Braves winning more now, but what’s it mean for future?

The Braves are playing better baseball over the past two weeks. The run started as soon as I wondered how bad they could get because of course it did. You're welcome.

Lately the Braves have been a respectable team that regularly beats the Mets. FanGraphs now projects the Braves to finish 60-102. That would be bad, but not 1988 Braves bad (54-106).

Yet how much of what’s happening now will have a bearing on their future? Most of the players helping the Braves win now are not part of their grand plan. The Braves are rebuilding, sure, but you’d still like to see more guys at the major-league level now who could still be around in, say, 2018.

There aren't many. The Braves have two good major league players whose contracts run through then: first baseman Freddie Freeman and right-hander Julio Teheran. Outfielder Ender Inciarte and right-hander Arodys Vizcaino, the two most promising long-term candidates among their graduated prospects, still look like maybes.

Most of the rest of the Braves are short-term veterans that they expect to be replaced by prospects in the pipeline (or vets acquired in trades using those prospects). Obviously banking on the potential of minor league players is more speculative than projecting success for promising young players alread in the majors. It’s even more theoretical to count on team owner Liberty Media to fill in the gaps with big contracts.

Those are reasons why the Braves rank just No. 12 in ESPN analyst Dan Szymborski's future power rankings, which seek to project "how well a team is set up for sustained success over the next five years." Szymborski, who developed the "ZiPS" projection system, evaluated all teams based on current talent (25 percent of score), future talent (45 percent), financial support (20 percent) and front office (10 percent).

The Braves rank lower than the usual big-spending teams, but they also trail relatively thrifty teams such as the Indians and Pirates. The Braves have the top farm system, but Szymborski ranks them second in future talent because of the lack of long-term players on the roster now. He projects 2019 as the Braves’ best year among the next five.

Szymborski faults the Braves for a “lack of creativity” in building the 2016 roster with an eye to the future. He criticizes them for giving regular playing time to Jeff Francoeur, Nick Markakis and A.J. Pierzynski instead of a “26- or-27-year-old dice roll.” He cites how the Reds have done that with Tyler Holt (a waiver-wire addition who hasn’t panned out) and Adam Duvall (a trade acquisition who has).

It’s possible those Braves veterans offer leadership value that the numbers can’t capture, and that might help the younger players who stick around. Also, the Braves have taken shots with the likes of infielder Jace Peterson (27 years old) and right-handers Casey Kelly (26) and Chris Withrow (27).

Still, Szymborski's larger point is a good one. The Braves can't depend on only prospects to make them better in the future. They need to find some value in unexpected places because, historically, even the best prospects fail about 70 percent of the time.

Liberty Media isn't coming to the rescue with payroll cash, though the Braves are signaling they might. In a recent Twitter chat with fans, general manager John Coppolella said the front office "will have more money to spend this offseason than in any of the 10 years I've been here."

Coppolella knows more than almost anyone about Liberty Media's intentions, but there are obvious reasons to be skeptical. Chairman John Malone infamously boasted that the Braves will be a "fairly major real-estate business as opposed to just a baseball club" in Cobb County. The company has other ways to make money.

A payroll increase is likely, but the Braves never will be big spenders. They need need a lot of those prospects to pan out to be a contender in 2018 and beyond. The Braves are winning more lately, but what’s happening now doesn’t have much to do with then.