Around baseball over the past decade, the Kansas City Royals have often been called the Atlanta Braves West.
The Royals general manager Dayton Moore came from Atlanta, as did some of his front office officials. And in the early years when the Royals were bereft of talent, many a released Braves minor leaguer found himself picked up by the Royals for a second chance.
Now the Braves are trying to follow the Royals’ recent path.
Coming into the 2011 season, the Royals had what was called the greatest farm system in memory. They were the first team to ever place nine players on the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list. Those prospects, helped by some excellent trades and free agent signings, were the core of the team that won the World Series this year.
Atlanta is in the second year of a massive rebuilding project that in many ways resembles the construction taking place on the team's new stadium in suburban Cobb County. Atlanta has traded most of its veteran stars, as well as worked to unload as many bad contracts as possible.
The latest move was the trade of shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Angels for a commodity the Braves desire—young pitching. The 26-year-old Simmons is considered the best defensive shortstop in the game. He's in the prime of his career and he's signed through 2020 to a deal that will cost only $25 million over the next three seasons.
The moves add to what has become the deepest group of pitching prospects in the game. Mike Foltynewicz, Matt Wisler, Williams Perez and Manny Banuelos have already reached Atlanta. In the minors, Kolby Allard, Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, Mike Soroka, Lucas Sims, Tyrell Jenkins, Newcomb, Ellis and more are coming up behind them.
But if the Braves are planning to contend again in 2017 (when the new stadium is scheduled to open), the team is going to have to figure out a way to speed up the process. When it comes to position players, the best is still a ways away from Atlanta.
Ozzie Albies is Simmons' eventual replacement at shortstop—he's not the defender Simmons is, but he is a potentially better hitter—but it’s not certain he’ll reach Atlanta next season. Austin Riley is a very interesting young hitter, but he's yet to play full season ball.
Thanks to these trades, first baseman Freddie Freeman is the only current Atlanta position player who has shown signs of being a franchise cornerstone. Even if Hector Olivera makes an impact next season, Mallex Smith takes over in center field and Christian Bethancourt exceeds all reasonable expectations behind the plate, the club still has too few current answers to glaring holes at spots in the infield and outfield.
Yes, Atlanta will spend big on the international market next July, but those signees won't help for four or five years at least. Picking No. 3 in June's draft, Atlanta will get a chance to add a significant piece.
All of that seems to point to a team that could be very interesting in 2018 and beyond, not 2017. If the Braves are going to follow the Royals' model of building through the farm system, they can't help but notice that it takes time. That 2011 Royals' farm system arrived in Kansas City in 2011 and 2012. They started winning in 2013 and didn't make the playoffs until 2014.
If Atlanta wants to open the new ballpark with a contender, the Braves' busy offseason is going to have to get even busier.