Braves open camp with prospects uncertain for 2015
Feb. 22, 2015
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — It's been more than two decades since very few baseball experts gave the Atlanta Braves a legitimate shot to win the NL East.
But most of those teams had guys named Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux, Chipper, to name a few. They also had Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox running the show.
The problem for the Braves this season is that all of them are either enshrined in Cooperstown or just awaiting eligibility.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez opened up spring training on Saturday looking at a very revamped group of pitchers and catchers. Plenty of young question marks on the mound and no more Evan Gattis behind home plate.
Gonzalez simply shrugged the whole thing off after running his first practice of the spring.
"We made big trades that will keep us competitive," Gonzalez said. "People think we are rebuilding, but I don't really think about where people are pick us to finish this year."
A year after going 79-83 — following a run in which they made the playoffs in three of four seasons — the Braves seem to be retooling for the 2017 season when they will move into their new Cobb County stadium.
Atlanta dealt away salaries and most of their outfield in Justin Upton and Jason Heyward. Gone are two of last year's projected starting pitchers, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, as well as Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang, who were one-season helpers.
In addition, Atlanta is in a tough division with the Washington Nationals a clear choice to finish first and the rapidly rising Miami Marlins and New York Mets hanging around.
Gonzalez still thinks that the Braves can win while rebuilding.
"I don't make predictions because they are all about guessing," Gonzalez said. "I know that Washington is the sexy pick but we still have to play it all out. We think we lost a lot but we made our roster better."
The Braves would like to get rid of B.J. Upton's big contract but can't find any takers. The biggest free agent move was signing Nick Markakis from Baltimore to fill one of the gaps. Gattis was expected to take over in left field, but he was dealt to the Astros weeks before spring training.
Gonzalez likes his pitching staff.
"We have some good pitchers even if they aren't as well-known as some of the pitchers we've had here in the past. Plus, they are young," he said.
In return for Heyward, the Braves got Shelby Miller from the St. Louis Cardinals. Miller won 10 games last season and he'll back up ace Julio Teheran, who went 14-13 for the Braves. Mike Miner struggled last season, but youngsters David Hale and Alex Wood showed promise.
Craig Kimbrel is a shutdown closer and the Braves' bullpen is one of the best in baseball. But the offense has to manufacture some runs and Atlanta will need to get at least something out of Upton's bat and hope that first baseman Freddie Freeman can keep improving.
Gonzalez said the Braves aren't finished tinkering with their roster just yet.
"I think we can still make some moves," Gonzalez said. "We might not be done yet."