Frank Wren put the Braves in a deep hole. John Hart’s job is get them out of it, operating on a limited budget.
How’d he do?
Traded Tommy La Stella to the Chicago Cubs. Received Arodys Vizcaino. TLS is pretty one-dimensional, and he’d soon be without a job assuming Jose Peraza is as good as advertised. Vizcaino is a power arm who just needs to stay healthy. His upside is greater. B+
Traded Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the St. Louis Cardinals. Received Tyrell Jenkins (minors) and Shelby Miller. No one wanted to see Jay Hey go, and if FW hadn’t signed B.J. to that ridiculous contract Heyward might still be a Brave. Considering he’s one year from free agency Hart did well to get two prized arms, though the Cards seem cold on Miller, which raises concerns. I’ve got a good feeling about Jenkins, however. B
Signed Jim Johnson as a free agent. I’ve learned not to question the Braves when it comes to pitchers, but it seems like they could’ve done just as well keeping Anthony Varvaro. B
Signed Nick Markakis as a free agent. When the Braves move into their new stadium Markakis will be 33 and still owed $22 million. A nice complimentary player, he makes no sense for a team that’s rebuilding, not at that price. D
Signed Alberto Callaspo as a free agent. He makes decent contact, even though his BA the last two years was .240 the last two years. He’s below average defensively, as well. But they’re only paying him $3 mil and he can’t be worse than Uggla. C
Traded Aaron Northcraft (minors) and Justin Upton to the San Diego Padres. Received Max Fried (minors), Dustin Peterson (minors), Mallex Smith(minors) and Jace Peterson. It would’ve been foolish not to trade J-Up but I c an’t help but think the Braves should’ve done better. At around the same time Washington acquried two of the Pads’ top prospects — SS Trea Turner and P Jon Ross — for Steven Souza, who’s 25 and, despite lofty minor league numbers, has never been considered a top prospect. It’s worth noting that before the trade the Braves hired former Padres amateur scouting director Chad McDonald, so maybe he knows something we don’t. If Fried recovers fully from TJ surgery, and Smith’s gaudy numbers translate to the majors, the trade will be a good one. C+
Traded David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve to the New York Yankees. Received Manny Banuelos (minors). Banuelos is not far removed from being one of the game’s top left-handed pitching prospects, and if anyone can help him take the next step, it’s the Braves. A worthwhile gamble for two middle relievers. A-
Traded Nate Hyatt (minors and Kyle Kubitza (minors) to Los Angeles Angels. Received Ricardo Sanchez (minors). Sanchez is only 17-years-old and could emerge as the best of all the young pitchers the Braves have acquired. Hart went for upside and he got it. A
Signed Jason Grilli as a free agent. Grilli is 38 but only one year removed from a dynamic season as Pittsburgh’s closer. He struggled somewhat last year and his greatest value to the Braves may come at the trading deadline. B+
Signed A.J. Pierzynski as a free agent. Never much of a defender, Pierzynski used to be an asset with the bat, but he appears to be a player in decline. He’s also widely considered as the biggest asshole in the game, and the Braves claim that he’ll add veteran leadership to the clubhouse is absurd. But at least he comes cheap. D-
Traded James Hoyt (minors) and Evan Gattis to the Houston Astros. Received Rio Ruiz (minors), Andrew Thurman (minors) and Michael Foltynewicz. This was Hart’s best move of the offseason, trading a one-dimensional player without a position for an electric arm and a legit third-base prospect who can hit. A
Signed Jonny Gomes as a free agent. A lot of people didn’t like this move, but someone has to play LF, and Gomes didn’t cost much. B-
Traded David Hale and Gus Schlosser to the Colorado Rockies. Received Jose Briceno (minors) and Chris O’Dowd (minors). I’m not that high on Hale, and if Briceno, 21, is a catching prospect with a decent bat, among the rarest of commodities. B+
(The Eury Perez signing got little notice but he’s only 24, is an excellent baserunner, stealing 26 bases in 67 Triple-A games last year, and is a career .305 hitter with a .360 OBP. Don’t be surprised if he’s the Braves starting CF and lead-off hitter come June.)
Hart inherited a farm system ranked among the league’s worst; now it’s considered among the majors’ best, and deepest. He also recruited several top talent evaluators to a front office that Wren had stocked with unqualified cronies. The Markakis signing was a head-scratcher, but the future looks brighter than it did four months ago. The biggest challenge for Hart will be spending wisely once the money comes available — assuming Liberty loosens the purse strings. Dealing Kimbrel at the trade deadline wouldn’t hurt, either. And canning Fredi would be the cherry on top.
FINAL GRADE: B (B+ if he signs Cuban stud Hector Olivera)