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Comparing the Rebuilding Efforts of the Braves and Phillies

Over the course of the past year or so, numerous teams have initiated a rebuilding process. (Interestingly, most if not all of them reside in the National League.) Each rebuild is different; each team has a unique philosophy on how a roster should be managed, through both the good times and bad.

Some teams, typically those in larger markets that can afford larger pay rolls, seem to feel that they can remain contenders and avoid a true rebuild. Others, usually the middling and smaller market teams, may choose to do a complete teardown, following the Cubs’ strategy of getting worse before getting better.

There is no book on how to rebuild a bad team into a perennial contender, but generally, the first step is to move veterans in exchange for players or prospects under team control and at a much cheaper cost. Roster flexibility and less long-term financial strain is paramount.

Let’s take two case studies sampling teams with contrasting rebuilding strategies: The Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves went with the cut bait and tear it down approach, while the Phillies attempted to squeeze every bit of success possible out of an aging roster before waiving the white flag. After the analysis, I’ll grade them—and you should too by posting in the comments.

First, the Braves. (You will notice that players such as Shelby Miller and Hector Olivera are not included, as they were both traded for and traded away during the rebuild.)

 

Atlanta Braves

 

Start of Rebuild – 2014/2015 Offseason

 

Payroll Range:

  • 2016 Opening Day Payroll – $86 million
  • Highest Opening Day Payroll – $112 Million (2014)

 

Notable Players Traded Away (Beginning November 2014):

 

Notable Returns from Trade:

 

2016 Potential Trade Candidates:

 

Top 5 Assets (Non-prospects):

 

Top 10 Prospects:

 

Analysis:

At the time of their rebuild, the Braves actually had quite a few assets that they could have chosen to keep and attempt to make a run with. Recognizing the impending free agencies of Jason Heyward and Justin Upton however, ownership decided to blow it up and start fresh—much like Theo Epstein did with the Chicago Cubs.

The rebuild has not been an easy one for fans though, as the initial returns for trading some of the organization’s favorite players did not look good. Specifically, the loss of Alex Wood and Jose Peraza in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers was heavily scrutinized. In that deal, the Braves acquired Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera as the centerpiece, a seemingly strange move for a rebuilding team given his contract, age, and uncertain performance. Luckily for the Braves, they were able to swap the now-suspended Olivera just a couple of days ago for outfielder Matt Kemp of the Padres. Kemp is just a shell of his former MVP-self at this point in his career, but he will at least provide power for a team that sorely lacks it.

Despite some initial trepidation, fans’ opinions quickly changed in December of 2015. During that offseason, the team made a blockbuster deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, shipping out pitcher Shelby Miller and prospect Gabe Speier in exchange for young centerfielder Ender Inciarte, 2015 first overall draft pick SS Dansby Swanson, and a top-100 pitching prospect, Aaron Blair. As of the writing of this article, this trade continues to look like a major win for the Braves.

It has become evident that the primary goal of Executive of Baseball Operations John Hart is to acquire as much young pitching as possible with the hopes of developing a young, shut-down staff (see New York Mets starting rotation). With seven of their top-10 prospects being pitchers, it is now up to the development staff to prepare these players for the majors. While Atlanta may not be competitors this season, and probably not even in 2017 when their new ballpark opens, there should be plenty of optimism about this team’s future, as they have both a strong system as well as about $25 million in payroll to work with this offseason. Oh, and the team seems committed to holding onto first baseman Freddie Freeman and staff ace Julio Teheran for the long-run.

So what about the Phillies?

 

Philadelphia Phillies:

 

Start of Rebuild – July, 2015

 

Payroll Range:

  • 2016 Opening Day Payroll – $88 million
  • Highest Opening Day Payroll – $177 million

 

Notable Players Traded Away (Beginning July 2015):

 

Notable Returns from Trade:

 

2016 Potential Trade Candidates:

 

Top 5 Assets (Non-prospects):

 

Top 10 Prospects:

 

Analysis:

 

The Phillies have made noticeably fewer moves than the Braves. However, the trades that were made have netted some very good building blocks in the form of nearly MLB-ready prospects. Specifically, the return on trades of Cole Hamels and Ken Giles make up 40% of the team’s Top-10, as well as a major piece of their current rotation in Vince Velasquez. Most exciting for this team, however, may be the development of SS J.P. Crawford, the 16th overall pick in the 2013 Amateur Draft. If he can live up to the hype surrounding him, then fans may be looking at a new perennial All-Star at the shortstop position, and not one named Jimmy Rollins.

One of the major criticisms of the Phillies’ rebuilding efforts was the hesitance of former GM Ruben Amaro Jr. to initiate the process, instead shooting for playoff runs on the backs of the same aging roster year-after-year. Unfortunately, it was no longer 2008, and the likes of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard could not be counted on to bring the World Series trophy back to Philly. Further, the team was unable to maximize the trade value of Rollins and Utley, while still being saddled with the contracts of Howard and 37-year old catcher Carlos Ruiz.

Overall, the Phillies may be closer to contention than the Braves, as their young pitchers, Velasquez and RHP Aaron Nola, are already showing that they have what it takes to maintain a spot in an MLB rotation. Additions will likely be needed to round out that rotation, as Philadelphia’s farm is heavier on position players, but that shouldn’t be an issue with almost $100 million of spending capacity likely to be available. Because of the strength of their farm in terms of position players, as well as the encouraging development of Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera, the team should soon be productive on offense as well. It may not have looked pretty a couple of years ago, but this Phillies’ team is not far away from becoming a force yet again in the NL East.

 

Comparison

Both the Braves and the Phillies are certainly looking towards a bright future, but if I had to choose one, I would likely favor the Phillies. The possibility of a Mets-like pitching rotation in Atlanta is certainly enticing, but look at how injuries have already derailed some of the excitement in Queens. It might be that the Phillies rebuild looks better now because they targeted prospects that were closer to the majors than the Braves in their trades. However, the Phillies already have two pitching pieces in place with Velasquez and Nola, while also being in a market that allows them to spend big in free agency. I prefer Crawford over Swanson at shortstop, and the future outfield of the Phillies looks to be filled with talent.  With neither rebuild complete, the only thing we know for sure is that it will be fun to watch these two teams battling it out for a division crown in the coming seasons.

-Alex Vacca

Trade information courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors.

Header Photo courtesy of Fast Philly Sports

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