2014 Braves have to avoid 2013 Nationals

I have observed a week of silence since the Braves playoff exit, and am now ready to move forward… to talk about what should be done next. There’s been a lot of that going on already — at other blogs, on Twitter, and behind pay walls. And there is a lot to say about this team and the direction they should take.

To begin with the Braves will need to avoid same-team-returns-for-next-year syndrome. This is somewhat of the same syndrome that seemed to plague the Nationals this year. By many accounts the Nats even improved their team as they added a lead-off man and a closer after the 2012 season. But for some reason the Nationals floundered in 2013.

The Braves will have this same-team-returns-for-next-year refrain in mind all off-season. But it’s a rotten idea, and one that should die on the vine… and maybe it already has. Atlanta’s only month with a losing record was September, as the offense struggled and the pitching staff was hobbled — a lackluster combination that followed the team into the postseason. In that regard the Braves don’t have to wait until next year to find out that their formula doesn’t work, the past month and a half has already proven that it needs some major tweaking.

But that’s what the Nats did too, right? They tweaked. They added a closer, a center fielder… they improved their team and that’s why every talking head in baseball was picking them to once again win the NL East. And unlike the 2013 Braves, the 2012 Nationals finished out the regular season strong, with a head of steam going into the playoffs. But everything about the 2013 Nats was a little less than the 2012 Nats. They hit fewer home runs, stole fewer bases, got on base less, gave up a few more home runs, and didn’t pitch like they had the previous season.

…So was 2012 just a good year for Washington and 2013 an average year, or was 2012 an average year and 2013 a down year?

This is the same question that the Braves should be asking themselves: was September a down month in an otherwise good year, or was September the average month in a year when the team won more than they should have and over-performed for most of the season. That question will drive one mad.

The first choice I see the Braves having to make is a choice about overall direction for the off-season. Do they believe September was a harbinger of bad things to come and make lots of changes, or do they believe that September was an aberration and just make a few minor tweaks. Should Frank Wren and company put on their trading hats and get out the free agent checkbook and blow the team up, or should they just let the same team return next year?

There are good points to be made on either side of that argument. The Braves have a young core that can be together for a long time, and which will hopefully get better, but they will also become more expensive with each passing year. At what point do the Braves move one of these young stars for another area of need — would you trade a Freeman or a Heyward if it meant acquiring a young ace starting pitcher who could match up against the Kershaws or Verlanders in the postseason? That’s a maddening choice.

There is simply too much to consider for one post, so over the next few days I’ll examine ways in which the Braves can either keep their team in place or blow it up or something in between. There are obvious places to start, so tomorrow I’ll start with the most obvious one, 2013 Rob Deer.

Send comments/suggestions/complaints to me on Twitter @gondeee.

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