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.

Atlanta Braves President of Baseball Operations John Hart, center, talks with reporters in the dugout before a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Atlanta Braves President of Baseball Operations John Hart keeping it “quiet” at the 2016 MLB Winter Meetings (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

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

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