NASHVILLE – If Winston Churchill were alive and running the Braves he would mark the Winter Meetings going on here now with a stirring: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
The Braves, however, are commanded by a bunch of guys named John, who came to baseball’s big swap meet bearing a message of much the same tenor.
To fans left dizzy and disenchanted by a 95-loss season and the piece-by-piece deconstruction of the team, the brass offers reassurance that it knows exactly what it is doing and that nothing is so wrong that it can’t be cured by a new stadium and a whole bunch of new, downy-cheeked stars in the making.
Of all the rumors that fly this time of year, the Braves leadership foremost wants to launch this one: Trust us. We know what we’re doing. The worst is over.
Speaking to the immediate, John Hart, president of baseball operations, said, “We think we’re going to be competitive in ’16. We think we’re going to score more runs, we think there’s more offense, we think there’s a better bullpen, we think our starters have grown a year.”
As for the long-range, the whole reason for the wholesale exchange of almost everything familiar for pitching prospects (some of them even not fresh off Tommy John surgery) and draft picks and international players of mystery, general manager John Coppolella says a payoff is coming for those who are patient.
“Two-thousand-fifteen was rock bottom, 2016 is going to be a better year and 2017 is going to be even better,” he said. “You’re seeing so many good young players that there are going to be steps forward every single year until we get where we want to be, and that’s the World Series.”
They ask the populace to lend them the rarest resource – faith.
They promise that the pain you are feeling now will be rewarded with a heavenly future, that of being continually competitive again, relevant beyond almost any All-Star break.
Hart is 67 but sells the grand design with the energy and conviction of a hungry kid just out of seminary school.
As he noted, “It has been painful. It has been Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride for everybody – for our fans and for us.”
And still, he said, “We have our own agenda. We haven’t wavered on it. We haven’t blinked on it.”
For Braves fans, this is the winter of their discontent.
They are being promised an incrementally more tolerable spring.
Trusting that will test the limits of every fan.