For whatever reason, the postseason just ain't the Atlanta Braves' thing.
Despite being one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball over the past 25 years—those 15 NL East titles and 17 postseason appearances are proof—the Braves have but one World Series trophy for all those Octobers. And that camein 1995.
That division crown and playoff count includes this season, when Atlanta went 96-66 and had the best record in baseball for a large portion of the year. But in case you haven't noticed, this playoff problem has gotten even worse in recent years: The Braves have gone one-and-done in each of their past seven trips to the postseason—and in six of those, they were the team with home-field advantage.
It might not have been the savviest of moves, but can anyone really blame Braves great Chipper Jones, who retired after last year's wild-card game loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Turner Field, for picking the Los Angeles Dodgers to defeat his former team in four games—on the team's flagship radio station, no less?
Now that Jones' controversial prediction actually has come true, though, it's as good a time as any to take a look at the Braves and find out what this latest disappointing October might mean for the front office, coaching staff and roster.
Wren has been with Atlanta for a while. After the 2007 season, he took over the GM job from predecessor John Schuerholz, to whom Wren was an assistant dating back to 2000.
Funny, but that's about the last time this club won a postseason series.
Still, it's hard to argue that Wren hasn't been good for the organization. Through the draft and player development, Wren and his staff have built one of the best young cores in all of baseball. In fact, the Braves had the second-youngest group of hitters and fifth-youngest pitching staff in all of baseball last season.
Wren also has made some significant trades in recent years, including last winter's swap with the Arizona Diamondbacks, which turned out better than even he could have imagined. In exchange for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and second-tier prospects, Wren landed not only Justin Upton, who led the team with 27 homers and 94 runs in his first year, but also—people forget—Chris Johnson, who only went on to hit .321, second highest in the NL.
If there is a knock on Wren, it's that his last two big contracts now look like major misses, as he gave too much money to the flawed B.J. Upton ($75.25 million over five years last November) and Dan Uggla (five-year, $62 million extension in 2011). Despite both hitting under .200 this year and being relegated to irrelevance in the playoffs, both players still have tens of millions coming their way over multiple seasons.
For a mid-market team like Atlanta, those deals are going to hurt even more in the coming years, when all of the young talent—the players who really are worth tens of millions—starts reaching arbitration and eventually free agency.
Still, Wren is under contract through 2014 and has helped build quite a core that should continue to compete for years.
Verdict: Stays, but if he wants to stick around beyond next year, Wren could really use a playoff series win—and someone to talk him out of giving money to anyone other than players within the organization.
Like Wren, Gonzalez has a contract that runs through next season, which is probably about right, all things considered.
Hired to replace the legendary Bobby Cox, who ushered in and then guided all those years of winning n the 1990s and 2000s, Gonzalez took over the reins at the end of 2010 and has done a commendable job. In his three seasons with Atlanta so far, Gonzalez has brought along all of the aforementioned young talent (which we'll get to in a moment) and made two trips to the postseason.
Still, all Gonzalez has to show for leading the club to an average of 93 wins in three years is a single, solitary playoff win (in Game 2 this year). Let's not forget, he was at the helm when the Braves suffered one of MLB's all-time worst September collapses back in 2011.
Between that, the home loss to the Cardinals in last year's wild-card game and this month's defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers, well, that's a lot of losing when it counts most.
Verdict: Stays, but on a leash that might not last beyond his lame-duck season if he can't get Atlanta to advance.
About to hit free agency for the first time, the longtime Braves backstop will turn 30 before next season starts and may not be long for Atlanta.
His age and last winter's shoulder surgery aside, McCann will have numerous suitors and could be in line for a four- or five-year deal that the only team he's ever played for will have trouble matching. The team will extend him a qualifying offer (worth roughly $14 million for 2014), which he'll reject for his one chance at big money.
Verdict: Goes, because even though it's been a great nine-year run for McCann, all good things must come to an end.
Early on this season, when the 27-year-old Gattis was mashing (.281 BA, 12 HR, 32 RBI through May), there was some sentiment that he would make it easier for the Braves to say bye-bye to McCann. While that's true to some extent, the fact is, Gattis isn't a good defender behind the dish, so he's likely to split duties there with the next guy.
Verdict: Stays, but he needs to show steady improvement while the club determines if he can be a long-term answer.
Laird is signed through next season at the very reasonable price of $1.5 million, which makes him worth keeping around to be Gattis' caddy and defensive tutor (and replacement).
"Friendly Freddie" just had his best season yet, hitting .319 with 23 homers and 109 RBI. He also just turned 24 last month. He's a foundation guy who hits in the middle of the lineup, plays good defense and doles out major league hugs.
Verdict: Stays, simply put.
What's worse: Hitting .179 or whiffing 32 percent of the time? Well, the former was worst among qualifying big leaguers, while the latter was only third-worst, so you do the math. Trending downward ever since he got to Atlanta, Uggla is now 33, can't hit and doesn't do defense.
Other than that? Oh, he's got $13 million due to him in both 2014 and 2015. The Braves need to unload him, but can they? Keeping Elliot Johnson around is probably a good idea.
Verdict: Stays, but only because it's hard to see any team biting.
Fresh off his 29th birthday at the beginning of October, Johnson is also coming off a breakout campaign. As mentioned above, he batted an out-of-nowhere .321 despite a 5 percent walk rate, thanks mainly due to an MLB-high .394 BABIP. That'll get him a big, fat raise from his $2.3 million salary as he heads to arbitration this winter.
Verdict: Stays, but he won't be this good again, and his price could double.
Arguably the game's greatest impact defender, especially given his position, Simmons has also made some strides with the stick: A shortstop who just turned 24 and posted an 8 percent strikeout rate with 50 extra-base hits is no joke.
Verdict: Stays, and continues to get better on O while dominating on D.
Yet another 24-year-old Brave, 2013 was a trying season at times for Heyward, who struggled early (.231/.331/.378 through July), only to get his act together before losing a month after getting hit in the face by a pitch. He may never mash, but he's a plus defender who can be an on-base machine, and he's under team control for two more years.
Verdict: Stays, and something says we haven't seen his best yet.
Still only 26, there could be more yet in Upton's bat, but he's started to settle into that not-quite-elite category, especially after his strikeout rate jumped back up to 25 percent this year. Still, he's proven to be durable and productive, which means he shouldn't have to much trouble living up to the $28.8 million he's owed the next two years.
Verdict: Stays, and remains Atlanta's most dangerous (when hot) bat.
Look, he's not going anywhere with $60 million still coming his way after a season in which he hit .184 and whiffed a career-worst 34 percent of the time. At this point, the Braves have to hope he can put 2013 behind him and regain, say, 70 percent of his game as he heads into his age-29 season.
Verdict: Stays, because it's not like there's any other option.
Mike Minor (LHP)
Maybe the least-talked-about really good pitcher in baseball, the 25-year-old southpaw showed that the light switch that went on in 2012's second half (2.16 ERA, 0.87 WHIP) stayed on, as he compiled a 3.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings.
Verdict: Stays, and cements his spot atop this rotation, along with the next guy.
Julio Teheran (RHP)
That disastrous Game 3 loss aside, Teheran was a contender for NL Rookie of the Year all season. Just 22 years old, he finished second in the rotation in wins (14), ERA (3.20), WHIP (1.17) and strikeouts (170).
Verdict: Stays, and still has a shot to develop into that No. 1 the staff has lacked since John Smoltz in the mid-2000s.
Kris Medlen (RHP)
Medlen, 28, had an up-and-down year that finished on a very high note in the regular season, as he was the NL Pitcher of the Month for the second straight September. After leading the five-man rotation with 15 wins and a 3.11 ERA, he'll be due a sizable raise from the $2.6 million he got this season, but it will be worth it.
Verdict: Stays, as one of the better mid-rotation arms around.
Paul Maholm (LHP)
The 31-year-old was a nice lift in the second half of 2012 and through his first 15 or so starts this year, but he battled arm troubles and is a free agent.
Verdict: Goes, especially with the team's rotation options.
Alex Wood (LHP)
This 22-year-old raced to the bigs after being selected in 2012's second round. After debuting in relief, the lanky lefty gave Atlanta a half-dozen great starts during midsummer before heading back to the pen. His job in 2013 likely depends on the health of some others who could slide into the five-man if healthy (or any offseason moves), which could make Wood a weapon in the late innings.
Verdict: Stays, with only his role (but not his roster spot) in question.
Brandon Beachy (RHP)
Beachy was supposed to be the stud starter who came back midseason, until his surgically repaired right elbow started barking after only five outings. After undergoing a second (but less invasive) procedure in September, Beachy will need to prove he's healthy before he's given a spot on the roster, let alone a rotation gig. By the way, at 27, he's older than you think, particularly for a guy with all of 270 major league frames under his belt.
Verdict: Stays, but more than a little doubt has crept into the equation.
Tim Hudson (RHP)
This one could go either way. The Braves would probably love to have Hudson back, and Hudson—who missed the final two months after a nasty ankle injury in late July—indicated he would be open to returning. Then again, he's 38 and coming off a major injury to his right (push-off) ankle. Whether Atlanta re-signs Hudson will depend on how the club feels about Wood and Beachy as rotation options for 2014, and what kind of offers other teams present.
Verdict: Stays, likely on a one-year deal, because he's a Georgia native who could stabilize the back of the rotation if he's healthy enough.
Freddy Garcia (RHP)
"Thanks for that gutsy, smoke-and-mirrors performance in the Game 4 start in Los Angeles, Freddy, but we'll be seein' ya." —Sincerely, the Braves
Craig Kimbrel (RHP)
Do we really need to explain this one?
Verdict: Stays, duh.
Jordan Walden (RHP)
A 6'5", 235-pound flamethrower to set up for Kimbrel? Yes, please, more of that.
Luis Avilan (LHP)
An under-the-radar southpaw to set up for Kimbrel? Yes, please, more of that.
David Carpenter (RHP)
It wasn't Carpenter's fault Fredi Gonzalez chose to go with him over the well-rested, lights-out Kimbrel in the game that ended the Braves' 2013.
Scott Downs (LHP)
After coming over via trade, Downs wasn't particularly effective (1.93 WHIP) and was actually left off the postseason roster. That doesn't bode well for the 37-year-old soon-to-be free agent's return.
Verdict: Goes, although the Braves could use another lefty in the bullpen.
Jonny Venters (LHP)
A second Tommy John surgery in May means one of the better lefty setup men the past three years could miss most, if not all, of 2014.
Verdict: Stays, but his future is very much in doubt.
Eric O'Flaherty (LHP)
Take out the word "second" from the Venters write-up, and the same applies for O'Flaherty.
Verdict: Stays, but his future is very much in doubt.
Overall Outlook for 2014 Roster
More than likely, next year's Braves are going to look a lot like this year's club. That's not a bad thing.
In the infield, big changes is going to be at catcher, where McCann appears all but gone, leaving his spot to be split between Gattis and Laird (and perhaps prospect Christian Bethancourt at some point). At second base, it's clearly time for Uggla to be relegated to a backup/pinch-hitter role—that is, if they can't unload his salary over the winter and find some new blood.
Otherwise, Freeman, Johnson and Simmons are established and settled into their spots at first, third and short, respectively.
The starting outfield is going to be exactly the same, which is both good and bad. Justin Upton and Heyward both had their issues at times this season with slumps and/or injuries, but they're still two of the club's top three hitters (along with Freeman). B.J. Upton, though, enters 2014 a complete enigma that needs to solve himself. Jordan Schafer is a capable backup/alternative to keep around, in case that doesn't happen.
Even the rotation isn't likely to see too many changes, at least in the front end, where the top three spots will remain unchanged. The back end of the five-man is likely to play out based on the health and performance next spring of some key arms like Wood and Beachy, one or both of whom could shift to a bullpen role. The biggest question on the staff is likely to be whether to bring back Hudson.
In the bullpen, there's a real need for a second lefty to go with Avilan in support of Kimbrel, Walden and Carpenter from the right side, but that's not an unfixable problem.
All in all, the impressive young core that Wren has built and Gonzalez has guided will continue on mostly intact in 2014, which should make the Braves a contender yet again. But given that both the GM and manager have one year left on their deals, there's a lot riding on the outcome of next season, specifically next October. Their futures might well depend on the team finally taking that next step—a postseason series win. Or two.
Considering how long it's been—12 years and counting—that's not exactly a prediction of Chipper Jones-like proportions.
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