The yard sale at Upton Abbey continues

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It’s been a while– too long– since the last dispatch from Upton Abbey, but today’s news commands an update.

The Braves’ offseason has been one filled with departures. First, they allowed a number of their free-agent pitchers– Ervin Santana, Kris Medlen, and Brandon Beachy, among others– to walk, along with role player Tommy La Stella (via trade). Then came the biggest move of all: Atlanta traded Jason Heyward, its best player and a fan favorite by virtue of his abilities and history in the Braves’ farm system, to the hated Cardinals for some mystery meat.

Now Justin Upton is departing for San Diego, the latest of the Padres’ marquee offseason acquisitions. In exchange for the younger Upton, who is heading into the last year of his contract, the Braves will receive four minor leaguers, including Max Fried, which sounds like a selection on the Popeye’s menu but actually is just a twenty-year-old pitcher who’s already had Tommy John surgery, and something called Mallex Smith. If you can stomach that sort of writing, here are scouting reports on these prospects.

Braves fans can be forgiven for feeling like they’ve been whipsawed. After competing for a playoff spot two years ago and combining the high-profile acquisition of the Upton brothers with contract extensions for most of their infield, it looked like Atlanta was really building something.

As it turns out, the Braves are building something, but it isn’t a good baseball team. The construction of the new Cobb County stadium– much reviled in these e-pages— is the lens through which these moves can be understood. It now is clear that new general manager John Hart has his marching orders: deliver a team that will be competitive in 2017, the year the new park opens. “And not a moment sooner,” fans might add.

There’s nothing wrong with rebuilding. Every team not named the Yankees and (now) the Dodgers has to do it from time to time. What’s likely to trouble baseball fans in Atlanta is the sudden downshift into rebuilding mode apparently for the sole purpose of optics: the Braves organization wants to unveil its new– and, again, controversial and probably illegal– park with a competitive, if unrecognizable, team on the field. The timing was off. The best way to arrive in 2017 with a good team is to sell off your assets that are valuable in 2014. Expect to see Craig Kimbrel traded during the 2015 season. That’s what’s happening now.

Were the Braves of 2013-14 world-beaters? Obviously not, and the 2014 season exposed flaws that everybody chose to pretend didn’t also exist in 2013. But there was a framework there. The team didn’t cry out to be blown up. My strong suspicion is that it wouldn’t have been, even with a new GM in place, absent the construction of the new park. And that’s a stupid reason to hit the restart button.

Upton Abbey: Season Two Preview

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Upton Abbey is our Atlanta Braves series, now in its second season. B.J. and Justin Upton are off to rough starts, but overall, the state of Upton Abbey is strong. Tune in all season long right here on ALDLAND.

The Braves are opening at home this week with series against division foes New York and Washington. They started the season on the road in Milwaukee and Washington, going 4-2 on that trip, dropping just one game in each city.

Atlanta’s young, ascendant starting pitchers were the story heading into the season. That talent vanished with still-shocking swiftness, duplicate round-two Tommy John surgeries, and other injuries clearing out the bulk of the rotation. Still, the remaining starters, led by Julio Teheran and Alex Wood, have looked pretty good so far. Craig Kimbrel remains the best closer in the game, so that’s something that will help reassure a young, trembling group of starters. Reliever Luis Avilan’s hamstring injury, suffered this week, is cause for concern, but you’re getting the theme pretty clearly at this point.

The main non-injury offseason personnel event was the departure of free agent catcher Brian McCann to the Yankees. While the still-raw Evan Gattis (and the wily Gerald Laird) may be able to replace some of McCann’s hitting, we should pause here to note the likely dropoff when it comes to the glove. From 2008-13, McCann was the best catcher in baseball in terms of pitch framing; Laird and fellow Braves backup catcher Ryan Doumit were among the ten worst over that period.

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ALDLAND will be at Turner Field for two games this week. Tonight, Commodawg and AD will catch the rubber match in this opening series with the Mets. On Sunday, Physguy comes to town to join AD for the third game of the Nationals series. Stay tuned here and on twitter for the freshest insights and hottest updates.

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Related
Preseason BP Nuggets
A Boy, His Granddad and the Monumental Courage of Henry Aaron (via The Bitter Southerner)

Baseball Notes: Lineup Protection
From Barves to Burbs: What’s Happening to Baseball in Atlanta?