MIAMI – John Hart may have been less than truthful every time he said he would not trade closer Craig Kimbrel, but the Braves’ president of baseball operation at least didn’t try to hide the obvious Monday.
“People don’t have to try to read anything into this,” he said, a few hours before the Braves’ were scheduled to open the season against Miami. “This trade doesn’t make us better, that’s for sure. And the sheer timing of it is difficult.”
Timing may have been the worst aspect of Sunday’s stunning trade that sent Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr. (and his contract) to San Diego. Braves’ players, organization members and fans had all winter to process the major changes in the club that including trading Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis.
They had all spring to find some semblance of stability and prepare themselves for the season.
Then everybody was hit over the head again with a mallet — and on the eve of the season. Kimbrel was a great player, popular teammates, a good guy and active in the community.
In the end, is trading a great closer from a team that most project will win only 70 to 75 games going to make a significant difference? The Braves certainly may lose more games now because they don’t have Kimbrel and the depth in the back of the bullpen takes a hit. But in the end they probably weren’t going to make the playoffs anyway.
The issue is more about perception and the message the front office is sending before the team even throws its first pitch or takes its first swing.
Hart maintains he was not going to trade Kimbrel – at least not now – until San Diego general manager A.J. Preller phoned him Tuesday or Wednesday and expressed a willingness to take Upton and the remaining $46 million on his contract. But what about that message everybody in the organization had been trying to send that there was still an expectation of this club competing? What about those “parallel lines” Hart said the team was walking, with an eye on both the future and today?
Hart didn’t completely back away from that Monday but he said he understands the backlash and expected it.
“It’s not the ideal time,” he said. “But it’s the right thing for the organization.”
Manager Fredi Gonzalez echoed those sentiments when asked if the trade was contrary to the message that had been articulated: “Not in my mind. Our goal is to get to the playoffs, whether it’s a wild-card or a play-in game or whatever. That doesn’t change one bit. What changes a little bit it how do you get to that ninth inning (because of bullpen depth).”
On the whole, Braves players seemed upbeat before the game. Some of the shock and sting of losing Kimbrel may have worn off from the night before.
The team also held a pre-game meeting to clear the air and reaffirm the message about competing.
Gonzalez later: “It’s a big boy’s world. In three hours you have to go play a game.”
Pitcher Alex Wood: “It was a shock, more from a personal level. He’s one of my closest friends, so from that standpoint it was really tough. And it’s a lot of emotions going into opening day. It’s just another reminder how this game is. We’ve been through a lot of stuff this offseason, and then last night I lost somebody close to me. But we have a game today. We still have 162 inside of us and we’re excited to get started.”
It’s somewhat ironic the Braves are opening the season against the Marlins, the organization probably best known for past house-cleanings and payroll dumps. Miami is probably the second-best team in the National League East this season, behind Washington.
How different will be Braves be this season? Well, here’s their opening day lineup:
- Eric Young Jr. (center field)
- Jace Peterson (second base)
- Nick Markakis (right field)
- Freddie Freeman (first base)
- Christian Bethacourt (catcher)
- Kelly Johnson (left field)
- Alberto Callaspo (third base, in lieu of Chris Johnson)
- Andrelton Simmons (shortstop)
- Julio Teheran (pitcher).
This should be interesting.