The yard sale at Upton Abbey continues

upton abbey banner

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.

Ryan Braun’s Kansas City Jam

mkc

A week ago, Baseball Prospectus’ daily podcast celebrated its 500th episode by holding a “baseball draft” in which a few writers drafted their favorite things about baseball. Grant Brisbee’s first-round draft pick was “the other Ryan Braun,” a focal point of his interest in baseball players with the same name as each other. As it turns out, just before that Ryan Braun synthetically rose to prominence, a young-ish reliever named Ryan Braun pitched for the Kansas City Royals for two seasons.

On Monday, I started a free trial of satellite radio. I’m still deciding if I’ll stick with it, partly because I tend to think the stations can be too narrow in scope, but for now I really am enjoying their bluegrass station and the fact that I can listen to the Detroit Tigers Radio Network game broadcasts outside of the conventional listening area. One of the first songs I heard was by someone named Lou Reid, and I heard it again last night. (So much for the liberating medium of satellite radio!) We’re big Lou Reed fans here, so the conceit of this post birthed itself pretty quickly. Today’s Jam is the only video version of that Lou Reid song I could find, and if you’re wondering about the audio quality, yes, this is an amateur taping of a CD release party, which was held in the parking lot of a North Carolina Wal-Mart.

If I can, I’ll just add a quick happy birthday note to ALDLAND. It’s been a fun three years. Thanks for stopping by.

Flying Tigers: Where are the Bats?

cabbatI have the good fortune to have spent portions of every summer at an old, out-of-the-way place in southwestern New York that historically has named among its variety of curious attributes a large bat population. The particular species is known, semi-colloquially anyway, as the little brown bat, and its surprisingly heavy presence was readily noticeable visually and environmentally (the prime example of the latter being the localized dearth of mosquitos). In the past year or two, the little brown bat population there has declined steeply, however. An invasive mold-related disease seems to be to blame. If the fact of the problem is known and the cause of the problem is suspected, the solution at this time is neither. The situation feels helpless.

Meanwhile, in Detroit, the bats have gone missing too, albeit in a far less dire context. While all eyes are on the bullpen, the simple and obvious truth is that successful baseball teams combine good pitching and good hitting. A shut-down bullpen alone does not a winner make. I’m not saying that general manager Dave Dombrowski’s priorities are misplaced in trading for a reliever (Joakim Soria) or even two (a lefty, please) before the trade deadline this afternoon, but if a trade could inject some life into a surprisingly weak Tiger offense that seems like it’s really missing Jhonny Peralta and a healthy Miguel Cabrera, that might not be a bad idea.

The Tigers plated 796 runs last year. They’re on pace for 758 this season. Continue reading