Braves could be one of worst teams in 2015

It's amazing how quickly things can turn in baseball. In 2013, the Atlanta Braves won 96 games. They were built around a young core of players that included Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, Julio Teheran and Mike Minor. None was older than 25. It looked like the Braves would be playoff contenders for the foreseeable future. Instead, the team fell to 79 wins in 2014, and now with the trade of Heyward to the St. Louis Cardinals, new president of baseball operations John Hart has started what looks to be an overhaul of the franchise.

With Heyward gone, Upton is likely the next to go. Like Heyward, Upton will be a free agent after the 2015 season, so there's no reason to keep him on the roster unless you sign him to a long-term extension (or if you think you're a playoff contender, but the Heyward trade signifies that the Braves don't view themselves as contenders in 2015). If Hart can get another young, cost-controlled player like Shelby Miller (here's Keith Law's analysis of the trade), he'll deal Upton. He might even look to trade Evan Gattis while his stock is high. With Christian Bethancourt ready to take over at catcher, the Heyward trade pushes Gattis to left field, where he becomes the classic overrated player: a slugger with terrible defense and a mediocre on-base skills. Gattis' power bat is certainly a plus and he's a fan favorite in Atlanta, but his defense in left on a regular basis would be a scary sight.

The other reason to trade Gattis is that the Braves have taken a step back with the Heyward trade. Heyward was their best player in 2014, although he seems to be often viewed under the lens of a disappointment ("Where's the power?") instead of a Gold Glove right fielder who has an above-average OBP. Maybe he never turned into that middle-of-the-order cleanup hitter he was once envisioned to become, but he's still a good guy to have at the top of the lineup and his defensive metrics have always been outstanding. Anyway, he's gone. You probably trade Upton; you still have B.J. Upton and Chris Johnson soaking up plate appearances; and second base is now in the hands of Philip Gosselin, who did hit .344 at Triple-A in 2014 but doesn't have much power and never hit in the minors before this past season.

Meanwhile, the rotation has added Miller, who is overrated at this point in his career, but is currently without free agents Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang, who made a combined 64 starts for the Braves in 2014. Yes, maybe they'll get Kris Medlen and/or Brandon Beachy back at some point after they both had Tommy John surgery, but those two will be question marks heading into 2015. As for Miller, his 3.74 ERA with the Cardinals ranked 45th among 73 National League pitchers who pitched at least 100 innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio ranked 70th out of those 73 pitchers. Miller did finish strong with a 2.92 ERA and .201 batting average allowed in the second half, so maybe he made some adjustments that led to the improvement. (He threw his two-seam fastball a lot more in the second half after rarely using it before the break, so maybe that will be a big difference-maker for him, but a .215 BABIP suggests there was some good luck involved as well.)

So it looks like the Braves will be building for 2017, when they move into their new park in suburban Cobb County. Freeman is signed through 2021, Simmons through 2020 and Teheran through at least 2019, so that is the foundation. The Braves could even consider trading Kimbrel, who is signed through 2017 with a 2018 club option. You don't need an elite closer on a bad or mediocre team, and Kimbrel has been the game's most dominant reliever for four years. Trading him could bring back a nice haul of young talent to help restock a weak farm system.

Add it up, factor in that the Nationals, Mets and possibly the Marlins should be strong playoff contenders in 2015, and the Braves could go from 96 wins in 2013 to 90 losses in 2015.