Restoring the rosters: No. 3 – Atlanta

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This is part of a series of articles examining what every team’s roster would look like if given only the players it originally signed. I’m compiling the rosters, ranking them and presenting them in a countdown from Nos. 30 to 1.
No. 30 – Cincinnati
No. 29 – Kansas City
No. 28 – San Diego
No. 27 – Milwaukee
No. 26 – Baltimore
No. 25 – Chicago (AL)
No. 24 – Chicago (NL)
No. 23 – Pittsburgh
No. 22 – Detroit
No. 21 – Tampa Bay
No. 20 – New York (NL)
No. 19 – Houston
No. 18 – Oakland
No. 17 – St. Louis
No. 16 – Florida
No. 15 – San Francisco
No. 14 – Texas
No. 13 – Cleveland
No. 12 – Minnesota
No. 11 – Arizona
No. 10 – Los Angeles (AL)
No. 9 – Toronto
No. 8 – Boston
No. 7 – Colorado
No. 6 – Montreal/Washington
No. 5 – New York (AL)
No. 4 – Philadelphia
Once I put all of these rosters down on paper a month ago and started trying to grade them, it was obvious right away that there was a clear top two. After that, it was really hard to separate the next eight teams making up the rest of the top 10. The Braves initially figured into the middle of that pack. That they ended up at No. 3 was in large part due to a 21-year-old who was shipped off by the team before even making it out of Rookie ball.
Rotation
Adam Wainwright
Tommy Hanson
Kevin Millwood
Jason Marquis
Kenshin Kawakami
Bullpen
Neftali Feliz
Dan Meyer
Kris Medlen
Joey Devine
Zach Miner
Joe Nelson
Jo-Jo Reyes
That 21-year-old is Feliz, of course. He’s allowed five hits and one walk in 22 innings for the Rangers, giving this pen a huge boost. Medlen’s emergence hasn’t hurt either, even if his ERA is suddenly back up again because of some dreadful mishandling from manager Bobby Cox.
The rotation is obviously impressive, even with Tom Glavine no longer in the mix. Wainwright is a Cy Young candidate, and Hanson has a 3.07 ERA as a rookie. Even Kawakami has a 3.97 ERA in his 25 starts. He beat out Kyle Davies, Charlie Morton, Reyes and Matt Harrison for the last spot. Jason Schmidt and Chuck James weren’t considered.
Lineup
SS Yunel Escobar
LF Mark DeRosa
3B Chipper Jones
C Brian McCann
RF Jermaine Dye
1B Adam LaRoche
CF Andruw Jones
2B Rafael Furcal
Bench
INF Martin Prado
1B-OF Garrett Jones
OF Jeff Francoeur
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
SS Elvis Andrus
The lineup is plenty strong and flexible, with only really center field as an area of concern. If Andruw’s body can’t take the pounding these days, then one would have to try Francoeur, Kelly Johnson or Jordan Schafer there. Maybe Jason Heyward next year, though the game’s No. 1 prospect is going to be a right fielder for the Braves.
I put Furcal at second base for defense, but he’s been outplayed by Prado this year and Johnson may also be a better option going forward. Or one could sacrifice some defense and go with DeRosa there, opening up left field for the still red-hot Jones or Francoeur.
Chipper is the mainstay, of course. He’s the only player on one of the top three teams in these rankings to have won a World Series with the club that drafted him.
Summary
While it seems like their minor league system hasn’t been as strong in the aughts as it was in the 90’s, the Braves have continued to churn out talent. It’s just too bad so much of it is currently playing in Texas. The Mark Teixeira trade was a huge failure that’s going to handicap the club for years to come. Since their postseason streak ended in 2006, the Braves have won 79, 84 and 72 games. They’re on pace to finish over .500 this year, but they’ve seen their postseason chances drop sharply recently because of their struggles to score runs. Help is on the way in the form of Heyward, first baseman Freddie Freeman and Schafer. The Braves will need to trust their young talent this time, as filling in with veterans just hasn’t worked out very well for them.

Dusty Baker drops truth bombs

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Dusty Baker was fired last offseason despite leading the Nationals to 95 and 97-win seasons. This was not new for him. Cincinnati let him go after taking a miserable Reds team to back-to-back 90+ win seasons — three in the space of four years — and making it to the playoffs in his final two seasons. In both cases the team that let him go cratered as soon as he left. There are likely reasons that have nothing to do with Dusty Baker for that, but it seems like more than mere coincidence too.

I say that because every time someone gets to Dusty Baker for an interview, he drops some major truth bombs that make you wonder why anyone wouldn’t want him in charge. Sure, like any manager he has his faults and blind spots — more so in his distant past than in his recent past, I should not — but the guy is smart, has more experience than anyone going and is almost universally loved by his players.

Recently he sat down with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic to talk about life, baseball and everything, and once again the truth bombs were dropping. About the state of front offices today. About the different way black and white ex-managers and ex-players are treated. About what seems to be collusion on the free agent market. And, of course, about the state of the 2018 Nationals, who are likely to miss the playoffs despite being, more or less, the same team he led to those 97 wins last year. It’s an absolute must-read on any of those topics, but taken together it’s a “block off some time this afternoon and enjoy the hell out of it” read.

Two of my favorite passages follow. The first one is a great general point in life: always beware of people who spend more time telling you why they are successful than actually, you know, being successful.

In Cincinnati, no matter what I did or what we did — we brought them from the bottom — they were all over me, all the time, no matter what. If we won, it wasn’t winning the right way. They were like, “I don’t understand this mode of thinking.” Well, I don’t want you to understand my mode of thinking. That’s how I can beat you.

The second one is just delicious for what he does not say:

Rosenthal: Bryce Harper struggled for two-plus months. He didn’t struggle for two-plus months when you had him…

Baker: I know.

Based on the tone of the rest of the interview, in which Baker does not hesitate to say exactly what he thinks, it’s abundantly clear that he believes the Nats have messed Harper up somehow and that it wouldn’t have happened under him.

Like I said, though: there is a TON of great stuff in here. From a guy who, if you’ve listened to him talk when he does not give a crap about what people may say about him, has time and again revealed himself to  be one of the most interesting baseball figures of the past several decades.