Atlanta Braves Best Decisions of the Decade – Part Two

BOSTON, MA - MAY 29: Jason Heyward #22 of the Atlanta Braves is congratulated by teammate Freddie Freeman #5 after hitting a solo home run in the third inning against the Boston Red Sox during the game at Fenway Park on May 29, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The Braves have been an up and down team since the start of the 2010 season. Though the team has made three trips to the postseason this decade, Atlanta has also had four straight losing seasons. The franchise has not struggled this mightily since the late 1980s.

While the team continues to rebuild, this two-part article looks back at some of the crucial decisions from this decade. Part one examined the decision to not re-sign fan-favorite Brian McCann and the decision to institute an organizational rebuild. Those decisions, and the ones mentioned in this article, were tough but necessary moves for the outlook of the franchise.

Atlanta Braves Best Decisions of the Decade – Part Two

Choosing to build around Freddie Freeman instead of Jason Heyward

Not only was this one of the best decisions of the decade, the move is arguably the best decision of Frank Wren during his tenure as GM. For what it’s worth, fans certainly had reason to believe that both were going to be the cornerstone pieces for the franchise for years to come. The anticipation leading up to Heyward’s debut as a 20-year old on Opening Day 2010 was not unlike the hype surrounding Ronald Acuna heading into 2018. Heyward stormed out of the gates with an 18 home run season to go along with elite defense. Freeman would debut later in 2010, but with slightly less fanfare and fewer results.

Both players performed well at young ages. However, both possessed distinctly different skill sets. Freeman was a power hitter without much speed and flexibility in the field. Heyward could hit for power, though not as consistently, while also displaying elite speed and defense in the outfield. And after the signing of Melvin Upton Jr. and acquisition of Justin Upton, it became clear that the Braves would not look to sign both young stars to a long-term deal. Deciding on one had to be nerve-racking at the time.

Fans finally received an answer on who it would be when Atlanta bought out the last two arbitration years of Heyward. The team subsequently signed Freeman to an eight-year, $135 million contract. While the Braves never came and said that they were not re-signing Heyward, it was clear the team would not be able to meet his price on the free agent market. Choosing Freeman was risky, but the move has worked out.

In terms of total WAR since signing their respective deals, the two players are quite close. Heyward has posted 16.5 while Freeman has a slight lead at 17.2. However, those numbers do not tell the full story. The last two seasons have not been kind to Heyward while Freeman has turned into one of the best first basemen in all of baseball. Heyward has 3.8 WAR over the past two years while Freeman has 10.9 and a sixth place finish in MVP voting. Freeman also cost around $17 million less for those two seasons. Both players were great young stars for the Braves, but sticking with Freeman long term should be viewed as a pivotal moment for the franchise.

Firing Fredi Gonzalez

For those wondering, this should not be taken as a 100% stamp of approval for current manager Brian Snitker. However, there is no denying that Gonzalez had to go. Gonzalez was fired in 2016 after the team started the season with a record of 9-28. The team was not the most talented in recent history while rebuilding, but a change was definitely needed. What is truly surprising is that Gonzalez lasted as long as he did managing the Braves.

It should be pointed out that Gonzalez had the unenviable task of replacing HOF skipper Bobby Cox. Truth be told, Gonzalez never seemed to click with fans or players. In his first season at the helm, fans watched as the Braves squandered a lead in the wild card race. Atlanta went 9-18 during a disastrous September and found themselves at home for the postseason after entering the month with an eight and a half game lead in the wild card standings. The Braves would make the postseason in 2012-13, but questionable decision making in the 2013 NLDS helped the Los Angeles Dodgers eliminate Atlanta in four games.

Along with his questionable on-field decisions, Gonzalez never endeared himself to fans in the way Cox did. While it is unfair to compare the two, such a drastic shift from a players manager in Cox to the often complacent Gonzalez was tough for fans to take. When Atlanta had such a horrendous start to 2016, it gave management all the motivation it needed to make a change. It was the right move, albeit a few years later than necessary.

Hiring Alex Anthopoulos/restructuring front office

The franchise suffered what initially appeared to be a devastating blow in the 2017-2018 offseason. Then GM John Coppolella was forced to resign and was later banned from MLB for numerous infractions during the signing of international free agents. Atlanta was stripped of multiple prospects, including highly-touted Kevin Maitan, and John Hart was also forced to leave his post in the organization.

The rebuild was not yet complete and the Braves were already looking for another GM. To say the outlook was bleak would be an understatement. Then, something incredible happened. Somehow, the Braves were able to lure Anthopoulos away from his position with the Dodgers to take over. Even more significant, Atlanta handed him full control over baseball operations.

Time will tell the true significance of the decision to hire Anthopoulos. For now, the move looks to be a huge silver lining on an otherwise dreadfully dark chapter of Braves baseball. Anthopoulos possesses the kind of knowledge, experience, and track record to guide this rebuild out of dark days and into a bright future.

Be sure to check out Part One of this article here!

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