The Braves’ audacity inspires … well, awe

The “A” on the cap now stands for “audacious.” The Braves are moving at a rate unusual to baseball and maybe unprecedented. They hated what Frank Wren had done — even as that general manager built a team that won 91, 89, 94 and 96 games over four seasons — and they appointed John Hart and especially John Coppolella to undo it. And boy howdy have they.

A list of Braves jettisoned over the past 13 months: Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, Melvin Upton Jr., Tommy La Stella, Chris Johnson, Jordan Walden, Alex Wood, Aaron Harang, Ervin Santana, Emilio Bonifacio, Luis Avilan, David Hale, Cory Gearrin, Anthony Varvaro, Tyler Pastornicky, David Carpenter, James Russell, Jose Constanza, Ramiro Pena, Gerald Laird, Ryan Doumit, Gus Schlosser, Juan Jaime, Ian Thomas, Cody Martin and Chasen Shreve.

We add to that number Alberto Callaspo, Eric Stults, Trevor Cahill, Jim Johnson, Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, Jonny Gomes, Jason Frasor, Sugar Ray Marimon, David Aardsma and Ross Detwiler, all acquired and then shed by the new regime. That’s 40 names. That’s essentially a 40-man roster turned over in barely a year. Astonishing.

Maybe you have a different A-word to describe what the New Braves have wrought. Maybe your word is “asinine.” Maybe it’s “appalling.” I understand the sentiment — change is never easy, and this change has been epic — but I’m sticking with “audacious.”

We won’t know for a while if these Braves are tracking a path to greatness. We don’t know for sure that they’ll break .500 anytime soon. They’re risking everything in the attempt to win it all. After the Simmons trade was announced Thursday night, I sent Coppolella — officially he’s only in his second month as general manager, but I consider him the architect of all that has happened — a message: “You are fearless, sir.”

Never far from his phone, Coppolella responded within seconds: “We are going to win by being bold.”

Again we cite the Mets’ trade of the newly minted Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto for Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud, who would form the starting battery in Game 3 of the 2015 World Series. Also the Royals’ trade of Zack Greinke, one year removed from his Cy Young season, to Milwaukee for Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar, the MVPs of the 2014 and 2015 ALCS. Also the trade that sent Wil Myers, the No. 3 prospect in baseball, to Tampa Bay while bringing pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City. Shields helped lift K.C. to the 2014 World Series; Davis recorded the championship-clinching out earlier this month. Those teams rose to the pinnacle by swallowing hard and making what were wildly unpopular moves.

In Simmons, the Braves gave up a once-in-a-generation shortstop. As a hitter, he’d become substandard. He just compiled the 13th-worst OPS among qualifying big-league hitters, and that wasn’t a one-year blip. He’d been sixth-worst in 2014. If you’re saying, “The Braves need hitters,” you’re absolutely right. But Simmons isn’t one.

There’s also this: Great defenders tend to peak early. As Branch Rickey, patron saint of GMs, famously said: Better to trade a guy too soon than too late.

In the left-hander Sean Newcomb, the Braves landed the No. 1 prospect in the Angels’ chain, a 22-year-old the Angels themselves considered promoting to the majors last season. The Braves believe Newcomb might well be the No. 1 prospect in their restocked farm system, and they can envision this rotation when they move into SunTrust Park in 2017 — Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Newcomb and Lucas Sims. (And that’s with Touki Toussaint, Max Fried and Kolby Allard working their way through the minors.)

I understand why folks are apoplectic. (Another A-word.) But the Braves were convinced they’d gone wrong under Wren, and mere tweaks wouldn’t set it right. Bold action was required. Bold action has been taken, again and again. As the ancient saying has it: Faint heart never won fair maiden. Say what you will about these Braves, but faint of heart they ain’t.

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