“They are rebuilding. Who cares?”
I’ve said these five words, in two simple sentences, a lot these past few months. It’s something worth repeating, even now that the Atlanta Braves’ season is over.
Losing is no fun. It’s awful. Even if a team is rebuilding, it doesn’t mean losing is acceptable. No one with the Braves wanted to lose 90 games this season. They hoped for more wins, as every team does when they break spring training and start the season in April.
The fact the Braves won only four more games than last season is a step in the right direction. It’s not great, but it’s progress. The point of my five-word mantra is that the record is not that important. Progress, in the process, is important.
Three years ago, the Braves reconstructed front office started this. At first, they didn’t even want to use the word. With the new stadium coming, they were afraid of the phrase “rebuilding process.” One of those takes time, and it’s not something that needs to happen when you’re opening a new home.
Look at the progress that has been made in the process since it started. The Braves have a young nucleus in the middle of the infield with Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson. They have one of, if not the best, prospects in the game in Ronald Acuna. And the season-ending rotation had five of the six members at 26 years old or younger.
Oh, and most believe the Braves have the best farm system in baseball.
So, with that in mind, as people far and wide — fans and reportedly even unbelievably front office personnel — have gone nuts about the losing the past two months, I’ve had to continually say, “They’re rebuilding. Who cares?”
Now, I care if they win. That comment doesn’t mean I enjoy the losing or want the Braves to lose. But if this process is going to work, at least for a while, results don’t matter as much as they do when the team is not going through this.
Sure, they need to learn how to win. They need to create a winning culture, and that is slowly happening. But there is absolutely no point in the fans or the front office losing it about meaningless games when the team is rebuilding.
This is season three of the rebuilding process. It takes time. For the Braves to do what they set out to do, build a consistent, sustained winner, it takes a lot of time. Great progress was made this season, even though they improved by only four wins. Who cares? What matters is where this organization is now compared to where it was six months ago and especially, three years ago when this all started.
The 2017 season is over, and the results of this process might not even be seen until the next decade. There will be more progress, and more wins, next season. Maybe, if things go perfectly, the Braves will even be in the discussion for the wild card. Then, in 2019, more progress will be made. This doesn’t happen overnight.
No one logically believed the Braves would go from 68 wins last season to be playoff contenders this season. Things had to fall perfectly for them for it to even be an outside possibility, and when Bartolo Colon fell apart early on, that chance went out the window.
It wasn’t like Colon, Jaime Garcia and R.A. Dickey were going to be Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. They were placeholders, fill-ins, until pitchers like Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims and Luiz Gohara were ready.
Don’t you feel better about the rotation now, with Newcomb, Sims, Gohara and Max Fried ending the season compared to what it looked like April 3 in New York on Opening Day?
These pitchers showed us something — progress. They showed us that there is hope, there is a future and there are better days ahead. The emergence of Albies and Johan Camargo was great to see, as was Swanson’s improvement after returning from Triple-A.
And if you keep up with the minor leagues, you know it was a tremendous year for the farm system. The pitching prospects, as a group, could not have done better. Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, Touki Toussaint and Kyle Wright showed us they’re not far away, while position player prospects like Austin Riley and Cristian Pace emerged to complement Acuna.
Brian Snitker is in a tough situation. He’s supposed to win games, as any MLB manager is, along with preparing the Braves for better days. But he wasn’t handed a team that could have won 80-plus games. Again, when Colon failed, that dream ended. This was a team in transition, not a team striving for October.
There is no reason to take a step backwards by changing the voice in the dugout. His players love him and respect him, and that matters. Perhaps give Snitker help, with a better coaching staff and more talent (like a better bullpen), and let Snitker continue to help these kids get to that next level.
The last time the Braves went through this, they were 54-106 in year three of the rebuild. That was 1988. This year, in year three of this process, they were 72-90. I know, different time, different rebuild. But don’t dwell on the record. Look at the great progress and just remember when it comes to stressing about meaningless games the last two months… They are rebuilding. Who cares.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.