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How Did the Braves Rebuild So Quickly?

Braves 2B Ozzie Albies, 3B Austin Riley, and former Braves SS Dansby Swanson; Photo via All-Pro Reels; CC BY-SA 2.0

The year was 2016. The Chicago Cubs just beat the Cleveland Indians in one of the best World Series of all time, and those two teams looked poised to be powerhouses for the next few years. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the leaderboard, just barely above the 59-103 Minnesota Twins, sat the 68-93 Atlanta Braves. They had just finished their last game in the infamous Turner Field and had parted ways with their manager, Fredi Gonzalez, midseason, replacing him with longtime organizational coaching staff member Brian Snitker. Just two years later in 2018, the Braves won their division for the first time since 2013. They then won the NL East in each of the next five years and are showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. How did the Braves go from losing nearly 100 games to being NL East Champs in just two years?

It starts with the Braves’ management. Halfway through the 2016 season, the Braves fired manager Fredi Gonzalez after over 5 seasons and a 1-4 record in playoff games. This led to the promotion of the AAA affiliate team’s manager to the big leagues. That coach was none other than Brian Snitker, a man who has been with the organization since 1977. So from 2017 on, Brian Snitker has manned the helm in Atlanta. That same year, the Braves also brought in legendary third base coach Ron Washington and leading baseball ops executive Alex Anthopoulos. Those outside the Atlants faithful may not care much about these managerial hires, but Braves fans, including myself, associate these three names with the dominance of Atlanta baseball over the last six years. I could write articles on each of these men’s impacts individually, but I will try to keep it short. 

Ron Washington, known for his aggressiveness on the basepaths and his good nature in the dugout, could almost be given sole credit for the great defenders on the Braves over the last few years. Dansby Swanson, who has won two Gold Gloves, and Ozzie Albies, a two-time Gold Glove nominee, have specifically credited Washington for making them the fielders they are today. Ron Washington had just about every intangible trait that helps a ball club win, and for Braves fans, it was a very sad day when he left to become the manager of the Angels.

Brian Snitker brought the experience that is needed in successful baseball management. He was not a player, but he worked within baseball operations for as long as he can remember. His refined baseball intuition balanced nicely with the extremely analytical mind of Alex Anthopoulos and has led the Braves to multiple division titles. He is almost the antithesis of the most famous Braves manager of all time, Bobby Cox. Snitker is known for keeping his cool and rarely arguing with the ump. He has enacted a platoon-type role in left field for the last couple of seasons, which has led to a boost in performance from players such as Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, and so far this year, Jared Kelenic. 

Alex Anthopoulos is the biggest piece of this dynamic trio, as he has just about single-handedly pieced together the team we have today. He is not only smart with statistics, but he is also smart with money as well. Thanks to AA (as I will refer to him for the rest of this article), the Braves have some of the best contracts in terms of WAR/$100,000. AA has become almost exclusively known for the insanely team-friendly contracts he has locked down over the last few years. Here are a few of the most team-friendly deals:

  • Ronald Acuna Jr. - 8 years, $100 Million; 26.1 WAR, ROTY, 3x Silver Slugger, 4x All-Star

  • Ozzie Albies - 7 years, $35 Million; 20.6 WAR, 2x Silver Slugger, 3x All-Star

  • Michael Harris ll - 8 years, $72 Million; through 3 seasons, has 125 OPS+ and 12 OAA

These are players that are going to be staples to the Braves offense, along with players like Matt Olson, Sean Murphy, and Austin Riley, and the earliest any of them will be free agents is Ozzie Albies in 2028. AA was able to lock down almost an entire starting nine on extremely team-friendly contracts, and he is sure to continue that trend with all of the Braves' up-and-coming young pitching. We already have seen this with Spencer Strider’s six-year, $75 Million extension signed in 2023. 

AA is also known for the insane value he gets from his trades. I want to go over the trades he made in 2021, the year the Braves won the World Series. First, he traded Chad Sobotka and Patrick Weigel to the Brewers for Orlando Arcia. Arcia is now the Braves starting shortstop who had the job of filling in for fan favorite Dansby Swanson after he left for the Cubs. Arcia more than delivered, making the NL All-Star team in his first full season at shortstop for the Braves. Then there were the infamous trade deadline moves:

  • Traded Bryce Ball to the Cubs for Joc Pederson

  • Traded Mason Berne to the Diamondbacks for Stephen Vogt

  • Traded Kasey Kalich to the Royals for Jorge Soler

  • Traded Alex Jackson to the Marlins for Adam Duvall

  • Traded Bryse Wilson and Ricky DeVito to the Pirates for Richard Rodriguez

  • Traded Pablo Sandoval to the Guardians for Eddie Rosario and cash

Pretty much every baseball fan knows how this went for the Braves. Eddie Rosario won NLCS MVP, and Jorge Soler won World Series MVP. Joc Pederson would have won NLDS MVP if that was an actual award, and he brought a lot of excitement and personality to the team, coining his shiny pearls. All of the other acquired players had significant playing time for the Braves that season, having their memorable moments. 

The Braves farm has also consistently produced top talent. So much success that there was actually not enough room on the field for all of the great Braves prospects, which led to them having great trade bait. For example, back in 2022, Braves fans were shocked when it was announced that lifetime, fan-favorite Brave, Freddie Freeman, had signed a mega-deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. This at first angered Atlanta fans, but the next day, Atlanta traded with the Oakland A’s for Matt Olson, trading away top prospects Shea Langeliers, Christian Pache, Joey Estes, and Ryan Cusick. This trade was almost a no-brainer for the Braves who had a stacked outfield already with Acuna and Harris, which left no room for Pache, and had a slew of great young arms, which left pitchers like Cusick and Estes to be expendable. The biggest part of this deal was Shea Langeliers, who was supposed to be the Braves catcher of the foreseeable future. Well, it turns out that the Braves had a hidden gem in William Contreras in 2022, so Langeliers was not missed. But then the Braves turned around and traded Contreras after the 2022 season in a 3-team deal for an even better upgrade in Sean Murphy, who is arguably the best catcher in the league. Out of all the players the Braves traded away, William Contreras is the only one who has done anything of note. While he is playing great, like I said before, there was just no room on the Braves for him. 

Following both of these trades, AA went and, of course, signed both players to team-friendly extensions to lock up Atlanta’s catcher and first baseman for the next 6-8 years. Looking back at these deals, I am sure  Braves fans would not change anything.

I talked about how successful the Braves’ farm was in developing players that were used as trade bait, but what about the players that made the team? Atlanta’s minor league ranks produced players such as Ronald Acuna, Austin Riley, Spencer Strider, Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Michael Harris, Max Fried, and A.J. Minter, just to name a few. Admittedly, a few of these players were not drafted by the Braves, but all of those players spent at least three years in the Braves minor leagues, and that is where they saw significant success and development. All but one is still with the team.

The Braves have also had some great 1-2 year deals over the last 6 years. The 2019 Braves brought in the wonder of Josh Donaldson, otherwise known as “The Bringer of Rain”. After that season, he struggled to either stay healthy or play to the level that he did with the Braves, but the memories remain for Braves faithful. Between 2019 and 2020, Mark Melancon had 22 saves and only 2 blown saves. Kenley Jansen was acquired in 2022 and was a serviceable closer, pitching to a 122 ERA+. These three, along with many utility and bench players, created amazing supporting casts for Atlanta’s star players, and some have even etched themselves in Braves fans’ memories. No Braves fan will forget Brian McCann’s walk-off in 2019 against the Phillies, the Mike Soroka Cy-Young-caliber season, the Mike Foltynewicz All-Star year, and many, many more.

There is a saying in sports that “you cannot buy a championship.” In baseball, we recently saw this with the New York Mets, who went on huge spending sprees in the 2022 and 2023 offseasons but have won zero postseason series over the last two years. This is another reason why the Braves have seen incredible sustained success. Their main core is made up of homegrown players and has been supplemented by a few big free agent signings and trades. Along with that, to acknowledge some of the more intangibles, they have some amazing clubhouse personalities. I've never seen a team have as much fun as the Braves do. It is a refreshing sight to see players living out their dreams, enjoying and appreciating every second they are on the field. I thoroughly believe that this chemistry comes from mostly all being homegrown, some of them even being from Georgia already, like Matt Olson and Michael Harris II. While seemingly small, a cohesive team that plays together is a critical advantage that few teams can boast.

When you combine the genius work of the new management, the great production from the farm system, the fantastic play from the players on short-term deals, the expert workings of AA in trades and contract extensions, and the overall great team atmosphere that accompanies the Braves, you are going to get a championship team. Is there some credit to be given to just the players being good? Yes, of course. It is rare to have so many prospects perform this well and to have pretty much all your trades work out well. But in the end, the Braves have created a dynasty that will be competing for the World Series title for years to come, and every year, they are only getting better.



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