Folks, it is that classic time of the year we all know and love: the official start of the Braves baseballing season! By now we should have all had enough time to recover from that disastrous 2015 affair, during which the Braves writhed and groaned their way to 67 wins. We here at the store needed a little extra recovery thanks to the fact that we thought it’d be a good idea to keep up with every. single. series. via our Series Previews™ during a rebuilding year. That was a horrific idea, and we regret it every day. Today is a new day, though, and 2016 is a new year, so it’s time to make an all new regrettable decision that we will be sure to hate ourselves for in a few months. As of today, BGS is introducing our new bi-weekly series: The Road to 69!
Road to 69 gets its very mature and very serious name from the Braves 2016 team projection. FanGraphs’ depth charts have us projected for the second fewest wins in baseball this year with, you guessed it, 69 wins.
This means that, just like last year, we’re in for another long and grueling struggle bus of a season. This bi-weekly post is what we’ll use to get ourselves through this while preserving some semblance of what little sanity we have left. What you can expect will change week to week and could include some combination of scouting, stats, analysis, recaps, stories, and fan fiction. Read every other week, or never read at all, we don’t really care. It will be here at noon every other Monday (or Tuesday depending on what K did that weekend) ready for the world to see.
For this opening post, let’s simply get acquainted with who will be taking the field this year.
On April 2, the Braves made official their opening day roster.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) April 2, 2016
Some of these names are familiar from last year, some are new to everyone, and some are familiar from about five years ago. I’ll be completely honest about the fact that I didn’t realize some of these guys were on the team at all (seriously, who is Dan Winkler and when did EOF come home?), so this post is just as much for me as it is for you. There’s no point writing about the guys who are returning from last year, so instead we’ll work through all the new names.
Wait, when did he get back?
Kelly Johnson, Jeff Francoeur, and Eric O’Flaherty are all back with the Braves. Seriously. How in the heck did this happen? Why did this happen? Kelly we’ve already covered extensively last year, but if you’re like me you’re probably wondering about the other two. Frenchy AKA The Natural has had an interesting career since leaving Atlanta in 2009, playing in both the majors and the minors for six different teams as both a hitter and, briefly, a pitcher. Back in February he signed a Minor League deal with us with an invitation to spring training, fighting for that coveted fifth outfielder spot. Michael Bourn and Emilio Bonifacio each put up decent efforts through the first of April, but ultimately Frenchy was the former Brave to win out. Does he have any chance of figuring things out again this season? lmao jk, fam let’s move on.
Eric O’Flaherty has only pitched 50 major league innings since leaving the Braves after 2013, mainly with the Athletics but also for a couple months with the Mets last year. He never put together anything resembling his strong run with Atlanta and appears to have been brought back as much for nostalgia as anything else. Alex Torres (the big hat guy) was the other lefty fighting for this treasured bullpen spot, but we ended up letting him go just three days after we snagged Eric from the Pirates. I’ll honestly be surprised if he’s still on the roster in May.
Where did he come from?
Signing former White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers was one of the first move the Braves made this year, and he could have been included in the group above. A product of Blessed Trinity Catholic High School, he was drafted by the Braves out of Florida in ’05 and was later part of the prospect package that landed us Javier Vazquez from the White Sox in the 2008 offseason. Vazquez gave the Braves a career year, while Flowers led a life of mediocrity. He’ll replace Christian Bethancourt as the unrealized catcher potential on the roster.
Gordon Beckham is the next former White Sox on the roster, signed to a one year deal just two weeks before Flowers was. He’s nothing but infield filler and not worth writing about. Same for former Ranger Drew Stubbs in the outfield. Bud Norris, Alexi Ogando, and Jose Ramirez are all bad to possibly mediocre relief pitchers from San Diego, Boston, and Seattle, respectively, who were brought on to do nothing more than cheaply fill roster spots, so congrats to the lot of them for making another big league roster. Bud was actually paid $2.5 million for said roster spot for reasons I couldn’t begin to articulate other than that not being a lot of money in the modern baseballing world. One interesting fact about the three is that Ogando was originally an outfielder before being converted to a pitcher in 2005 #themoreyouknow.
Ender Inciarte is the final nomad in this group, having been brought over with Dansby Swanson in the 2015 fleecing of the Diamondbacks. Ender is interesting, because he has a decent shot to be our second most valuable player this season behind Freddie Freeman. He’s a solid all-around player, with above-average-but-not-elite defense and baserunning and the ability to hit for a high average. He averaged 3 WAR per season over the last two years with the Diamondbacks and is under team control until 2021, making him one of the more under-rated acquisitions of this off-season. Don’t be surprised if he earns himself a spot on the roster for a few years to come.
He pitched for us last year?
Dan Winkler was a Rule 5 pick by us back in December of 2014 and was on the DL until September 2015. He pitched 1.2 innings for us last year, striking out two and allowing two home runs, leaving him with an ERA, K/9, and HR/9 of 10.80 for the season. You’re forgiven for forgetting him, too.
Besides Flowers and Inciarte, it appears our only plan with these guys is to hope they outperform and become decent trade pieces at the deadline. The rest of the guys on the team who weren’t covered here are all familiar faces and shouldn’t be a surprise to see on opening day (which was actually yesterday, when this post was supposed to run, but I digress. See comment about K above). Look them over for a refresher if you’d like, but I can’t stress enough how unexcited you should be. Be excited for baseball in general, but not for these players specifically. Go Braves!