Remember the glorious days of June when the Braves were playing .500 baseball and it seemed as if the team was willing to float around at that spot for the remainder of the season? I said as much in a post about the Braves' "unorthodox" rebuilding plan back then:
The Braves appear content to float around at .500 instead of going into full-on tank mode, but at the same time, they're also clearly building up an impressive array of assets that could be used in a variety of ways in the future. It's also important to note that we're still in the early stages of this thing; The Braves made it known that they're planning on being competitive by the time their new home in Cobb County opens up, and it seems like they're on their way to hitting that target as long as they stay the course. I'd imagine that the upcoming trade deadline is going to be very interesting,
Well, the trade deadline (and the week or so afterwards) was definitely interesting. By the time the smoke cleared, the Braves had basically transformed into an entirely different team. Comparing the 2014 Braves to the team that showed up for Opening Day 2015 was like comparing apples to oranges. Now, comparing last year's team to the current incarnation that is currently hanging out near the cellar of all of baseball is like comparing apples to okra. It seemed like they were willing to hang out in .500-ville for the time being, but as it turned out, they actually were willing to go into tank mode.
Naturally, the team won't admit as much. Assistant GM John Coppollela has stated that the team isn't trying to tank for the #1 pick. The reasoning makes sense: There isn't a consensus #1 pick out there at the moment, and the only major positive that comes from getting the #1 pick in this particular draft would be the flexibility of actually having the pick and having more money to spend thanks to having that pick. Plus, having a bunch of angry fans accuse you of destroying everything that this proud franchise stands for because one season of bad baseball is just far too much to handle can't be fun for the front office to deal with, so it definitely makes sense that the powers that be would say that. Very few teams are going to just flat-out say "Yeah we're sucking on purpose: Deal with it," and I definitely wouldn't expect that from the Braves.
With that being said, they definitely changed paths. This went from being a Houston Rockets-style rebuild to a Philadelphia 76ers-style rebuild in a hurry. For those who don't follow the NBA, the Sixers have basically decided to put all of their stock into future assets, and they did this by basically putting out a team with maybe six-to-seven NBA-quality players and fleshing out the rest of the team with guys who probably wouldn't make it onto any other NBA team. Naturally, that leads to a bunch of losses in the present, but the goal is still the same: Make sure that the team is as good as possible in the future. After the trades and other moves that were made at or around the trade deadline, the Braves have quickly switched paths as far as this season is concerned. The proof is in the pudding: Almost immediately after most of those moves were made, the team began their slide into the gutter, and the quality of play went down significantly even though it wasn't even that high to begin with. Simply put, the Braves were the Rockets for the first half of the season, then they transformed into the Sixers for the final half of the campaign.
Although the Braves have clearly stripped things down for the remainder of the season, they still appear to be headed on the right track. They'll now have a higher position in the draft, and that's always a positive. Plus, the moves that they've made have given them more financial flexibility for the future moves, and the current young players are receiving a trial-by-fire of sorts. We're starting to see who's going to be around for the future, and who's going to be pruned from the vine pretty soon. This is all pretty normal and part of the process that any rebuilding team has to go through. Granted, it's extremely painful to watch the team in its current state, but it has to happen if things are going to get brighter in the future for this team.
One thing that hasn't changed is the fact that the Braves still have plenty of assets for the future -- Both in terms of prospects and in terms of money. Financial flexibility and prospect potential are extremely valuable in the current landscape of baseball, and the Braves have both. That's always a positive, and it's a big reason why even during this absolute mess of a time for the team in the present, things are still looking up for the Braves as far as the future is concerned. There may still be plenty of changes ahead, but the situation still remains the same, and the Braves are still on the right path -- Even if that path has altered a little bit.