MIAMI -- As Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman digested the shock he felt after learning Craig Kimbrel had been traded to the Padres on Sunday night, he reminisced about his days with the closer at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, when Kimbrel's control problems led his teammate to dread those instances when he was brought out of the bullpen.
"He got sent down from High A to Low A, and then all of the sudden became Craig Kimbrel," Freeman said. "It's the craziest thing. When a guy gets traded, you think about all those stories in the Minor Leagues. You just look back and remember the times you had with him. It's definitely tough seeing him go. But I think everybody's mentality in this clubhouse is to prove everybody wrong."
When Kimbrel was traded to the Padres in a deal that was fueled by the opportunity to dump the remainder of the $46.3 million owed to Melvin Upton Jr. over the next three years, there was even more reason for fans and critics to believe the Braves are in a rebuilding mode. The primary benefits of this trade -- which included the acquisition of two highly regarded prospects (right-handed pitcher Matt Wisler and outfielder Jordan Paroubeck, a Draft pick (41st overall) and cost savings (approximately $58.5 million) -- all provide value for the future.
Thus it was not exactly good timing to complete this trade approximately 24 hours before Monday's Opening Day matchup against the Marlins. But as Braves players prepared for the season opener at Marlins Park, veterans Nick Markakis, A.J. Pierzynski and Jonny Gomes did their part to make sure the morale and confidence stayed strong as the team prepared to enter the season without Kimbrel.
Though Markakis has been relatively quiet since joining the Braves this year, his actions have displayed his leadership skills. After manager Fredi Gonzalez addressed his players on Monday afternoon, Markakis stood up and stressed that there was no need for he or his teammates to dwell on the trade.
"I walked around the clubhouse today and just tried to get a feel for how our guys were doing," Gonzalez said. "They were fine. They lost a good teammate and a friend. Some of these guys have come through the Minor Leagues together. But as far as the pulse of the clubhouse, [the players] were fine. It's a big boys' business, and they understood. The longer you're around doing this, the more stuff like that is going to happen, and you're just going to have to shake it off."
Because of the great value Kimbrel has brought to the clubhouse and community with his charitable personality, it was even more difficult for the Braves to bid adieu to the dominant closer.
This was the mindset Gomes tried to strengthen as he traveled to the stadium with Freeman and Chris Johnson on Monday morning. Though the trade was still fresh in their memory, Gomes made sure it was never discussed.
"It's definitely tough when your team gets put together and then one of them goes," Freeman said. "It's definitely tough, but I think we're going to be OK. It's Opening Day, and I think everybody is excited and ready to go."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.