On Monday, the Nationals will face the revamped Braves for the third time this spring and first time at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla. The Braves had an active, attention-grabbing winter, signing B.J. Upton to the team’s largest-ever free agent contract; trading for his brother Justin Upton, as well as Chris Johnson and Jordan Walden; and adding Gerald Laird, among others.
The Braves were already a young team expected to be among the top teams in the National League and, with their additions, they remained one. But in doing so, they changed their team’s composition. They went from being a left-handed heavy lineup to a more balanced one with the right-handed Uptons. They traded defense, Martin Prado and Michael Bourn, for home runs and strikeouts, the Upton brothers.
This begs an obvious question: how much of the Braves offseason moves were to match up with their main opponents, such as the Nationals, or to build the best team possible in their eyes? Atlanta General Manager Frank Wren, your thoughts?
“There’s a balance,” he said. “I think from our standpoint it was, we were in a transition phase with Chipper [Jones] retiring. So we had to kind of re-establish a new identity for our ballclub, irrespective of what Washington was doing. We had to re-establish our identity and that was something we had talked about a lot going into the offseason and knowing that Chipper was retiring and so that was one function.
“And the other thing, and it was not just because of the great year Washington had last year, but just in general, we had become a little left-handed dominant. So we needed more balance in our lineup. And so, we were kinda able to put all of that together and re-make ourselves a little bit.”
Well, that answers it. The Braves adjusted their roster but with no admitted and specific opponent in mind. But it’s not impossible to believe they noticed that the Nationals, for example, have two power left-handed starters, Ross Detwiler and Gio Gonzalez. Wren said this winter the Braves had, essentially, the perfect storm of factors to make major moves: money to spend and open spots on the team to fill.
“We felt it was more important to grab more power, more speed and so we went away from that model where you have a pure leadoff hitter,” he said. “Andrelton Simmons is going to be our leadoff hitter, but that’s something he has done a lot in the minor leagues and hasn’t done at the major league level. So I can’t say that anything we did this offseason was reactionary.”
And his thoughts on the Nationals?
“They balanced their club out with a leadoff hitter and a defender and allowed them to put more people in their comfortable positions,” he said. “And that’s what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to optimize your club. And I think they did a good job with that. They did. They deepened their bullpen.”
FROM THE POST
At one point this spring, the Nationals clubhouse had two players educated at Stanford, two at Princeton, two at William & Mary and one at the University of Virginia. About this strange coincidence and whether being a smarty-pants in baseball helps.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
The Nationals will face the Braves at 1:05 p.m. at home in Viera. It appears the regular Atlanta outfield of the Upton brothers and Jason Heyward will be making the trip to Space Coast Stadium. The lineup is not available yet, but it’s likely going to be close to an opening day lineup of regulars with Kurt Suzuki catching Stephen Strasburg.
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY