There have been a lot of comparisons between this year’s Atlanta Braves team and the teams from the late-1980s. That was the last time the Braves went through a rebuilding project, and it’s scary how many things that happened then can be lessons for what’s going on now.
In 1988, the Braves were suffering through the worst season in franchise history. This year’s bunch might challenge that 106-loss season by the time early October rolls around. Like this season, the 1988 team had a number of young pitchers who presented the only real reason to watch on a nightly basis.
Tom Glavine had come up the previous August, but at 22 years old, he was still one of the youngest starters. Pete Smith was also 22, and in July, 21-year-old John Smoltz came up.
But there was one young pitcher who was a bit older and who had just a tad more experience. Zane Smith was 27-years-old in 1988. He was a left-hander who was your typical crafty southpaw. What was also typical of Braves pitchers back then was that Smith had more success after he pitched in Atlanta than when he was with the Braves.
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For some reason, Braves general manager Bobby Cox held off on using the value Smith had as a more established pitcher and did not trade him until the 1989 season. By then, Smith was 1-12 with a 4.45 ERA and had little value. Cox got a package of three players who provided no help to his rebuilding project.
The Braves can’t make that mistake again. This year they have 23-year-old Matt Wisler in the rotation with two 24-year-olds — Aaron Blair and Mike Foltynewicz. Plus, there’s Williams Perez and Julio Teheran, who are both 25 years old.
Teheran has been in the majors the longest. He has achieved the most success and is also tied up in a long-term, affordable contract through 2020. And as the Braves continue to look for more position players for the future, Teheran possibly holds their ticket.
This past week, the Washington Nationals re-signed Stephen Strasburg to a long-term contract. He was expected to be the best free agent pitcher on the market this winter. With Strasburg now unavailable, the remaining list is not impressive.
That means teams that need a starting pitcher might instead look for a young and controllable pitcher through a trade. And the Braves must make Teheran available to the highest bidder.
There has been some concern that Teheran would go the same route as Jair Jurrjens. Remember Jurrjens, the young pitcher who looked full of promise only to tail off with injuries and lackluster stuff? Teheran’s drop in velocity is one red flag that has several worried about his future.
But Teheran still has value. He has averaged just more than 200 innings pitched the past three seasons, and he’s on pace for 200-plus innings this year.
Think of what Boston, for example, might offer for Teheran. The Red Sox need help in the rotation. They have Frank Wren in their front office. Wren is the former Atlanta general manager who signed Teheran to the long-term contract. Wren might convince the Red Sox that Teheran would be a good fit.
The Red Sox have Blake Swihart, a catcher who could instantly improve that position for the Braves. They also have a third base prospect in Low-A, Michael Chavis, who could be involved in a trade. They also have several other heralded prospects who could form a solid package for Teheran.
Those are the sort of deals the Braves would command. And if the Braves could get a potential catcher and third baseman to complement young players and prospects like Mallex Smith, Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, they would have a much better shot at turning this sinking ship around.
But the Braves can’t hold on to Teheran too long. The front office must learn from previous mistakes and maximize the value of the current players. That’s what has the rebuilding project on track and can accelerate it more with a trade of Teheran.
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.