Bill Shanks

Braves need to start over

Even though we are knee-deep in football around here, we need to keep an eye on something else. Yes, college basketball fits into that category, as well, and we are all anxious to see how the new-look Mercer Bears do coming off their win over Duke in March.

You do remember that, right? The Mercer Bears beat Duke.

But it’s baseball’s hot stove league that is now underway, and with the Atlanta Braves having a new front office in place, expect plenty of activity in the next several weeks.

The Braves were 79-83 this past year. It was a team not many fans liked. They underachieved and played horribly for a large portion (after April 30) of the season.

There is not much financial flexibility. They have several bad contracts on the books for next year. But there is one thing they need to do that can start the long walk back to baseball superiority.

The Braves need to start over.

In two years, the team will move into a new ballpark, SunTrust Park, in Cobb County. That’s what the front office needs to have in mind for this offseason. It can’t wait until next year or two years from now. The team needs to start from scratch and start the process this year.

Let’s refrain from using the “r” word of rebuilding, but it’s certainly close to that. When teams don’t have a good farm system and their major league team needs a reboot, what else can it be, really? But that’s a taboo word in baseball. No team wants to call it a rebuilding process and make fans think it won’t be competitive for a while.

But this fan base would probably prefer a team that has hope, has potential, compared to the lackluster effort displayed by last year’s group. The Braves looked like they were reporting for work and punching a time clock instead of playing a game that most fans would give their right arm to play for free.

The first thing the Braves need to do is trade Evan Gattis.

Now we all love Gattis’ story, but he is not going to play catcher for the long-term for this club. Christian Bethancourt is ready to take over, and that does not mean Gattis should move to left field. It’s not like when the Braves moved Dale Murphy from catcher to the outfield in the early 1980s. Gattis needs to be in the AL.

Gattis should have tremendous value. He has four years remaining until he can become a free agent. An AL team should salivate at the potential of Gattis being the team’s designated hitter and occasionally catching or playing first base. The Braves need a lot, and Gattis should be able to get them a lot in return.

Then there is the Braves outfield, which needs scrapping completely. New man-in-charge John Hart should trade both Upton brothers and Jason Heyward.

We all know the B.J. Upton signing helped usher former GM Frank Wren out the door, and it will be hard for Hart to trade Upton. But he has to try. Maybe there is some team that would take a chance on Upton, especially if they think of what he did in Tampa Bay compared to the past two years in Atlanta.

Justin Upton and Jason Heyward are both free agents after the 2015 season. Hart said last week it’s unlikely contract talks would be held with either player before their deals expire. He kept out hope a deal could be reached next winter when they both file for free agency, but we know that’s unlikely.

So if Upton and Heyward are likely to walk, they need to be traded. This organization can’t afford to let them walk away and only get draft picks in return. The Braves need a lot of help, and trading those two should net significant returns.

The Braves need pitching and a lot of it. They need to restock the farm system. They need to get new blood on a team that just stalled last season. They just need a restart.

That’s why the next few weeks will be fun to watch. It might be a difficult 2015 season, but the moves made now could help when the Braves enter the new park in 2017.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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