Isn’t Opening Day great?
Doesn’t each aural occurrence of ball meeting bat in that first game make you increasingly warm from head to toe? Is there anything better than ogling perfectly dressed high socks in a game that actually means something?
Opening Day is perfection. It is the unhindered actualization of idealism. It is Sweet, Sweet Mother Earth forgiving our puny asses for everything we’ve ever done wrong.
Unless you, like me, are a Braves fan. For a Braves fan, 2015’s Opening Day was the worst metaphor come to life. It was waking up from a nightmare to realize our nightmare is real and inches from our stupid, sweaty faces. It was that broken, vengeful Mother Earth arriving on our day of reckoning and shoving tons of radioactive whale turds down our deserving little throats.
It was Craig Kimbrel being traded to the Padres, and then Jason Heyward kicking the shit out of baseball in a Cardinals uniform.
But here’s the thing about the Kimbrel trade: I, uh, sorta like it.
It’s probably more accurate to say that I 75% hate it, but 100% understand it. Within the context of what John Hart is doing, it makes absolute sense, and what John Hart is doing is transforming the Braves from an incidentally good baseball team in 2013 to a purposefully great baseball organization.
Which, that’s wonderful, right? I think so. It seems wonderful now when there are no games on TV and the mind can wander off a few years into the future and imagine the difficulty of choosing your World Series Game 1 starter from a rotation of Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller, Matt Wisler, Mike Foltynewicz, and Max Fried.
But here in reality, there’s Kimbrel, and he’s jogging across the outfield with his permanently rosy red cheeks and his ill-advised chin hair and his dumb San Diego Padres uniform. His new home crowd will cheer and call him their own and shit their collective pants the first time he strikes out the side on nine pitches. Over and over again, he’ll make his way to the mound and do that awesome thing where his arms look like broken airplane wings and the hitter realizes that this dang guy is an out-of-control aircraft and here I am with this tiny, worthless bat. He’ll do it in Padres gold and Padres blue and oh-dear-god he’ll do it in that awful camouflage thing they do. And each time, he’ll be less and less a Brave.
Just like Jason Heyward, and Evan Gattis, and Justin Upton.
It’s good, though, right? Right? That’s all just sentimental crap, and the only thing it really means is John Hart is a way better President of Baseball Operations than I’d be. These moves are punches to the gut, but they’re good, smart punches. The team was crummy in 2014, and the farm system was even crummier. They’re pretty likely to be crummy in 2015 too, but now the farm is loaded.
The Braves are suddenly in the business of asset collection, and they’re doing it pretty darn well. There isn’t a Kris Bryant or Byron Buxton in the organization, but Bryants and Buxtons don’t always pan out. Atlanta’s list of exciting prospects is long enough to hopefully provide a buffer against the attrition that naturally accompanies the transition from good prospect to Major Leaguer. The big league squad, sometime in the next few years, should almost certainly be very good and very young.
Which brings us to Kimbrel.
How valuable was Craig Kimbrel to an ~80 win team that employs Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson? Not super valuable. The Braves are 3-0, but they’re also a punted football in mid-flight. Now, instead of Kimbrel, they have a top pitching prospect, $46 million (and no more Melvin Upton), Cameron Maybin, and the 41st pick in this summer’s draft. That’s, uh, quite a haul. As hard as it blows to see Kimbrel in a Padres uniform, it makes sense. I’m sure we’ll all look back on this trade in a few years and wonder why it stunk.
Until then, well. Drink lots of coffee and subscribe to one-day-at-a-time platitudes.
EDIT: The Braves are now 6-1. Isn’t that cool? I still don’t buy this team as a playoff contender, but baseball is baseball. Chemistry and roster utilization and magic bunts are very real, and sometimes you get the 2005 White Sox or the 2014 Royals. Let’s hope. Baseball is the best.