Bill Shanks

Shanks: Atlanta Braves are ahead in race to rebuild

On Monday night, Rome Braves pitcher Touki Toussaint pitched six no-hit innings against Lakewood. It was the latest example of how the Atlanta Braves’ “retooling” project continues to be a very positive step in making the Braves consistent winners in the future.

While I’m still not on board with rewarding mediocrity by extending the major league manager’s contract, the front office has me convinced it is doing most everything right in this process. The farm system is better than it has been in decades, and we will see another infusion of talent with the trades before July 31.

Pitching is the key in baseball. Of the top 10 teams ranked in ERA in baseball, only one team has a losing record. St. Louis has the best record in baseball, and despite losing it best starting pitcher, Adam Wainwright, St. Louis has the best team ERA in the game.

We know all too well how pitching can be the key to a turnaround. The Braves did it 25 years ago and constructed a rotation with three future Hall of Famers. The starting rotation led by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz created unprecedented success for the Braves.

That’s the blueprint the current front office is trying to duplicate. Toussaint is a product of that effort. He was practically purchased from Arizona two months ago in a deal that had everyone applauding the Braves. Toussaint is a 19-year-old right-hander with great stuff who was Arizona’s first-round pick a year ago.

Expect the Braves to go after more pitching in the deals before the trade deadline. A year ago, the Braves’ farm system was pretty bare. Now, it’s one of the best in the game, as the trades and last month’s draft have restocked the minor league system.

The Braves did the remake quickly. They knew the formula in place last year did not work, so they immediately made critical changes.

But look at the Philadelphia Phillies. They dragged their feet on trading aging stars. They had no specific plan in place, and now players who helped lead them to a World Series title seven years ago are untradeable. They have some prospects, but Philadelphia’s farm system is still not ranked very high by most analysts.

The Chicago Cubs actually took a different approach by stockpiling position players. They then signed a big free agent pitcher, Jon Lester, and likely will soon trade some of those position players for more pitchers. That seems to be working.

The decision on pulling the plug on a season and starting over is never easy. Just Tuesday morning, reports surfaced the Detroit Tigers, who are at .500 (46-46) are thinking about selling before the deadline instead of trying to add players for the stretch drive. They are worried if they don’t trade left-hander David Price for prospects, he’ll walk away as a free agent, and they’ll get nothing more than a draft pick.

Give the Braves credit. They bit the bullet and scrapped what had been in place before. They’ve been aggressive and creative in their trades. They have cut the payroll to get as much dead money off the books as possible, giving the team financial flexibility moving forward. All the moves won’t work perfectly, but the plan certainly looks solid.

It might be tough to watch the Braves at times the rest of the season, but be happy they are not the Phillies. At some point, all the hard work the front office is doing now will pay off.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at Follow Bill at and email him at