2014 Atlanta Braves: Can they survive loss of veterans?

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With Brian McCann and Tim Hudson heading in different directions, will the Atlanta Braves remain among the elite NL teams? (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

For most, it would have been easy to miss the flurry of trades and signings that have taken place the past few weeks. It’s been crazy. Tons of big-name players have changed addresses, yet one team stayed relatively quiet. The Atlanta Braves are one of the few teams that made a small splash in the big, big ocean. Who even turned their heads to hear it?

Last year, the Atlanta Braves filled voids with big-name players, acquiring Justin Upton and signing B.J. Upton. Chris Johnson filled in beautifully when the great Chipper Jones retired. But, this year, they’ve lost Brian McCann and Tim Hudson — tough losses no matter the team.

The Atlanta Braves won 96 games this year, and every team in their division has significantly improved this offseason. Are the Braves guaranteed a slide? Let’s dig deeper.

Key Losses

  • Brian McCann – .256/.336/.461 with 20 home runs. WAR was a 2.2
  • Tim Hudson – 8-7 with 3.97 ERA before getting hurt. WAR was a 1.0
  • Reed Johnson played great backup but actually had a -.1 WAR.
  • Paul Janish has a terrible -.4 WAR but that’s only because he can’t hit. He was only a defensive replacement.
  • Elliott Johnson did well and even became the starting second basemen down the stretch and into the postseason. He had a WAR of 0.2.
  • Cristhian Martinez had an injury year, but he is usually the long-relief man.
  • Sean Gilmartin (#4 prospect) – A former first-round pick who had a down year after being passed by Alex Wood.

Key Acquisitions

  • Gavin Floyd – Injury season last year. Usually his WAR sits in the 2-4 range in the AL. I think this is a great signing. He’ll be like Javier Vazquez. Look at his splits during his White Sox years. On away games, his ERA is below 4.00 and very respectable. He will do well against the NL.
  • Ryan Doumit – Good for about a WAR of 1.0.
  • Luis Vazquez – Projects to win a bullpen spot.

Projected Roster and Depth

Catcher: Evan Gattis, Gerald Laird, Ryan Doumit, Christian Bethancourt

Yes, there are four catchers listed. There is a chance all four could be in the majors at the same time, but not for long. They certainly won’t all be on the roster come opening day. With the loss of Brian McCann, how are they going to replace his production? The Braves figure to lose a game or two with the loss of McCann, as Gattis was good for about a 0.6 WAR last year.

What the Braves are hoping: Gattis will start the season at catcher. Laird will be the primary backup. Doumit will catch occasionally but play mainly outfield and first base. Doumit will be a super-utility-type player. The Braves are hoping Bethancourt has a strong first half in triple-A so they can later trade Laird or Doumit for prospects or an ace pitcher and bring Bethancourt up to the majors. He would then be the full-time catcher and Gattis will move to a backup/pinch-hitter/outfielder role.

What will probably happen: Doumit will be catching more than initially planned. Barring injuries, this could be an OK solution to get them through the year. They aren’t in bad shape, but they aren’t in great shape either. They will have less production and leadership behind the plate, but it’s hard to replace McCann. It’ll be a hot topic all year. All eyes will be on Bethancourt.

First Base: Freddie Freeman

It’s Freddie Freeman. He’s about as consistent as they come. He took another step forward last year, batting .319/.396/.501 with 23 HR and 109 RBI. What’s his ceiling? His WAR was 5.4 this season. If he takes another step forward, he’ll make up the difference that catcher would lose. But, the Atlanta Braves would be ecstatic to see the same production. Doumit is the backup here in case of injuries.

Second Base: Dan Uggla, Ramiro Pena, Taylor Pastornicky, Tommy La Stella

Ugh. Dan Uggla actually had a -1.3 WAR this season. Even in his last few years, which Braves fans still cried foul, he had a positive 2+ WAR. It’s true.

What the Braves are hoping: Uggla will get the opportunity to start again. He plays well. All is forgiven … or they trade him prior to the season.

What will probably happen: Uggla will begin the season as the starter. History says it won’t go well. He’ll be released (only because it won’t be pretty) and the Braves will platoon Ramiro Pena and Tommy La Stella. Which is still better than last year’s debacle.

Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons

Andrelton Simmons is my boy. He does no wrong. I think he’ll take a step forward offensively next year.

Third Base: Chris Johnson

Johnson had a terrific year and most say it was a fluke. While the power numbers are probably realistic, the batting average wasn’t. He’ll hover closer to the .290 mark next year, which still isn’t bad. Super-utility Pena will fill in when needed.

Outfield: Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton, Jordan Schafer, anyone else the Braves call up

BREAKING NEWS: Jason Heyward becomes the first player to man the entire outfield during the game.

In all seriousness, Heyward took a step forward this year after a down 2012. Heyward is fine. Justin Upton will more than likely duplicate his 2013 stats. The big question mark is B.J. Upton. Doumit and Gattis will also grab some playing time in the outfield.

What the Braves are hoping: The outfield becomes what everyone said pre-2013: The best in the majors. They collectively hit 60 home runs and swipe 60 stolen bases. It’s a great day to be a Braves fan.

What will probably happen: Heyward and J Up have good years. So, does B.J.

Hitting isn’t in too bad of shape and could improve with age and experience. Thoughts?

Next up is analyzing the pitching. Stay tuned folks.

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