Christmas came a few days early for Braves fans, as the club announced a five year extension with Gold Glove center fielder Ender Inciarte on Friday morning. The 26 year old Inciarte was acquired during the 2015 Winter Meetings along with Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair for Shelby Miller and Gabriel Speier. “We are thrilled to announce an extension for Ender said GM John Coppolella in a team release. “We feel that he’s the best defensive center fielder in baseball and one of the best leadoff hitters in the game” Coppy added.
In his first season sporting the Tomahawk, Inciarte overcame a hamstring injury in the first month of the season to hit .291 with a .351 OBP over 131 games. As the teams lead off hitter, Inciarte hit .308 and boasted a .372 OBP in 76 games at the top of the order.
Friday’s extension will also put the bed the rumors of Inciarte being a trade chip. It also likely means that Mallex Smith will begin 2017 in Gwinnett. The Atlanta outfield is set heading into SunTrust Park with Matt Kemp under control for three more seasons and Nick Markakis locked up through 2018.
Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for @680_The_Fan and the @BravesRadioNet
OXON HILL, MD – Today, the 2016 MLB Winter Meetings will come to a close. Over the last 4 days, all 30 MLB teams have been represented at the Gaylord National Harbor Hotel just across the Potomac River from Washington DC. The tradition of baseball teams getting together to address business during the winter actually dates back to December of 1876, when, among other things, William Hulbert was selected to be the president of the National League, and 2 teams (the New York Mutuals and Philadelphia Athletics) were expelled from the league for failing to play all their scheduled games. Lots of things have changed since then.
This year, the Braves were very quiet compared to the 2015 Winter Meetings when Atlanta pulled off one of the biggest trades in recent memory (Dansby Swanson). This year, the Braves addressed all of their “needs” prior to the meetings. Upon arriving to DC, all John Coppalella and John Hart had were a list of “wants.” That included coveted lefty, Chris Sale. When Sale went to Boston, that ended the Braves quest for a starter. They feel that they have what they need, but Sale was worth kicking the tires on. “It’s fair to say that there aren’t a lot of Chris Sales on the open market right now. Sale was an outlier almost. There really isn’t anyone else like him available.” John Hart said. With Sale gone, interest from other teams has gone to another White Sox pitcher, Jose Quintana. Hart also spoke on the speculation that the Braves might be interested in his services, “I’m not sure you’re going to see him traded here, but we’re not opposed to having the discussion. I’m not sure we’re in that spot to give up a lot of prospects for him either. We like Quintana, but he’s not Sale.”
Position by position, John Hart spoke with the media and addressed the situation of each station. “Catcher? We’ve got Flowers, we feel good. We pursued Castro, we just didn’t like where it went. We wanted to improve there. That’s an area we looked at in these meetings, but how many catchers are you seeing flying around out there? How many are on the market? You know, 1st base, we’re set. 2nd, we have Albies knocking on the door. We signed Sean Rodriguez. You’ve got Jace Peterson. You’ve got Dansby for shortstop. 3rd base….you know, where do you go with 3rd base in this market? You say, ok, you want to go jump (Justin) Turner? Then the next thing you know you’re saying qualifying offer…..draft pick compensation….how much you going to spend? You look at your outfield….who’s going anywhere in your outfield? You look at your bullpen, you say, alright, do I want to jump in the Kenley Jansen/Aroldis Chapman market at 80 million? Mark Melancon at 60 plus million? Starters? We said do we want to keep going with young guys, or sign guys to 1 year and provide more time for your young guys? We’re trying to develop big arms. From where we sit, and where we are in our glide path, we’ve got a chance to compete. We’re not going to print World Series tickets right now, but we’re going to be tough. We know what Washington is…..the Mets and where they are…..but listen, we were a tough team with limited starting pitching last year. If the offense is as real as we think it is and the bullpen can provide us some depth, we’re hoping these starters will work and we’ll have a chance.”
That’s a good synopsis for where the Braves stand going into 2017. The “ifs” are big, but imagine the outcome if they all work out. Experienced starters who should be able to routinely go deeper in games. A young, but talented pen that shouldn’t be worked nearly as hard as they were a year ago. A lineup that hammered the ball for the final two months of the 2016 season, and a solid group that believes they’re going to improve greatly in 2017. I like the quote “we’re not going to start printing World Series tickets right now, BUT…..” and that’s where the Braves are. It might not happen this year, but the confidence that winning baseball and trips to the playoffs are now within the reach of a season or two is now very plausible.
Ben Ingram – Atlanta Braves Radio Network
OXON HILL, MD – 2017 spring training is still 2 months away, but Braves manager, Brian Snitker, is already optimistic about the new names in his pitching rotation for the upcoming season. Veterans R.A. Dickey (42), Bartolo Colon (43) and Jaime Garcia (30) certainly bring experience to the table. The veteran trio has a combined 41 years of major
league experience, and had all 3 of those guys been in the Braves rotation a year ago, they would have finished 1st (Colon; 191.2 inn), 3rd (Garcia; 171.2 inn) and 4th (Dickey; 169.2 inn) on the team in innings pitched for the season. Julio Teheran, who led the team in that department, finished with 188 innings.
Had it not been for a lat injury to Teheran in July of last year, he most likely would have reached 200 innings for the season. 200 innings is viewed as a benchmark for starting pitchers, and it’s a goal of Teheran’s to reach that plateau every season. In fact, he accomplished that in 2014 and 2015. So let’s assume Teheran, who will turn 26 in January, has a typical Julio Teheran season. That would mean about 32-35 starts, and about 210-220 innings logged in 2017. That would be a big step in the right direction for him and the team. Mike Foltynewicz logged 123.1 innings in 2016, and there is no doubt that Folty is ready to go above and beyond that in 2017. So let’s also assume he is able to reach somewhere around 160 innings this season. That leads us to the 3 new additions: Colon, Dickey and Garcia. Let’s assume each of those 3 do about what they did a year ago…………..’IF’ all of that comes to fruition, and you don’t see any major injuries (yes, fingers crossed because that’s a really big IF), then you’re talking about a rotation that gives you just north of 900 innings of combined work in 2017. That would be more than Teheran, Wisler, Foltynewicz, Blair, Perez, Norris, De La Cruz, Jenkins, Gant and Weber combined for in 2016.
“When we had our meetings at the end of the season, getting starting pitching was our focus. We didn’t want to rush the young guys and force feed them, so we knew we needed innings. Pretty much everybody that was targeted by the organization we pretty much got” Snitker said this morning. He went on to say “We were looking for guys who could bridge a gap so our young guys could get more time to develop, and not have to rush them into a situation they’re not ready for.” In 2016, the Braves had no choice but to pitch younger, less-experienced guys in situations they probably weren’t ready for. It showed, as the Braves finished 24th in the big leagues in team ERA, 23rd in strikeouts, 25th in runs allowed and 25th in walks. If you wanted to know why the Braves lost 93 games in 2016, the mound would be a great place to start. The hope is that more innings from the starters means a lighter work load for the bullpen. If that happens, and the offense blisters the ball they way they did in the final two months of the season, the 2017 Braves just might sniff a .500 season. “If these starters are out there for extended stays and are covering the innings that we expect them to cover, we’re going to be very competitive and we’re going to win a lot of games” Snitker said of his new rotation. The health of the staff is absolutely vital.
In conclusion, spring training 2017 will be unique in the sense that there aren’t multiple jobs to be won in the rotation. In fact, unless something unpredictable happens, the rotation seems to be set 1-5. Teheran, Colon, Garcia and Dickey are all considered to be locks for the rotation. “We’re going to break camp with 1 young guy” John Hart said of his rotation. He went on to say that “Folty is the young guy we favor for the 5th spot at this point.” As things stand right now, the Braves intend on Matt Wisler, Tyrell Jenkins, Aaron Blair and other young starters to begin the season in the minor leagues as they need more time to develop. In the case of Wisler and Blair, “They need more time to develop a finishing pitch” Hart stated. “You’re going to have injuries, and it usually takes at least 9 to 10 starters to get through season. Those young guys will get their chance in 2017, but when that time comes, it is definitely time for them to take that next step.” So when it comes to the rotation, so long as there are no spring injuries, expect a rotation of Teheran, Colon, Garica, Dickey and Foltynewicz. And as Snit confirmed, the feeling is that more innings and more consistency from the starters will lead to a lot more wins in 2017.
Ben Ingram – Atlanta Braves Radio Network
OXON HILL, MD – After talking with John Hart and John Coppolella this evening, it appears that the Braves feel like they would be fine, and are in a good position, should they have a quiet Winter Meetings. The biggest of rumors swirl around a trade that would send Chris Sale to Atlanta, therefore giving the Braves the “ace” pitcher they covet. As things stand right now, the Braves would LOVE to have Chris Sale…..who wouldn’t? But the asking price from Chicago is far too high for the liking of Coppy and Hart. The two didn’t name any names, but it’s with certainty a trade that would involve the Braves sending Dansby Swanson, a current starting pitcher (Foltenewicz or Teheran), plus 2-3 top prospects to the White Sox. Coppy and Hart were both adamant about “sticking to the plan” and not unloading the system that they worked so hard to build. “We don’t want a window [to win in] we want waves” Coppy said. Insinuating that their goal is to maintain a steady pipeline of great prospects to a winning big league club. They don’t intend to cut off the pipeline just to have a 2-3 year window to win now.
One of the biggest reasons they feel that way is because they feel like they have multiple future 1’s and 2’s in their minor league system, and they don’t want to trade them away, only to get 3 years down the road and see 2-3 guys they used to have pitching at the top of other big league rotations. For now, the plan (which could always change) is to go to Spring Training envisioning their rotation being Julio Teheran, Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia, R.A. Dickey and Mike Foltynewicz. Other young players like Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair “will have their shot, but when they get that shot this year, it’s really going to be time to take that next step” John Hart said. Insinuating that if they come up to pitch in the big leagues in 2017, and aren’t any closer to being consistently good, then it may be time to look for other options.
One thing is certain, the Braves brass has has made it abundantly clear that the young guys who have had opportunities to pitch in the big leagues already don’t have any guarantees. Every position has to be earned. The 2016 Braves staff only had 2 men pitch more than 150 innings (Julio Teheran and Matt Wisler), and only 1 went beyond 180 innings (Teheran). While going 20-10 in their final 30 games and being amongst the best offensively from August on, the Braves had no pitching, and no one to eat innings. The additions of Garcia, Colon and Dickey bring the hope of more innings from starters, and essentially put Folty, Wisler and Blair in the position of “get better or don’t plan on being in the big leagues with Atlanta.”
Ben Ingram – Atlanta Braves Radio Network
OXON HILL, MD – The 2016 MLB Hall of Fame class will include a Braves legend when inductions are made this summer in Cooperstown, NY. While it’s still a mystery as to which candidates will be elected from the BBWAA ballot, we do know that the 16-member Today’s Game Era committee has selected former Braves General Manager, President, and current Vice Chairman, John Schuerholz, as well as former MLB commissioner, Bud Selig, as Hall of Famers. Schuerholz is best known for being the architect of the Braves 1991-2005 era of dominance in the NL East and National League as well. Schuerholz, a unanimous selection, engineered two franchises to World Series championships, the 1985 Kansas City Royals and the 1995 Atlanta Braves.
When I asked John what this experience has been like over the last several hours, he answered “Awesome! That’s the only word I can think of to describe what the last 24 hours have been like. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be in the hall of fame.” “Awesome” is a great way to describe the run of excellence his teams experienced for many years on the field. Over the course of his career, he worked for 3 different franchises: Baltimore, Kansas City and Atlanta. His career began in Baltimore in 1966 after writing a letter to the team with the hopes of persuading the Orioles to hire him. They did, and Schuerholz became an administrative assistant under then farm director, Lou Gorman. Schuerholz followed Gorman to Kansas City to join the expansion Royals in 1969. In 1981, at the age of 41, Schuerholz became the youngest GM in the big leagues at that point in time. The 1985 season was his crowning jewel with the Royals, as his bunch overcame 3-1 deficits in both the ALCS and World Series to claim a World Series Championship.
In 1990, Schuerholz left Kansas City for Atlanta. He would go on to forge a minor league system that was routinely one of the best in baseball. Over the course of time, prospects like John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Dave Justice, Steve Avery and Chipper Jones led the Braves from cellar-dwellars to baseball royalty. It wasn’t just the farm system that Schuerholz succeeded in rebuilding, he also hit big on free-agent acquisitions, as well as trades. The additions of Terry Pendleton, Greg Maddux, and Fred McGriff turned out to be enormous moves that help bring a championship to Atlanta. With future Hall of Fame manager, Bobby Cox, in the dugout, Schuerholz’s bunch went on to win 14 consecutive division titles, as well as the 1995 World Series.
Altogether, John Schuerholz has spent over 50 years in Major League Baseball. His teams have made the playoffs 24 times, won 16 divisions crowns, 6 pennants, and 2 World Series titles. His resume is one of excellence and consistency, and there is no doubt this honor is well deserved. Schuerholz becomes the 6th Hall of Fame inductee recognized primarily for his work as a general manager.
-Ben Ingram, Atlanta Braves Radio Network
For Immediate Release: December 1, 2016
Braves and Cardinals complete four-player deal
ATLANTA, Ga. – The Atlanta Braves acquired LHP Jaime Garcia from the St. Louis Cardinals tonight in exchange for RHP John Gant, RHP Chris Ellis and INF Luke Dykstra.
Garcia, 30, won double-digits for the fourth time in his career last season, finishing 10-13 with a 4.67 ERA in 32 games, 30 starts, for St. Louis. The 6-2, 213-pound native of Reynosa, Mexico, struck out 150 over 171.2 innings, while becoming one of six National League lefties to make 30 or more starts. His 171.2 innings were the second most of his career, trailing only his high of 194.2 in 2011.
Originally drafted in the 22nd round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft by the Cardinals, Garcia made his MLB debut in 2008 before winning a career-best 13 games in 2010 and 2011. He has spent his entire eight-year career with St. Louis, compiling a 62-45 record and a 3.57 ERA, which ranks 14th lowest in the NL since his rookie season. He is signed through the 2017 season.
Gant, 24, went 1-4 with a 4.86 ERA in 20 games, seven starts, for the Braves in his rookie season last year.
Ellis, 24, finished 12-9 with a 4.49 ERA in 28 starts for Triple-A Gwinnett and Double-A Mississippi last season, while Dykstra, 21, spent his season at Single-A Rome, hitting .304 in 81 games.
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It’s amazing the difference 365 days can make, isn’t it? At the end of the 2015 season, Braves fans were looking at a long offseason ahead with not a whole lot of optimism. After a 42-42 start to the season, trades and injuries played a big part in the reason the team won just 25 of its remaining 78 games. But, 2016 was a much different story. After a five win April and 9-28 start to the season, it would have been really easy for the 2016 Braves to just go through the motions and look ahead to next year. But this team didn’t do that. His team fought hard every single day. This team finished with the best winning percentage in baseball from August 28th through the end of the season, scoring the second-most runs in baseball over that span. Those are just a couple of the reasons we saw Brian Snitker’s “interim” tag removed as he was rewarded with the full-time gig.
All season, the goal was the same, to try and win as many games as possible and avoid the dreaded 100 loss mark. Well, while it wasn’t exactly the mission this team set out to achieve when camp opened in February, it was mission accomplished for the 2016 Braves. One year ago, there was a sour taste in the mouths of everyone involved. This year, hope and optimism follow the club into the offseason. An offseason that will likely be spent finding one or two starting pitchers and attempting to upgrade the catchers position.
Unlike the last few offseasons, Atlanta’s shopping list shouldn’t be nearly as extensive. The outfield is covered with Kemp, Inciarte and Markakis. Smith could find himself as either a fourth outfielder to start or in Triple-A to get regular playing time. Markakis could also be traded between now and Opening Day, but that seems less likely. Around the infield, Freeman and Peterson have the right side covered, while Swanson proved he’s Major League ready and Garcia took serious strides defensively. The bullpen is also in relatively good shape, leaving the starting rotation as the number one priority. It will be a busy offseason, but maybe not as hectic as we may have expected three or four months ago.
– Kevin McAlpin, Braves Radio NBetwork
Nine days after the 2016 season came to an end, the Braves made it official on Tuesday morning, naming Brian Snitker the full-time manager of the club. Snitker, in his 40th year with the organization, took over after Fredi Gonzalez was relieved of his duties on May 17th after the club got off to one of its worst starts in franchise history. At 9-28, the Braves were on pace to lose over 115 games. Snitker, in his third year as manager with Gwinnett was promoted to interim skipper with no guarantees for the future. But, his team was resilient and responded to the change at the top.
Atlanta went on to improve its win total from 5 in April to 10 in May to 12 in June before taking a brief step back in July (10-16). But, following a 13-15 August, the Braves won 18 of their final 30 games in September and October against a number of teams fighting for playoff spots (Nationals, Mets, Marlins, Tigers). While a 68-93 record overall may not seem all that impressive, consider where they started. Just five wins in April. Five! In the first half, Atlanta was 31-58, but finished two games over .500 (37-35) in the second half of the season. After the way this team got out of the gate, it would have been really easy to pack things in and count the days until October 2nd. But this team did not do that. They came to play 27 outs every single night. At the deadline, the Front Office brought in Matt Kemp to help boost the offense. All that move did was add about two runs of offense per game, giving Freddie Freeman some much needed protection in the lineup.
Brian Snitker deserves a lot of the credit for what the Braves were able to accomplish in after a disastrous start. He earned the right to have the interim tag removed and become the next manager. His players openly petitioned for him to get the gig, constantly saying how much they appreciate his style of leadership. And for Snit, it’s an opportunity that was over 40 years in the making. A well respected man around the baseball community that’s done a little bit of everything for the Braves now has his chance at a full-time managerial role in the Majors. 40 years is a long, long time. But, for Brian Snitker, I’m sure today makes all the hard work, long bus rides and years of thinking this day might never come all that much sweeter.
@KevinMcAlpin covers the Braves for @680_The_Fan and the @BravesRadioNet.