”

As Spring Training gets underway, Braves fans have every reason to think that next year is finally here.

 

A New Ocean?

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Going into any offseason, there’s also tons of focus on big-name free agents and stars that might available for trade.

This year there was Gerritt Cole, Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, and a host of other players available on the market, as well as potential trade targets like Mookie.

In the past few years there have been several big names that held out for months; sometimes into the next season itself, before inking with a new team. This year, as Spring Training is here, that didn’t really happen. The players at the top of the free agent list have signed and know to whose camp they need to report to.

But there is one player, a guy who has managed to go relatively overlooked until suddenly he became the lone holdout of the offseason, who is still looking for his next contract: Yasiel Puig.

Puig is a former All-Star for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who finished up a very good year split between the Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Indians.

His big personality and reported troubles in the clubhouse have continued to follow him around, overshadowing the .267 batting average, 30 doubles, 24 homeruns, 19 stolen bases, and .785 OPS that he managed in 2019, not to mention that his batting average and OBS improved down the stretch after the trade (his slugging percentage did take a .475 to .423 dip).

These are the kind of offensive numbers that any team would be delighted to have roaming around in their outfield. However, he hasn’t gotten much love through the offseason until now.

People are starting to wonder if he might not find himself in Tampa Bay.

At first glance that seems unlikely: The Rays are notably crowded in the outfield, with plenty of players fighting for at-bats and innings as it is. Plus, there’d be no guarantee of 500+ plate appearances even for a player with Puig’s pedigree. So, what would be the appeal for Puig?

Well, the big money, multi-year deal he was certainly hoping for has not panned out, so he may be looking for somewhere to sign a short-term contract and try again after the 2020 season has ended.

Platooning wouldn’t be a logical choice, but the appeal of playing in Tampa would bring two other things: championship opportunity and image rehab.

The Rays, as we seem to have to learn year after year after year, can never be counted out in the AL East.

Despite the New York Yankees going full Yankee and signing Cole to a contract they’ll likely regret and putting themselves even further in front of the division (on paper), the Rays are talented enough, savvy enough, and have enough of a proven track record that they may very well challenge for that title. If nothing else, at least continue to battle for an AL Wild Card spot.

A team that might give him a one-year contract to play full-time in the outfield might not be contending for a playoff spot and while he could pad his numbers in a place like Kanas City or back in Cincy, surely, he’d like to fight for the postseason?

Plus, it benefits to Puig’s image. If he goes to a team where he willingly accepts a smaller role in order to help the team win it can erase whatever’s left of teams’ hesitancy to bring him into their clubhouse in the future.

It remains to be seen if these rumors will turn into factual reporting (and I’d be curious to see what kind of monetary value Puig and the Rays could meet in the middle with) but Puig to Tampa is a real possibility – and a very interesting prospect.

Hot-lanta’s Hot Corner

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Atlanta Braves’ acquisition of outfielder Marcell Ozuna to fill the role of cleanup hitter behind Freddie Freeman doesn’t mean that the Braves won’t make a move to upgrade their options at third base but it does make it a lot less likely.

After Josh Donaldson was more or less forced to leave Atlanta by Alex Anthopoulos’s unwillingness to sacrifice one or two bad years for two or three good ones, the rumor mill began to swirl about potential replacements for the erstwhile Bringer of Rain.

One of the more popular and exciting rumors was that the Braves would make a trade for the Colorado Rockies’ Nolan Arenado or for the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant to hit fourth and man the hot corner.

Bryant’s future is still up in the air as he waits to find out whether or not he’s eligible to hit free agency at the end of this season or the next; The Rockies have said that Arenado would be in a Colorado uniform at the start of the season (and boy did he not like that announcement).

Those factors, coupled with the signing of Ozuna to a one-year deal, means that Atlanta is probably going to enter Spring Training and then the regular season with what they have at third base: namely, Austin Riley and Johan Camargo.

Is that good enough? For the large chunk of Braves Country that thought Nolan Arenado might be coming to Atlanta, Riley and Camargo are certainly let downs but they may not necessarily be that come game time.

Yes, Camargo really made himself questionable last season, but he was also shuffled around the diamond and lineup. He was forced to be a utilityman after going into the previous offseason under the impression that he’d start at third base in 2019.

Inconsistent at bats make a big difference to Major League ballplayers and, evidenced by the tear he went on in Gwinnett after he was demoted, he’s still got the ability if those ABs come more frequently.

Camargo had an insane OPS of 1.221 during his short stay in Triple A (only 58 at bats, but still) and we never got a real chance to see if that hot streak would stick around when he was promoted back to the bigs.

In short, the evidence suggests that with regular at bats, even if it’s just as part of a platoon, Camargo can bounce back.

Riley, of course, burst onto the scene upon his arrival from Triple A, blasting 16 homeruns in less than 200 at bats before the All-Star Break, after which his production tanked.

While that kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde act meant that the Braves couldn’t rely on him to bat cleanup going into this upcoming season, the kid is only 22 years old and isn’t anywhere near developing as a complete player just yet.

He also will finally get the chance to play his natural position with more regularity, and comfort is a real factor in production for plenty of ballplayers.

Perhaps the best thing about having these two are the primary options for third base is that they don’t need to produce at an elite level to be a big part of a winning team. With an offense that includes Freeman, Ozuna, Ronald Acuna, Jr., and Ozzie Albies, Riley and/or Camargo don’t need to feel the pressure of shouldering a large part of the team’s production.

They simply need to be good enough and if one of them should take off and play at an All-Star level, then they’ve simply exceeded both their own expectations and their necessity on the roster.

So no, neither Riley nor Camargo are Arenado or Bryant or Donaldson but they also don’t need to be.

Bringer Of Rain

By: Mike Anthony

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Late Tuesday, news broke that Josh Donaldson had agreed to sign with the Minnesota Twins.

Donaldson, 34, had suffered through a few injury-plagued seasons, as he fell from his former MVP status before signing a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves in 2019 and reigniting his reputation as a slick-fielding third baseman, who can power his team to victory at the plate.

The immediate reaction from many Braves fans was one of dismay. After all, Donaldson had plenty to do with turning the team from a surprise division winner in 2018 to a legitimate powerhouse and a dark horse World Series contender last year.

There’s no doubt that Atlanta’s lineup won’t be as imposing on Opening Day 2020 as it was in last year’s playoffs.

But the Braves are positioned for success beyond 2020. And in the current structure of Major League Baseball and how its payrolls and contracts work, letting the Twins win the bidding war for Donaldson may prove to be a good move.

As much as Donaldson did for the offense and contributed to the team’s identity, last year’s performance was a personal showcase for exactly what transpired in the free agent market. Donaldson’s injuries left him with few options in 2019.

Plenty of teams would have taken him on at a low rate for a few years in hopes of getting a steal.

Instead, Donaldson bet on himself. He took a lucrative deal in Atlanta that came with the pressure of a single-year contract that could have spelled the end of his career if he didn’t produce.

But he returned to All-Star form and – because of that – was able to get right back on the open market for a premium price over a longer span.

And while the Braves are in a position where they could have competed with just about any team vying for Donaldson’s services, it is probably in their best interest to have bowed out and saved their money for other ventures.

Sure, Austin Riley might not be able to play third base at an MLB level. Sure, Johan Camargo is nowhere near the offensive threat as Donaldson in the everyday lineup. And sure, the stats of Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna could suffer a bit without a third true power bat in the order to keep pitchers honest.

But the current state of baseball is all about adjusting strengths to where money can be spent most efficiently.

Atlanta is currently enjoying the likes of Riley, Max Fried and Mike Soroka on dirt-cheap contracts, but those numbers will skyrocket in the next few years if those players continue to perform at their current levels.

There is also added spending for the Braves this season on the mound as they now own the full contracts of the high-price relief pitchers traded for last season, to go along with the offseason acquisitions of closer Will Smith and starter Cole Hamels.

In the end, the decision was probably a simple one for the Braves’ front office.

There is every possibility that Donaldson will have another huge year in 2020 that won’t help the Braves, but years of statistics suggest that the money the Twins will be paying him over the last couple of years of his new contract won’t be met with comparable results.

As for Atlanta, all of the money that could have been sunk into Donaldson can now be spent to lock up much younger and still-progressing players, or could be saved for leverage in a midseason trade to make a necessary move.

By letting Donaldson walk, the Braves will pay a price in offensive production on the front end, but will extend their financial flexibility as a younger core that continues to improve over the next few years.

A Brave Decade

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The calendar turns over in just a couple of days, as December becomes January and one year becomes the next. This coming New Year’s Day also shifts the passage of time from one decade into another. The 2010s will become the 2020s and children born in the next few years will actually have memories of the decade in which they joined the world; something I, being born in 1988, can’t claim.

The next decade will define itself and be remembered for things we probably can’t even fathom, the way the 1920s is remembered for being the “Roaring Twenties” and the 1960s is remembered for counterculture.

But as the decade ends and we all look to the future, let’s take a moment to look back at the decade that was for the Atlanta Braves.

Looking back on it now, this decade seems clearly divided into 3 distinct periods: endings, rebuilding, and beginnings.

2010 launched with the announcement of Bobby Cox’s retirement after one last season. The stalwart skipper had coached the team for 21 years, (plus another four during the late 80s/early 70s) with 14 straight division championships, 5 National League pennants, and a World Series to his name.

He was legend and the team celebrated his legacy with one final playoff appearance; a Wild Card berth earned after a wild season full of scrappy play and incredible come backs (note: the 2010 squad still holds in my heart the spot of favorite ever team).

Two years later Chipper Jones announced he would be retiring after one final season. The 2012 campaign was another rousing one as the Braves snatched another Wild Card spot, playing in the first-ever Wild Card game, which ended Chipper’s playing career on a sour note with the infamous “Infield Fly” call.

These two retirements, the last two members of the legendary 90s teams, closed the book on an entire era for Atlanta.

The following season saw the Braves take an all or nothing approach, exciting the fan base with the acquisitions of the Upton brothers to go along with Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla, and eventual breakout star Evan Gattis. It was a lineup full of hitters who loved swinging for the fences. It paid off in 2013 with a NL East crown, but diminishing returns the next season jumpstarted the next major era for Atlanta in the 2010s: the rebuilding years.

The next few seasons were lean years, with the Braves finishing dead last in 2016 and seeing Brian Snitker ascend to the position of manager. First, as a mid-season replacement for outgoing skipper Fredi Gonzalez, then getting the full time job the next year.

Snit was followed shortly thereafter by many of the young prospects that Atlanta had been collecting during the rebuild, such as Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies.

Ironically, John Coppolella, the General Manager who had done much of the legwork in stocking the farm system, (Albies was a Frank Wren signing, mind you) would see none of his work bear fruit after baseball handed him a lifetime ban for cheating the international free agent system.

The setbacks wouldn’t stop the march of progress, as the next major era, beginnings started in Atlanta.

Along with Swanson and Albies came Mike Foltynewicz, Mike Soroka, and of course Ronald Acuna, Jr., who helped lead the Braves to consecutive division titles to close out the decade. Those stars give Atlanta a bright future on the horizon for the next ten years.

The start of the 2020s is shaping up to be the opposite of what the start of the 2010s was: the dawning of an era.

And, just because I inexplicably haven’t mentioned him yet, let’s not forget the constant and consistent contributions of the one player who has played for the Braves in every single year of this waning decade: Freddie Freeman.

Freeman has been through a lot with this team over the past ten years, and with the team that surrounds him now, it’s nearly time to cash in.

 

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