The Braves traded Justin Upton because they didn’t have a choice

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

There’s not much that a front office can say to appease a disappointed fanbase after they just traded (another) one of the franchise’s best players.

But the Atlanta Braves made the right move in dealing left fielder Justin Upton to the San Diego Padres on Friday.

Here’s what happened to the Braves over the last 10 or so years. General manager Frank Wren took a “win now and worry about the consequences later” approach to building a baseball team. He consistently brought in high-priced superstars, usually in exchange for three or four prospects from the Braves’ farm system, in hopes that the team could become an immediate contender.

Then, when the season ended, that superstar left town to sign with a ballclub that could afford to pay him big bucks over many years, and the Braves were left with one fewer big-name player and three or four fewer prospects.

Repeat that same process dozens of times over a decade, and you have a real problem.

Fast-forward to 2014, when the team didn’t hit, despite Wren’s attempts to mortgage the future on big bats and a few good arms. Those big bats are once again about to demand big money that the Braves won’t be able to pay, so what’s the point in holding on to them for one more mediocre season?

New GM John Hart was able to exchange Upton for four prospects – two of which were first-round draft picks in the past. They’re good players that will help boost a thin farm system. And when the Braves move into a new stadium and a new era in 2017, hopefully they’ll be ready to contribute.

Much of the Braves’ success in the 1990s was due to a farm system that was constantly packed with top talent. Many of the big names that carried them through an amazing decade were home-grown. There’s a chance to get back to that mindset, if Hart can make some good trades this offseason.

It’s likely that the Braves aren’t done dealing. Even if they can’t move BJ Upton, they’re reportedly in talks to send Chris Johnson out of town and maybe land some young talent for Evan Gattis as well. And while this might sound crazy, they should explore options to trade Craig Kimbrel as well, because they won’t need a closer for the next year or two, and who knows if he’ll still be effective three years down the road given the short shelf life of a Major League Baseball closer.

The next few seasons are going to be lousy for Braves fans as the franchise rebuilds, but it’ll pay off in the long run. Had these moves not been made, the team would probably be mired in mediocrity for many, many more years a la the Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1990s and 2000s. Now, Braves fans will have a fighting chance to see competent baseball when SunTrust Park opens.

But, unfortunately, this is the way it’s going to look for probably the rest of the time the Braves play at Turner Field:

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