• Manny Machado

    It’s Tomahawk Town vs. Tinseltown: Of Course, Resilient Young Braves Face Dodgers in NLDS

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – When you get right down to it, of course this was going to happen. It happened the last time the Atlanta Braves reached the playoffs in 2013, a last gasp at glory before a wretched four seasons in the wilderness. It happened in 1991 and 1983 and 1982 and heck, even back in 1959, when the Milwaukee Braves lost a postseason tiebreaker that ended their quest to reach a third-consecutive World Series.

    The histories of the Braves and Dodgers franchises are intertwined at multiple points, from Hank Aaron’s record-breaking homer in 1974 to the last great pennant race in 1993 ending with the Dodgers boat-racing the Giants while the Braves won their 104th game to capture the division title by one scant game. And here we go again, starting Thursday night at Chavez Ravine as the Braves make their glorious and long-awaited return to the postseason stage against, of course, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

    You know it was going to happen, right?

    Perhaps the Colorado Rockies would have been a better matchup. Perhaps having home-field advantage would have proven advantageous. Those are bygones at this point, not worth the time to consider. Not with the first pitch of the postseason coming at some time Thursday (we’re waiting on you, MLB). Time to focus on the fact the Braves, losers of 90 games three seasons running, stunned the baseball world by winning the NL East and finishing with 90 victories. The have swash-buckled and grinded and rallied all season to slam shut the door on the rebuild far sooner than most of us dared to dream.

    Their reward: The six-time defending NL West champion, just 11 months removed from Game 7 of the World Series.

    Go get em, boys.

    Seriously, the task appears somewhat tall on first glance, and that’s understandable. The Dodgers have one goal and one goal only: to snap a 30-year world championship drought, which is massively mind-blowing when you consider the Braves, Reds, Angels, White Sox, Astros, Marlins (twice!) and Giants (three times!!) all have captured the brass ring since Kirk Gibson’s famous homer sparked L.A. to a stunning four-game sweep of Oakland.

    Clayton Kershaw, balky back and all, still anchors the rotation. Walker Buehler is one of the top young pitchers in baseball. Kenley Jansen, recovering from a heart scare two months ago, is one of the game’s top closers. The lineup is young, deep and powerful, with plenty of firepower from Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Yasiel Puig and the dude who came out of nowhere, Max Muncy. And did we mention Manny Machado, the July acquisition looking to show out under the national spotlight before embarking on free agency and a contract that will be worth more than some third-world nation’s GNP, roams shortstop and solidifies the batting order?

    This series will be fascinating to watch for a variety of reasons:

    Too Young To Know Better: Every time we felt these Braves might begin sliding as this special season unfolded, they kept the train on the tracks. Yes, the playoffs are different. No, I don’t think the Braves and their squadron of youngsters will be fazed by the bright lights and heightened stakes. Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies and Mike Foltynewicz and Johan Camargo have combined to play zero postseason games, but they and the rest of the young key components of this Braves New World have a tremendous chance far earlier than expected to gain some critical playoff experience. They haven’t blinked to this point. The feeling here is they won’t now.

    Give Dansby a Hand (No, Seriously, Somebody Give Him a Hand): One huge key for the Braves is their passionate hometown heart-and-soul shortstop, who provides outstanding defense at a critical position while proving to be one of the best clutch hitters in the NL. A partially torn ligament in his left hand ended his regular season five days early, and there is concern he won’t be available for the NLDS. If that’s the case, the former Dodger and current Braves Country cult hero Charlie Culberson will fill in admirably, but the Calhoun High graduate being in the starting eight significantly weakens the Atlanta bench.

    Buehler? Buehler?: Anybody who watched Monday’s tie-breaking win over Colorado saw what the fuss is all about with the Vanderbilt product. Buehler may be the best pitcher in the Dodgers’ rotation right now, but because L.A. had to deploy him in Game No. 163, he only can pitch once in this series. Kershaw has the ability to lock down any lineup on any given night, but we saw the Giants get to him Saturday (he owns an un-Kershaw like 3.89 ERA in his past six starts) and has far less tread on the tires than when he faced the Braves twice in the NLDS five years ago.

    Pressure! Under Pressure: Just as almost nobody expected Atlanta to be here, most everybody used indelible ink to put the Dodgers deep into October. The pressure of expectations sits heavy on L.A., which trailed the West by nine games on May 8, sat 10 games under .500 on May 16, and ended the season 9 ½ games in arrears of its Pythagorean win-loss record (92-71 vs. 101-61). Add in the sometimes-shaky manner in which the Dodgers bullpen has gotten the ball to Jansen, and the fact that manager Dave Roberts does not have a contract for next season, and we will see how the Dodgers handle the pressure-cooker of October.

    House Money: The Braves and their fans will hate seeing that phrase, but it’s true. This feels like an awakening of a franchise where everything was stripped down and built back up carefully, in pain-staking, patience-testing fashion. The view from 30,000 feet is the Braves already are winners, getting to the playoffs so soon, the breakout seasons of Acuna, Albies, Foltynewicz, et al, and accomplishing anything beyond this point is gravy. Yes, that’s true. But honestly, the Braves should play with absolutely no pressure. The vast majority is going to pick the Dodgers in this series, and that’s not surprising, given the Dodgers beat Atlanta five times in seven games during the regular season while outscoring the Braves 35-18.

    If they played the games on paper, then this would be irrelevant because not only would Atlanta not win this series, the Braves already would be on the golf course after a season many thought would finish with 75 wins and even the most optimistic prognosticators said .500 would be a fantastic next step. Instead, they leaped forward and never looked back.

    The Braves are in the playoffs for the first time since 2013. As they prepare for their first postseason content in 1,823 days on Thursday, it’s no surprise who stands in their way.

    —30—

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.

    Braves Offensive Swoon Just a Blip or Something More?

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – It was “Sandlot Day” at SunTrust Park on Saturday, complete with a postgame showing of the classic movie following the Braves loss to Arizona. And in the midst of that iconic 90s classic, a famous four-word phrase was uttered on two occasions when Scotty Smalls’ ignorance left his buddies in exasperated shock.

    But safe to assume, those weren’t the only two times on this muggy, cloudy July afternoon when that phrase left the lips of Braves fans as another Atlanta hitter trudged back to the first-base dugout, bat in hand. Eight losses in the past 10 games for a team that had yet to blink in a pennant race joined sooner than expected has everybody on the edge of frustration, and Atlanta’s maddening offensive slump has become a flashpoint for the (insert sarcasm font) always-composed, mild-mannered, slow-to-panic denizens of Braves Country.

    Consider:

    • In the past 10 games, the Braves are hitting .241 as a team with 33 runs scored – six of ’em coming in one inning Wednesday against Toronto – while striking out 100 times and leaving 76 runners on base.
    • The Braves have mustered a grand total of one run in dropping the first two games of this weekend set to Arizona, the type of team Atlanta would see should it reach the playoffs, collecting 11 hits while striking out 23 times.
    • Atlanta has belted two homers in its past eight games, after hitting 98 in its first 87 contests, and both of those came off Ozzie Albies’ bat three innings apart Wednesday.

    It isn’t hard to look at any successful team and find a 10-game stretch where the wheels come off one aspect of the game, be it offensive production or starting pitching or bullpen execution. But when it comes to these Braves, with so many young players performing at a high level for the first time, with older veterans who are enjoying a renaissance of sorts, it begs the question:

    Is this merely a bump in the road, or is it regression to the mean?

    I don’t have the answer, and none of us will know until the final tale of 2018 is told and we see how this week and a half impacted the final, finished product. But I do think there are elements of both in play here.

    This team looks like a squad that needs the All-Star break. Desperately. Like, last week.

    There are several areas offensively where the production consistently is falling short of what’s expected or what’s needed (or both). Each one puts more pressure on the guys who are hitting, and what I’ve noticed the past two weeks is – for the first time this season – the Braves pressing a bit. Baseball’s hard enough without trying to hit a five-run homer with nobody on base.

    Some counter by saying the Braves have faced good pitching during this rough stretch – and Zack Greinke was outstanding for Arizona on Saturday, no question – but one of the hallmarks of Atlanta’s early-season success was beating good pitchers (Sale, Scherzer, et al). Playing in May as a feel-good story is one thing. Playing in July with more eyes and, yes, more pressure on every at-bat, is different.

    I don’t believe this team is as bad offensively as it’s shown of late. Nor, do I think it’s sustainable or realistic to expect this team to lead the National League in batting average and homers and slugging percentage, as it did in barnstorming its way to 15 games above .500 at one point a couple of weeks ago.

    That’s not to say there isn’t offensive talent available here.

    Did Ender Inciarte forget how to hit? No. He brought a career .295/.341/.733 slash line into this season, but he’s not performing at all in the leadoff spot. He’s better than a .241 hitter, but at this moment in this season that’s what he is. It’s time to move him down in the lineup, remove some of the pressure of having to set the table and let him get back on track.

    Is Dansby Swanson a .302 hitter, as he was in 38 games at the end of 2016? Most likely not, but is he the .249 hitter he is now (and that’s after collecting two of Atlanta’s five hits Saturday)? Perhaps he is, but his defense and a .327 average from the seventh inning on this season make it easier to roll him out there every day.

    The above two gentlemen are the first names that fly off the lips and fingertips of a fanbase that spends far too much time in panic mode and far too few minutes enjoying this ongoing emergence from the rebuild. Yes, there will the pain as the scar tissue from four straight losing seasons and an embarrassing front-office scandal is broken through.

    And if you think that hurts, sunshine, just wait until the end of this month, or this offseason, when some of the prized prospect possessions this team has amassed are sent off to fix the holes some of you yell about from sunrise to bedtime.

    The key to making any team successful is putting the parts in the best place possible to contribute to the maximum level for the common good. In baseball, that means determining the right prospects to deal and the right ones to keep. It also means putting players in the best spot to succeed, foregoing personal preferences or comfort levels to amplify a positive impact on the sum of the parts.

    For baseball teams, that comes down to wins and losses. And that squarely sits on the manager’s shoulders. There are inputs from various sources, be it the mountains of data now available in every front office or the weathered eyes and gut of a 40-year baseball lifer. But at the end of the day, I wonder (and in a way, fear) that some of the stubbornness we’ve seen from Brian Snitker these past few weeks will cost him a chance to run this show next spring.

    The players love Snitker, and there is something to be said for that. At the same time, there are instances – be it overreliance on Sam Freeman as the first lefty out of the bullpen or leaving Inciarte at the top of the batting order – that certainly must give Alex Anthopoulos pause. The new Braves general manager has no tethers to Snitker or your favorite prospect.

    Prepare yourself accordingly.

    Anthopoulos spent part of his Saturday entertaining questions from season-ticket holders, with many of the queries focused on the July 31 trade deadline. Every inquiry certainly was reinforced by the pain of a magical season suddenly feeling as if it’s souring by the day (news flash: it’s not, for if nothing else the rest of the NL East is every bit afflicted with its own warts and flaws).

    There will be plenty of work done over the four-day All-Star break this week regarding the rest of 2018 and setting the table for 2019. The players need to be as far away from baseball as possible (save the four Atlanta All-Stars who head to D.C. on Sunday), but for this front office and coaching staff, there will be a lot to discuss before the “second half” begins Friday in Washington.

    There are sensible moves the Braves can make at the deadline that won’t gut the farm system (granted, it would take a lot to gut a system more stocked than a hoarder’s supply of canned goods). It will be fascinating to see how this unfolds for Atlanta over the next two-plus weeks. Some of that groundwork gets laid this week, while the sport pauses to celebrate its best and brightest, while most of the Braves hopefully hit the refresh and relax buttons.

    And no, I’m not expecting Manny Machado to have a tomahawk on their jersey come Aug. 1. The bullpen needs an upgrade (or two, to be honest). It doesn’t take the biggest name. It takes the right player in the right position at the right time.

    So, put away those dream proposals floating all over social media. Atlanta is no more likely to meet Baltimore’s asking price for eight weeks of Machado than the Mets are likely to deal Jacob deGrom – in division – for a haul of Atlanta prospects – again, in division.

    In other words: “You’re killin’ me, Smalls.”

    —30—

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.

    Braves Dealing? All Eyes on Anthopoulos As Trade Deadline Nears

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – Ponder if you will what must be going through the mind of one Alex Anthopoulos at this moment.

    Rewind to November, when the new Atlanta Braves general manager began surveying the landscape of the franchise he had just joined, gazing at promising young talent as far as the eye could see. He had inherited one of baseball’s most-stacked farm systems, with a promising wave of transitional talent having just or poised to break above the surface and into the starting lineup at SunTrust Park.

    One would think – amid the preparation for the upcoming Winter Meetings in December – Anthopoulos fretted little about July. After all, there would be a half-season in the books by then, and countless hours watching play, talking to and of, and otherwise analyzing all these assets suddenly at his disposal.

    But in any idle moments where his mind skipped ahead eight months, did he ever suspect these Braves would arrive at the second week of July, one week shy of the All-Star break, in a virtual tie for first place in the National League East, one of four NL squads with 50 victories, one that finds them at an accelerated crossroads?

    Yeah, not a chance.

    For all the bullishness and the “we expect to win” mentality every executive must pontificate in the early days of spring, the fact remains these Braves have surpassed even the most glass-three-quarters-full optimist’s hopes and dreams. And for all the fun that winning unleashes – and after four seasons that contained more than their fair share of baseball nuclear winter, this organization and its fanbase deserve this – it also brings to bear a very fundamental question:

    What does Anthopoulos do across the next three weeks?

    There are two vastly different camps that have emerged in Braves Country, each defending their premise with a stubbornness that illustrates, if nothing else, how deeply fans care about this franchise:

    One camp says to seize on this moment from the baseball heavens, that for all the promise of tomorrow and the depth of the minor-league system and the feeling this organization will contend well into the next decade, every chance to win is uniquely precious. All it takes is one opportunity to get into the postseason party, especially in an NL that is so wide open with no clear-cut favorite. The Braves have to put the hammer down and do what it takes to ensure they play into October, thus giving them a shot to ride that wave to the most improbable outcome of all.

    The other camp says this season is house money, like an extra helping of mashed potatoes and gravy, an unexpected opening of a window that will remain that way for years to come. The key to ensuring Atlanta stays in the mix well into the 2020s is to protect the tremendous depth of young and impactful talent, knowing the free-agent class this winter coupled with the amount of money coming off the books gives the Braves a shot at virtually anybody in baseball, be it through free agency or the trade market.

    This team is not good enough, as constituted, to win the World Series this season. There is no guarantee any series of moves would be enough to deliver a series victory over the three-header monster lording over the American League. But don’t you owe it to your players, your staff, your organization and your fans, to do everything in your power to take a shot that never is guaranteed to be there in autumns to come, regardless of price or impact down the road?

    Truth lies on both sides, if we’re being honest. The sheer fact it’s July 9 and I’m writing about the Braves potentially making moves that could vault them from surprising division leader to pennant favorite tells you everything you need to know about the vast madness that baseball is capable of unleashing in any one particular season. It also tells you winning never is guaranteed, no matter what prospect rankings and fantasy projections foretell.

    The rental market valuation will drop the closer we get to the July 31 trade deadline, but there are difference-making rentals available. One Manny Machado, inserted into the lineup in Los Angeles or Milwaukee or Philadelphia or Atlanta or Arizona or Chicago, makes that franchise the odds-on NL favorite instantaneously. But at what price for, perhaps, only 60 or 70 days of service before the riches of free agency beckon?

    Is it worth giving up four prospects, at least two and perhaps three of the premium variety? In essence, in a 4-for-1 trade, you’re dealing up to 24 years of control for what you consider potential impact pieces for your team into the middle of the next decade, for an eight-week rental that may or may not get you past the wild-card game?

    What won’t dissipate is the price for controllable talent. It’s one thing to say, “go get J.T. Realmuto or Brad Hand?” It’s another thing altogether when you consider the years of control at friendly salary. The cost of those deals is going to hurt in a big way. Is the control beyond 2018 moving forward worth the cost in prospect capital?

    One has to think, between Thanksgiving dinner plans and learning how many Peachtrees thoroughfares exist in Atlanta and where the Braves minor-league affiliates call home, that Anthopoulos never pondered these questions. Had July crossed his mind at the time, certainly his thoughts would’ve center on which veterans would be trade candidates and which prospects had earned a two-month audition to show what they can do at the major-league level, for a team likely fighting to reach .500.

    But the landscape, the expectations and yes, the immediate opportunity for his new employer, has changed vastly from those cool November days. Things are much warmer now, and Alex Anthopoulos sits squarely in a white-hot spotlight brighter than the Georgia summer sun.

    What he does in the next 22 days will resonate far beyond this October.

    —30—

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.

    Braves could still target a blockbuster this winter

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – “Focus,” I tell myself, as I gaze across a frozen landscape.

    It is Jan. 19. Almost as much snow has fallen at my house as in Green Bay. I need more than two hands to count the number of mornings in the teens. Baseball teams sit mostly idle as spring training approaches, as more than 120 free agents remain unsigned.

    The Hot Stove is frozen deeper than this coldest Georgia winter in memory. Baseball executives remain in a holding pattern that’s befuddling to experts, frustrating to players without a contract and downright maddening to agents.

    If you are Alex Anthopoulos, you sit at quite the intersection in this bizarre offseason. The franchise he now runs looks to step away from 3 straight 90-loss seasons and a disgraceful controversy that stained the organization to its once-pure core. We already have seen a creative deal that rid the Braves of Matt Kemp’s burdensome salary and even more rigid left field defense, in return for money that basically washes out Kemp’s deal overall but expels the outlay this year, not after 2019.

    That in and of itself is a win, and normally we would be content to let Anthopoulos take time to evaluate the megatons of talent in the Braves system. But while we focus, we see the names on the open market.

    The mind wanders …

    Free agent 3B Mike Moustakas

    Free agent 3B Mike Moustakas

    The Hot Corner: Both Johan Camargo and Rio Ruiz are young and have upside, but combined they have 398 at-bats in the majors. Austin Riley, the No. 6 prospect in the organization according to Baseball America, has the natural light-tower power from the right side that could anchor him in the midst of the Atlanta lineup for a decade. The Braves are not keen to block Riley by signing a free-agent third baseman to a long-term deal.

    But Mike Moustakas was a lock in November to get a six-year deal, yet his 38 homers from a season ago remains unsigned. A team with a third-base opening could do far worse than a guy whose OPS topped .800 each of the past three years, a two-time all-star with a World Series ring entering his age 29 season.

    Would a two-year deal with a third-year option entice Moustakas to sign with Atlanta? Probably not. But it is worth exploring.

    The Rotation: Perhaps the most dangerous path in free agency is signing an aging pitcher to a long-term deal, especially one who will be 32 when he throws his first meaningful pitch in 2018. It felt like somebody would throw five or six years at Jake Arrieta when free agency began, considering he’s averaged 188 innings a season while making a total of 119 starts across the past four years, winning 64 games with a 2.67 ERA.

    Sure, somebody still may throw four or five years at Arrieta. That’s not a place for Atlanta to swim given the amount of pitching talent in the system. But part of the reason sage baseball folks say you never can have too much pitching is there are no guarantees arms will pan out, no matter how eye-popping the minor-league numbers.

    Yes, the Braves have more arms than anybody, and odds are more than a few will be solid major league hurlers. But this franchise needs an ace. A proven veteran at the top would provide an impact measured now, and in the years to come.

    A three-year deal for Arrieta? At this point, in this market, it’s worth asking.

    Top prospect Ronald Acuna is likely to join the Atlanta outfield this season.

    Top prospect Ronald Acuna is likely to join the Atlanta outfield this season.

    The Outfield: Ronald Acuna is a prospect of a different ilk. From his throwing arm to his raw power to the way the ball sounds coming off the bat, Acuna is special. He is the best prospect in baseball, and one that will anchor the Braves outfield for years to come. He’s not getting traded.

    There is a better chance the Braves deal H&F Burger and the Chick-fil-A Cow for the Miami Home-Run Monstrosity than Acuna wearing teal (more on that shortly). Atlanta currently has two-time Gold Glove winner Ender Inciarte in center and veteran Nick Markakis, entering the final year of his deal, in right.

    Markakis is owed $11 million and Braves fans are obsessed with arguing either for (38-plus doubles each of the past three years) or against (two seasons with eight or fewer homers and a OPS ticking downward) the 34-year-old. If the Braves make a move for an outfielder, obviously Markakis has to go.

    The Blockbuster: How could one rid themselves of Markakis and at least get value in having to swallow those dollars, while making their lineup and their defense infinitely better? Back to Miami, and focus – there’s that word again – on Christian Yelich.

    Braves social media has drove itself mad this offseason when it comes to the Marlins’ ultra-talented 26-year-old. He is signed for the next four years with a team option for 2022. He is a career .290 hitter who has averaged 14 homers, 34 doubles and 16 stolen bases in his four full major-league season, along with winning a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger.

    Yelich in left field is the bold move that puts the Braves on the cusp of contention, and the money owed through 2022 ($51.25 million total) would allow Atlanta to compete on the free-agent market after next season. The price will be steep prospects wise. The Marlins are reportedly demanding Ronald Acuna headline any trade package for Yelich. Again, that’s not going to happen. However, once Miami is firmly convinced that they won’t be able to pry Acuna from Anthopoulos’ mitts, maybe they will be open to an alternative, but still formidible, offer. A safe bet is at least four or five of Atlanta’s top 15 would head south. It’s worth it. Yelich, Inciarte and Acuna would form one of baseball’s most potent outfields, defensively and offensively. And while it is a reach, perhaps Anthopoulos gets the approval needed to sign a Moustakas or Arrieta. The man loves a blockbuster deal.

    This blockbuster, the one that would bring Yelich to Atlanta, would be enough to not only push the Braves to the edge of contention this season, but make SunTrust Park all the more attractive of a destination for the Manny Machados of the world once next winter arrives. We do know that offseason won’t be frozen.

    We just have to focus to get there.

    —30—

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.

    4 Ways the Kemp Trade Makes the Braves Better … This Year and Beyond

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    ATLANTA – Say this for Alex Anthopoulos. He’s a creative fellow.

    His first deal as general manager of the Atlanta Braves is just the latest example of Anthopoulos making the implausible possible, turning the strange into sensible, building by taking a road few could even imagine, let alone travel to completion.

    For the thought of Matt Kemp playing limited innings in left field to keep his power bat in the lineup in 2018, the Braves were best served by moving the oft-injured veteran. Anthopoulos did just that in a stunning deal Saturday that draws as much attention to next winter as it does to the approaching spring and summer.

    Braves General Manager Alex Anthopoulos

    Braves General Manager Alex Anthopoulos

    Kemp heads back to Los Angeles, where I doubt he plays an inning with the Dodgers given his defensive limitations. In return, the Braves received four players – three of whom could contribute to Atlanta next season; one who already has been designated for assignment. The contracts of Adrian Gonzalez (released upon request), Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir will be absorbed by the Braves in return for Kemp going to the Dodgers.

    This is a good move. It is not addition by subtraction in the sense of dealing one player for, in essence, three players: McCarthy, Kazmir and Charlie Culberson. But look closer, and you see this deal works for Atlanta in several ways:

     

    1. The Budget

    The Braves would have owed Kemp $31.5 million over the final two years of his current deal. In taking on three players entering the final year of existing deals, Atlanta will pay Gonzalez ($22.357 million), McCarthy ($11.5 million) and Kazmir ($17.66 million) a total of $51.517 million. The Dodgers kicked in $4 million in the deal, but the biggest thing is at the end of next season, all that money comes off the books.

    Entering the 2018-19 offseason, one that is chock full of marquee stars (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, etc.), the Braves are going to have enormous flexibility. The only guaranteed deals on the Atlanta roster after next season are for Julio Teheran, Freddie Freeman and Ender Inciarte. There always is a chance Teheran could be shipped elsewhere.

    Despite solid offense, Matt Kemp struggled to stay healthy in a Braves uniform and weakened the outfield defensively

    Despite solid offense, Matt Kemp struggled to stay healthy in a Braves uniform and weakened the outfield defensively

    Even if the Braves were to make long-term offers to a couple of their core internal pieces (say, Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna), Atlanta still will have a massive amount of money freed up to play in the free agent market in maybe the most intriguing offseason in years.

    2. The Outfield

    Speaking of Acuna, moving Kemp now frees up a corner spot for the top prospect in the Braves organization. Acuna boat-raced through three levels of the minors as a 19-year-old, then won MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League.

    Yes, the Braves may opt to keep him at Triple-A Gwinnett for the first few weeks of the season to gain an additional year of control. Culberson gives you a viable option in left field for that timeframe, but make no mistake. Acuna will be up and contributing early in 2018, and now he has a spot.

    3. The Rotation

    Yes, we all know how that worked out last season. Jaime Garcia was serviceable before netting a prospect in a trade deadline deal. R.A. Dickey pitched well at times and really helped the rotation’s younger members by serving as a mentor. Bartolo Colon was a disaster and eventually was sent packing.

    RHP Brandon McCarthy

    RHP Brandon McCarthy

    McCarthy made 19 appearances (16 starts) with a sub-4 ERA last season. A decent showing in spring training slots him into a rotation spot, helping to anchor a group that figures to include two rookies who debuted last season in Sean Newcomb and Luiz Gohara. It also moves a couple of younger arms, most notably Max Fried, into the bullpen to further bolster a group that struggled mightily at times a season ago.

    Kazmir is best described as a flyer, the left-hander missing all of last season with a hip injury. If he is healthy and can produce anything, it would be a bonus.

    4. The Bench

    Culberson, a graduate of Calhoun High, comes home to fill the role Jace Peterson held before the Braves non-tendered him earlier this offseason. Culberson hit .455 in the NLCS and was 3-for-5 in the World Series, and has made 29-plus career appearances at shortstop, second base, third base and left field. Anthopoulos said Saturday that Culberson plays “Gold Glove caliber” defense at shortstop, which largely explains his interest in adding the utility man to Atlanta’s bench.

     

    I have a feeling the Braves are not done yet. There still is the thought of a bridge at third base to get to Austin Riley, especially a right-handed bat with power to slide behind Freeman. Atlanta still could look to move Nick Markakis from right field, but would need now to get an outfielder in return (I know a guy on South Beach who would great in left field with a tomahawk across his chest). The Braves could benefit from another veteran arm or two for the bullpen.

    But after bemoaning the lack of action at the Winter Meetings, the Anthopoulos Era kicks off with a bang: A creative, compelling deal that should show Braves fans the new guy is pretty sharp.

    —30—

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.