2009: A Time to Rebuild?

While watching the Braves battle it out against the very young and very talented Diamondbacks and Brewers this past week, my mind kept returning to the same thought over and over again: where is the young Baby Braves talent?

It’s not something I’m used to worrying about as a Braves fan, but after spending several months mulling through the Braves minor league rosters and stats, I’m about 95% positive that there just isn’t enough talent in the farm system to sustain a run at the division title (and definitely not a World Series title) after the current regime calls it quits. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Bobby Cox knows what I’m talking about, as do Frank Wren and John Schuerholz, and even guys like Chipper and John Smoltz are probably somewhat aware of the situation. It’s a sad thing to accept, but we’re going to lose Glavine, Smoltz, Chipper, Teixeira, and Bobby Cox all within the next year or two, and we simply don’t have the talent to replace them.

Braves fans all over the country will tell you that we’ve got plenty of young talent, and guys like McCann, Escobar, and Frenchy will dutifully carry on the torch once their comrades have retired and moved on, but what most fans are forgetting is that none of them can take the mound and pitch a quality start every fifth day. Right now our number one young pitcher is Jair Jurrjens, and after him there is a huge drop off in talent among the Braves minor league pitchers, and statistically speaking, Braves fans can only look forward to more guys like Jo Jo Reyes and Kyle Davies over the next several years.

If you look around at some of the other major league teams, it becomes very obvious that the Braves are severely lacking quality young arms. The Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics, Arizona Diamondbacks, Florida Marlins, San Francisco Giants, L.A. Dodgers, New York Yankees, and Cleveland Indians all have a level of pitching talent in the minors that is far superior to what the Braves have. It’s not even close. I wish I could say that I’m exaggerating just a little bit, but I’m not. Conservatively speaking, I would estimate that our pitching depth in the minor leagues ranks us somewhere in the area between 20th and 25th among all major league clubs, which means that unless we can stumble across some real gems in the next year or two, we’re gonna’ be toast until 2012 at the very least. It’s that bad.

So where does that leave the Braves? We haven’t done well drafting pitchers over the last decade, and quality arms are hard to come by in the free agent market (not to mention incredibly expensive), and we’ve already traded away most of our top minor league talent to land Tex (who will probably walk away this off season leaving the Braves with nothing and no one to replace him). If we can’t draft, sign, or trade for pitching talent, what else is there left to do?

Unfortunately, I think the only thing the Braves can do is start all over again. We’ve got talented hitters coming up through the system, but most of those guys are 3-5 years away from being productive major league starters, so maybe while we wait for them to come around the Braves can spend every other resource they have on acquiring and building up a talented bunch of young starting pitchers. They’ll probably need to refine/overhaul their scouting approach, dig down deeper when researching for trades, and set up a payroll that can support a major off season free agent acquisition. Starting in 2009, we’ll have to suffer through losing seasons, say goodbye to old friends, and worst of all we’ll have to accept the fact the the Atlanta Braves are no longer part of an unheralded dynasty. It will take time, and it will probably be very painful for Braves fans to watch, but if done correctly, the Braves could come away with a solid rotation capable of carrying them through to 2020 and perhaps beyond. Just thinking about it hurts my soul, but it has to be done.

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