This offseason has been surprising—and perhaps somewhat painful—for the Atlanta Braves, who, as part of a somewhat unexpected rebuilding effort spearheaded by a new front office, traded away a trio of their most popular, polarizing players.

Another word that could be used to accurately describe the Braves winter? Justified.

As in, new president of baseball operations John Hart and Co. were justified in the decision to take this route, even considering Atlanta began the offseason with enough talent on the roster to make a rebound campaign a reasonable hope.

After all, this is the Atlanta Braves, a franchise that has been one of the most consistent in baseball, capturing 14 straight NL East titles from 1991 to 2005 and posting five consecutive winning seasons from 2009 to 2013 prior to last year’s second-half collapse (27-40) that led to a 79-83 mark.

After that kind of sustained success, pushing the restart button doesn’t come easy.

But that’s what Hart has done—that’s what he needed to do—after taking over for former general manager Frank Wren. And there are a number of reasons why.

First and foremost, Wren had left the Braves farm system lacking in both quality and quantity after years of mediocre, uninspiring drafts.

“We had a tough year, and I know there was a lot of speculation about us going into this winter,” Hart said, according to Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We had the 29th-ranked farm system in baseball. We had some bad contracts.”

As Keith Law of ESPN writes of Atlanta’s system, now the sixth-best in baseball:

They were a bottom-5 system when the offseason started, but six trades later, they’ve built up a stash of prospects that makes up for five years of execrable drafts and very little production from their Latin American efforts. Ten of their top 12 prospects have appeared on at least one of my past three top-100 rankings, including six this year.

To get there, Hart had to bite the bullet by swapping young outfielders Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis, each of whom was a homegrown product or a popular player—or both.

But the 25-year-old Heyward, whom the Braves drafted 14th overall in 2007, and the 27-year-old Upton, who hit 56 homers in two seasons in Atlanta after being acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks, were entering their final year under contract.

With both stars set to become free agents in line for nine-figure paydays, there was no way the Braves could afford to bring back both—let alone even one. Especially not after spending a lot last winter to lock up other young talent, like first baseman Freddie Freeman, closer Craig Kimbrel, shortstop Andrelton Simmons and righty Julio Teheran.

In return for Heyward, who was sent to the St. Louis Cardinals, and Upton, who is now a San Diego Padre, Atlanta landed young, team-controlled, high-upside talent: big league righty Shelby Miller, as well as a slew of prospects—righty Tyrell Jenkins, lefty Max Fried, infielders Jace Peterson and Dustin Peterson and outfielder Mallex Smith.

And in dealing Gattis—the man, the myth, the legend affectionately known as El Oso Blanco—to the Houston Astros, the Braves cashed in at peak value, getting two very good prospects in right-hander Mike Foltynewicz and third baseman Rio Ruiz for a powerful but offensively flawed, defensively limited, injury-prone player who already is 28 years old.

In short, Hart made the Braves younger and cheaper with each of these moves, which also was the right choice given the state of the NL East, a division Atlanta used to dominate but that instead was flag-planted by the Washington Nationals last year and very well could be again.

After winning the East by (count ’em) 17 games over the Braves and New York Mets, the Nationals went out and signed right-hander Max Scherzer for $210 million, one of the game’s very best starting pitchers, making arguably the sport’s best rotation even better.

With the Mets and Miami Marlins also on the upswing, armed with enough young talent to have a chance to make a run at a wild-card spot this year, that would have left little room for the Braves to make any headway in 2015.

“Look, we weren’t going to be favored even if we kept everybody and added two pitchers,” Hart said via Paul Newberry in The Augusta Chronicle. “But I think the future is significantly brighter because of what we were able to do this winter.”

And Atlanta would have been even worse in 2016 without Heyward and Upton. So Atlanta traded them while it still could—while they still had value—and managed to pull in promising returns in the form of youngsters who can develop and grow and blossom between now and, oh, 2017.

That, of course, is when SunTrust Park, the Braves’ new stadium in Cobb County, is slated to open.

So in fact, all of this activity has the team aimed at once again being a contender by the time the address changes. At least, that’s how this could shake out, in theory.

After a busy—and rather unexpected—offseason, the Braves are going to look a lot different in 2015 than they did in 2014.

While that might hurt a bit next year, if they make good on their returns and time everything right, the decision will look smart—and the pain will be gone—by 2017.


Statistics are accurate through the 2014 season and courtesy of, and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.

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