After blowing the clinching game against Houston at Truist Park in game 5 of the World Series, the Atlanta Braves took care of business and won the franchise’s second World Series since moving to Atlanta in 1966, and their first World Series since 1995. And a big contributor to the Braves’ World Series victory was former Royals designated hitter and outfielder Jorge Soler, who put up an incredible line over the six-game slate, which resulted in him earning World Series MVP:
Soler wowed not only Braves fans, but baseball fans all over the world on Tuesday night, especially after his three-run bomb in the third inning against the Astros’ Luis Garcia. Soler’s moonshot seemed to take the wind out of the sails of not only the Astros players but fans in Minute Maid Park as well:
The Braves by no means were a “dominant” team by any stretch of the imagination in 2021. On August 1st, right after the July 31st Trade Deadline, the Braves were three games under .500 (52-55), and sat five games behind the NL East division-leading New York Mets. Furthermore, with franchise player Ronald Acuna, Jr. out of the remainder of the season due to a torn ACL (which he suffered on July 11th), it was thought that the Braves were just trying to stay “respectable” for the remainder of the year.
Sure, they had acquired Eddie Rosario from Cleveland, Joc Pederson from the Cubs, in addition to Soler from the Royals around the Deadline. That being said, all three players had failed to live up to expectations this year on their respective previous clubs, and they all were considered “defensive” liabilities as well, which made their acquisitions worrisome to Braves fans who had been disappointed for most of the season.
Surprisingly, thanks to those three outfielders, (in addition to utility man Adam Duvall, who came over from Miami), the Braves ended up surging up the division standings, and eventually surpassed the Phillies and Mets for an NL East division title, and by a considerable margin.
The Braves ended up winning the division by 6.5 games over the Phillies, and they were 11.5 games better than Mets, who were leading the division on August 1st.
And if that wasn’t enough, the Braves were also able to add an NL Pennant and World Series title to their trophy case…
Safe to say, even though it was a bit of a roller coaster, Braves fans will accept those results.
Furthermore, the Braves also seem set up nicely for the future, especially with a lineup and rotation that is still chock-full of hitters and pitchers developed by the Braves farm system.
The Braves strike a perfect balance roster-wise with a combination of farm-grown young talent, as well as veteran stars who can carry the club in the biggest moments.
Ergo, the “Braves Way” that was predominant in the 1990s is still alive and well in Atlanta, even though the Braves are playing in Cobb County at Truist Park now instead of Turner Field in Fulton County.
And on that end, can the Royals take anything away from the “Braves Way” and its success this season?
When I looked at the Atlanta Braves’ roster for 2022 on Roster Resource’s Depth Charts, it seems like it is quite incomplete, which makes sense considering that Rosario, Pederson, and even Soler will be free agents this offseason. The Braves have only 34 players currently on their 40-man roster, and it will be interesting to see how many free-agent eligible players Atlanta will sign from this World Series-winning squad.
Typically, after a World Series victory, general managers will tend to “bring the band back together” for the following season to defend their championship, even if it may come at a higher expense. The Royals are a prime example of this, as they spent over $131 million on the payroll in 2016, nearly $20 million higher than their World Series-winning season, according to Cot’s Contracts. Granted, I am sure Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos will bring back one or two of those key “World Series” figures for the 2022 squad. That being said, based on the Braves’ history, and Anthopoulos’ days as general manager of the Blue Jays, it is likely that Atlanta will try to win in 2022 and beyond with a majority of talent developed from “within” rather than through a bunch of expensive free agents.
For context, the Braves ranked 14th in Major League Baseball when it came to Opening Day payroll this year ($131.4 million, according to Cot’s), and they haven’t been in the single digits range since 2005 when they ranked 9th in baseball in payroll. And to look forward to next year, the Braves rank 12th in projected payroll, according to Cot’s, which still would put them behind the Mets ($178 million) and Phillies ($170.9 million) in the NL East division.
The bottom line? While the Braves won’t be confusing baseball fans for the Tampa Bay Rays or Oakland Athletics anytime soon, they demonstrated this year that a medium-sized club can win it all with the right mix of drafting, international signing, player development, and shrewd acquisitions.
And honestly, that is a model that the Royals aren’t too far away from replicating at this moment.
In fact, the Royals found success with that model from 2011-2017. Baseball fans really could say that this version of the Braves is the modern National League counterpart of those Royals teams.
The difference is that the Braves have persisted in terms of continuing to develop their talent in the farm system, whether it has been through the draft or international signings. That hasn’t been easy to do, especially after the international signing scandal in 2017 that cost the Braves a bunch of recently-signed players, and resulted in former Braves general manager John Coppolella being banned from baseball in the process.
The Braves bounced back and built something special under Anthopoulos: a fun mix of homegrown, young talent, and productive veterans who complemented those stars. To the detriment of the Royals, from 2013-2017, Moore focused on present-day needs over the long-term outlook, and that focus came back to haunt Moore and the Royals until 2018 when they re-loaded their system through the draft.
Unlike the Royals, Atlanta didn’t have that kind of lull in their farm system.
The Braves are set up well for the future in the middle of the infield with Dansby Swanson at shortstop and Ozzie Albies at second base. Acuna was an MVP candidate before going down to injury, and it is likely that he will be an MVP candidate again soon when he returns from injury. They have young prospects such as Wilson Contreras, Christian Pache, and Drew Water who are ready to take the next step, should they get that opportunity next year. And pitching-wise? The future looks bright with system-developed arms in Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Huascar Ynoa, and Tucker Davidson, all being led by former Braves draft pick Charlie Morton, who returned to the organization this year after flourishing in Tampa Bay.
Does this sound familiar Royals fans?
A core of young position and pitching prospects being led by key veterans in both the lineup and rotation, looking to take the next step as a club in the coming years?
The Royals may not be embodying the “Braves Way” exactly, but the “Royals Way” isn’t far off.
Of the players on the current Royals 40-man roster, 23 are “homegrown” players, according to Roster Resource’s Depth Chart. The Royals have promising prospects in Bobby Witt, Jr., MJ Melendez, and Nick Pratto coming up from Omaha, and they have a young crop of pitchers who could make some gains in 2022, especially if they get the right veteran in the rotation to help set an example and standard for them to aim for.
The “Royals Way” is not the “Braves Way” just yet…but Dayton Moore and even JJ Picollo grew up in the “Braves Way” style of thinking.
The right mix of scouting and analytics to help produce lasting, as well as ultimate, success in Major League Baseball.
The 2021 Braves proved that the “Braves Way” still works and that it’s a model for teams, even small market ones like Kansas City. It’s not all about the “cheap” Rays or A’s style of roster management anymore.
And that’s a good thing for the Royals…
Because they have a better chance of winning again with a model that’s closer to the Braves than the A’s or Rays.
Let’s hope that the “Royals Way” continues to close the gap with the “Braves Way” in 2022…
Because if that happens, it will mean something special is on the way in 2023 and beyond.
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