Bill Shanks

Braves showing patience to spend money

Atlanta Braves assistant general manager and director of pro scouting John Coppolella talks on the phone in the dugout during batting practice before a game against the Washington Nationals.
Atlanta Braves assistant general manager and director of pro scouting John Coppolella talks on the phone in the dugout during batting practice before a game against the Washington Nationals. AP

It’s always interesting to watch baseball teams that have money to spend in an offseason. They are usually the first ones to contact free agents, to spend money and make huge investments.

And they can occasionally be the team that regrets their decisions.

The Braves had money to spend this winter, still do as a matter of fact. But thankfully, they don’t have as many needs as most last place teams. And they have reinforcements on the way that may be better long-term investments.

The biggest need was for starting pitchers, and it was taken care of quickly with the signings of R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon. They are old, in baseball terms, and that’s what the Braves needed – old, veteran pitchers who can eat innings and help develop the young pitchers on the way.

It was almost a blessing for the Braves that the free agent starting pitching market was not very good this year. Sure, they might have been able to fill a spot for the next several years, but at what cost?

The Braves have the financial flexibility to make a long-term investment, but why do that? Why spend money on a mid-rotation starting pitcher who is likely to be overpaid anyway? Why spend money just because you have it?

Atlanta general manager John Coppolella has passed a solid first test as a GM of a team wanting to win. The last two years he has been tremendous as an executive building an organization that was in dire need of long-term talent. The Braves farm system is better than it has been in decades, and ‘Coppy’ is to thank for that.

Now the team is ready to turn the corner and be more competitive at the big-league level, so this is a new challenge for Coppolella. It would have been easy for him to make a big splash, a big investment for the long-term. But so far, Coppolella has done exactly what the Braves needed him to do.

Coppolella’s short-term investments in Dickey and Colon are perfect. It proves to everyone who might have doubted the Braves’ faith in the young pitching prospects that have been accumulated the last two years. The Braves know they have some special young arms, and they did not want to block them by bringing in mid-level starters who would have been overpaid anyway.

It is wise for Coppolella to check in on controllable young pitchers like Chris Sale, Chris Archer and Sonny Gray. Expect Coppolella to be very careful. Archer, in particular, is tempting, considering his very affordable contract. But the price could be very expensive, costing Coppolella several of his prized prospects.

Letting the prospects develop a bit more, and more importantly increase their value a bit more will only help the Braves into next season. And if they do need help in Atlanta, changes can be made during next season, especially if they happen to be in the wildcard hunt near midseason.

The acquisition of Matt Kemp last July took care of the need for more power in the lineup. Another catcher would make the lineup better, but they may be just fine with Tyler Flowers and Anthony Recker. Those two did very well last season, and if the catching position became an issue Coppolella could address it during the season.

But to overpay for a Jason Castro or a Matt Wieters just because you have the money to spend?

No, thanks.

Dickey and Colon, even in the 40s, make the rotation better. But what will make it even better will be the potential graduation of several minor league pitching prospects next season. Sean Newcomb, Patrick Weigel and Max Fried are three names that could break the glass ceiling at some point during the 2017 season.

If even one of those three can start to contribute, then it will make the patience this offseason worthwhile. These pitchers, and those to follow, could be special. So why not wait on them instead of blowing money on pitchers who you might regret having after only a few months?

So, give the Braves credit. The short-term investments they have made so far are more logical than just blowing the money they have on long-term gambles. That time may come at some point in the future, but not now. Now they must just wait on the fruits of their labor the last two off seasons to come to fruition.

It might well be worth waiting for.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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