Braves weren’t bad role models, they just couldn’t seal the deal
Updated: February 6, 2010

By Zaki,

Sam Donnellon of the Daily News wrote an article a couple days ago about how the Phillies shouldn’t pattern themselves after the Braves that won 14-straight division titles because Atlanta only won one World Series during that period — essentially teasing their fans every year to the point where they stopped coming to games.

As someone that followed the Braves for almost ten years, let me say that there was nothing wrong with the Braves’ formula for success. The team just went limp in the postseason; they choked.

Why wouldn’t you want to model yourself after a franchise that averaged 98 regular season wins (or 61% of their games) for 15 straight years? I’d love for Ruben Amaro to follow the same path of former Braves general manager John Schuerholz instead of wandering on his own, worrying about replenishing his farm system.

Schuerholz had a remarkable core of homegrown players to build around — just like the Phillies — with Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Ron Gant, David Justice, Chipper Jones, Javy Lopez, Ryan Klesko, Andruw Jones, Kevin Millwood and Rafael Furcal all from the Braves’ minor league system. The former GM also made sure to supplement his homegrown crop by signing stars like Greg Maddux and Andres Galarraga while trading for others like Fred McGriff and Gary Sheffield.

Above everything that Schuerholz did during his 15-year run with the Braves, it’s what he didn’t do that really sticks out to me right now: He never traded top talent to ‘replenish’ his farm system.

The Braves had so much minor league talent that they would never have to think about re-stocking via trade, but that’s a testament to their scouting staff and drafting great players. It’s not because they were in any different situation than the Phillies were in, or are currently in.

The Braves may have stunk for a while, which gave them a couple high draft picks, but of all the studs they’ve had, only Steve Avery (4th overall in the 1988 draft) and Chipper Jones (1st overall in the 1990 draft) were first round draft picks. The Phillies actually had more first-round success than the Braves ever did with Pat  Burrell (1998), Brett Myers (1999), Chase Utley (2000) and Cole Hamels (2002). You could even count J.D. Drew (1997) in there if you’re feelin’ froggy enough.

Unlike Amaro, when Schuerholz went out and traded prospects to get a guy like Fred McGriff, he didn’t trade Tom Glavine to re-stock the farm. In fact, when Schuerholz dealt one of his big-named players, he typically received a solid major league player in return. David Justice and Marquis Grissom were traded for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree. Bret Boone and Ryan Klesko were traded for Reggie Sanders and Quilvio Veras. Brian Jordan was traded for Gary Sheffield. The Braves traded to replenish their major league club.

To further accentuate the difference between Amaro and Schuerholz, here’s my account of what the Phillies would look like under the Schuerholz formula:

  • The Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee deals would have never gone down. Only twice did Schuerholz trade top prospects: Adam Wainwright was traded to the Cardinals in the deal for J.D. Drew and Den Meyer was sent to the Athletics for Tim Hudson. Both trades were for players entering their prime and only one highly-ranked prospect was involved in each deal. If the Blue Jays would have accepted another player other than Michael Taylor or Domonic Brown, I think Schuerholz would have landed Halladay and kept Lee.
  • Jayson Werth would have been dealt to fill an immediate need elsewhere on the club while Michael Taylor takes over in rightfield. It’s Schuerholz’s style to get rid of the costly talent at a position where you have emerging stars ready to play. He did something similar by letting Terry Pendleton go in 1995 when Chipper Jones was ready to take his place and by trading David Justice in 1997 when Andruw Jones was ready take over. In the Justice trade, the Braves got a top leadoff hitter in Kenny Lofton and a lefty reliever in Alan Embree in return. Schuerholz would have probably gone after a thirdbaseman or possibly a mid-rotation starter in exchange for Werth.
  • Lee would either be re-signed after 2010 or they would sign or trade for a top pitcher. If Lee and the Phils are unable to come to terms, the team would have enough cash and prospects — including Kyle Drabek — to make a move if necessary. When the Braves lost Kevin Millwood and Tom Glavine after the 2002 season, they traded for Russ Ortiz and Mike Hampton. When Maddux left after the 2003 season, they signed John Thomson and traded for Tim Hudson a year later.
  • Joe Blanton wouldn’t have been given an extension. Schuerholz only let Cy Young Award winners stick around for more than three years. He would have either traded him for major league help — a la Denny Neagle to the Reds in 1998 for All-Star secondbaseman Bret Boone — or let him walk and use the money to keep Lee around and possibly go after Halladay as a free agent.

The Braves were a classic example of a team that did everything they possibly could to remain as competitive as they could every year. The fact that they only won one championship is a combination of flat out choking and running into some bad luck. You can’t say that just because they weren’t as successful as we all thought they should have been that you shouldn’t model your franchise after them.

They were an elite team for 15 straight years and it wasn’t because they hovered over their flock of prospects like an overprotective mother. It’s because they drafted, signed and developed great young talent and weren’t afraid to let them go when it meant they could improve their major league club.

The Phillies could very well be on the verge of a run that could surpass the Braves’, but if they do, it will be because Amaro successfully re-invented the wheel and not because he followed the very successful plan that Schuerholz laid out nearly 20 years ago.

Zaki is the Chief Rocka and senior writer for

One Response to “Braves weren’t bad role models, they just couldn’t seal the deal”

  1. Johnny Hamer on February 18th, 2010 12:03 pm

    Ron Gant, that is a name I have not heard in a while !

Feel free to leave a comment. Or don't. It's whatever...