I have to keep saying the following sentence to myself in order to accept it as reality -- Andrelton Simmons is no longer an Atlanta Brave and is now a member of the Los Angeles Angels. Even though the rumors were circulating for more than twenty-four hours, it's still a bit of a shock that a trade actually happened. When the current rebuild began last offseason, most of the trades that the Braves made were just as painful (if not more painful. I still get wistful whenever I think about Jason Heyward in a Braves uniform), but they were also very defensible.
The chances of signing Justin Upton and Jason Heyward to long-term contract extensions were slim-to-none, so the Braves had to get something for them, and they did a good job in doing so. Evan Gattis was a Designated Hitter in a league that still thinks that pitchers should hit, so the Braves had to get something for him. Craig Kimbrel is a historically-excellent closer, but he's also simply a closer and the Braves had a chance to get out from under Melvin Upton's contract, so the Braves had to get something for them. It certainly felt lame seeing all of those star players go, but the Braves had legitimate reasons for doing so and they still had a solid young core left -- even if the rest of the major league apple surrounding that core was rotten as all-get out.
The Andrelton Simmons trade, however, is the first real sign that the Braves front office has decided to go all-in on the future and is willing to completely tear down what was once a division-winning team in the process. Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, and Mike Minor are the only recognizable faces from that 2013 NL East winner. Minor's chances of returning to the team are slim, and word on the street is that both Freeman and Teheran are available as well. So, there's a possibility that the 2013 team will have been completely wiped out by the time Opening Day 2016 arrives. That is absolutely absurd, and if you had a time machine and were able to go back in time to 2013 and tell any Braves fan what the future had in store, this is probably what would've happened:
EXT. TURNER FIELD, OCTOBER 4th, 2013
An enthusiastic Braves fan is entering Turner Field with a throng of other fans for Game 2 of the 2013 NLDS between the Braves and Dodgers. Suddenly, the sky darkens, electric sparkles begin to crackle, and suddenly a white flash hits. From the flash emerges an exasperated human figure wearing tattered Braves gear, with a chewed-off foam Tomahawk in hand and an extremely worn-in Braves hat on head. The Braves fan who emerged from the flash goes up to the enthusiastic Braves fan, grabs him by the chest, and begins to implore to him:
2016 BRAVES FAN
Enjoy this while you can, my friend from the past! For this is just a fleeting moment of happiness and glee! The future holds nothing but doom, gloom, anguish, sorrow, and suburbia! This is as good as it's going to get for a while. Hold on to this moment! Cherish it! I come from a time where you will see things that you wouldn't believe if it weren't for the fact that you had a firm grasp on reality and realize that this is, in fact real! Again, I implore you to cherish this!
2013 BRAVES FAN
Shut up, old man. Braves in four, we're taking this series. Get a job, bum.
The 2013 Braves fan then laughs, shoves the 2016 Braves fan back into the flash from which he came, and enters Turner Field to enjoy what will be the most recent Braves playoff victory. The 2016 Braves fan descends back into the future with a single tear falling from his face.
Why didn't we listen to that wise one from the future? If we did, this would hurt a lot less than it currently does. Now, if we're looking at this from an analytical standpoint, it doesn't hurt as much. Yes, Andrelton Simmons is easily one of the greatest defenders in his generation, but there's also a solid chance that Father Time will come for him, and his otherworldly defensive skills will start to evaporate in the future. If his offensive production continues to stagnate, then his value will crater if his astonishing defensive production starts to wane. Team-friendly contract or not, it's clear that the Braves have decided that they'd rather bet on acquiring more pitching prospects and Erick Aybar being part of a potential bridge to Ozhaino Albies than continuing to be patient with Simba's amazing defense and pedestrian offense.
Here's the thing, though: Betting on pitching prospects is an extremely risky gamble. Yes, the Braves have stockpiled an impressive arsenal of arms that has basically transformed what was once a nearly-barren farm into one that's bursting at the seams with crops. With that being said, the Braves can't be expected to hold on to all of those prospects, and there's always the possibility that most of these prospects could flame out. There's no certain road to glory in sports. For every rebuild that eventually worked out (i.e. the Royals), there's a rebuild that fell flat on its face and put the team in question into a period of darkness. I've tried to figure out what the Braves are doing on a few occasions now. Back in the Summer, I figured that they were doing an NBA-style rebuild similar to how the Houston Rockets managed to tread in .500 water before wheeling-and-dealing their way to contention. Later, it became evident that they were going the traditional tanking route. Now, my best guess is that they've decided to follow the Philadelphia 76ers' path, which roughly translates to "You actually care about the present-day?! HA! Rubes! See us when all of our young talent replaces the junk we currently have. Then we'll see who's The Man now, dawg!"
Which brings me to the big question: Is this team actually going to be in position to compete by the time they throw out the first pitch at SunTrust Park in Cobb County in 2017? There's always the possibility that they could shift gears, get aggressive, and start to build a team that could be considered a possible winner by then. But now, it seems clear that they're willing to pin the hopes and dreams of this franchise on the youngsters who are currently honing their craft on the farm. If that's the case, then I wouldn't harbor any dreams of potentially adding another Postseason flag to the collection of flags that they'll be moving from Turner Field to SunTrust Park upon arrival. Instead, I'd wager that we'll probably have to wait a little bit longer, which means that patience is going to be a key word for the next couple of years.
It's completely understandable if most of the fanbase's patience is beginning to wear thin, though. That's normally what happens when you trade away nearly all of the recognizable faces that fans have grown to love. But there's always the possibility that new love can form once the prospects (hopefully) mature into legit major league talent, and that mindset will require feeding that skinny patience, for now at least.