Sixteen months ago, the Atlanta Braves had one of the worst farm systems in baseball. Bad drafts and poor choices on the international market depleted a minor league system once consistently ranked near the top.
The Braves then fired Frank Wren, the general manager. And since John Hart and John Coppolella took over the front office, there has been a quick revamp that now has Atlanta's farm back at the top.
ESPN's Keith Law recently ranked the Braves as having the best farm system in the game, while MLB.com ranked the Braves second behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. That's a big improvement in a short period of time.
Trades have been a big reason for the improvement, as the Braves have taken players who were not going to stay in Atlanta for the long term and turned them into prospects to build for the future.
"The future" is what you'll hear about a lot this season. The Braves are coming off a 67-win season in 2015, and to believe they're going to turn that around in one year is unrealistic. This organization is rebuilding, and patience is required to let the process play out.
But something that actually didn't happen is part of this story. There was one move that was almost made that could have drastically changed the course of this rebuilding process.
When the 2014-15 offseason started, the New York Yankees were looking to replace Derek Jeter. New York's general manager, Brian Cashman, wanted Atlanta's Andrelton Simmons.
Coppolella, the mastermind of the Braves' moves, had an idea. He thought he could get rid of some excess salary if the Yankees really wanted Simmons bad enough.
Coppolella didn't want to deal Simmons, but if the Yankees were willing to take on B.J. Upton and Chris Johnson, the deal would be made. Oh, yeah, Atlanta would also throw in Jason Heyward, a player they believed would leave the next year as a free agent, along with reliever David Carpenter, a pitcher the Yankees coveted.
For those five players, the Braves would have acquired five of New York's top 14-rated prospects -- pitchers Luis Severino, Ian Clarkin and Manny Banuelos, catcher Gary Sanchez and outfielder Aaron Judge. It would have been a five-for-five trade that would have shocked the baseball world.
The Yankees did not want Upton and Johnson, and who could blame them. Those two were owed a total of $68 million, and add that to the money owed Heyward and Simmons, and the Braves would have saved around $132 million if the deal had been made.
Thankfully, the deal died. The Braves eventually traded all five of those players, and the return has been remarkably good.
Heyward was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals (along with reliever Jordan Walden) for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins (now the Braves' eighth best prospect, according to MLB.com). Miller was then swapped to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Ender Inciarte (this year's starting center fielder), infielder Dansby Swanson (now Atlanta's top prospect) and pitcher Aaron Blair (Atlanta's fourth best prospect).
Simmons went to the Los Angeles Angels, along with catching prospect Jose Briceno, for Erick Aybar, who will start at shortstop this season until Swanson is ready, and pitching prospects Sean Newcomb (Atlanta's second best prospect) and Chris Ellis (rated 14th).
Coppolella convinced the San Diego Padres to take Upton, but he had to give up closer Craig Kimbrel. The Braves got Matt Wisler (now in the rotation), Cameron Maybin (swapped later for a reliever), a draft pick (that turned into Austin Riley, now the seventh best prospect) and significant salary relief.
Johnson went to the Cleveland Indians for Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, which saved about $15 million.
Carpenter did go to the Yankees (along with reliever Chasen Shreve) for Banuelos, who likely will be in Atlanta's rotation this season. So that was the only part of the blockbuster trade that happened.
With all the trades that were made after the one with New York fell apart, the Braves now have two members of the starting rotation (Wisler and Banuelos), the starters at shortstop and center field and seven of their top 14 prospects in the farm system.
Yes, sometimes the best trades are the ones that never happen. That one deal falling apart for the Braves was a blessing in disguise and has given the team a future.
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 twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.