The offseason is officially underway.
Trade talks, offers, contract extensions – the pieces are moving and it looks like this could be an interesting winter for everyone involved. The Marlins just dumped pretty much every star on their team, which was, shall we say, surprising. The Phillies are rumored to be looking at Josh Hamilton, which is a bold move for a team that definitely needs more than one star to shore up a weak offense.
Here in Atlanta, back up catcher David Ross signed a deal that takes him to Boston for two years, which is a big loss to the Braves, in my opinion. Not only was he arguably the best back up catcher a team could ask for, but his contribution to the club on and off the field is hard to replace. Especially in a year that said goodbye to Chipper Jones, losing so much leadership all at once can’t be an easy thing.
In the meantime, many Braves fans are holding their breath about the future of center fielder Michael Bourn. Can the Braves afford to keep him or will he be wooed to a bigger-money club?
We shall certainly see in due time. But here, we’re going to go through the Braves’ first team and talk about the changes we’ll see in the next couple of months. But this will be a combination of what I know currently and pure speculation. If you want to see a full spread of starters and minor leaguers, check out this article by Jamie Shoemaker. Trust me, that guy knows what he’s talking about.
We’ll begin with starting pitching, because doesn’t every team? Here are the current five, in no particular order:
Kris Medlen, Tim Hudson, Mike Minor, Paul Maholm and Tommy Hanson. Of those five, Medlen, Hudson, Minor and Maholm are pretty much a lock. Hanson, after two years of struggling to find his groove, may find himself headed somewhere else. Certainly there’s reason to look forward to an open spot come June or July when the Braves will hopefully get Brandon Beachy back in the rotation. In the meantime, there’s an opening for Randall Delgado or Julio Teheran if Hanson doesn’t return.
Personally, I think you move Teheran; he’s a top prospect and can give you a chip to move and get something in return. Delgado can round out the rotation, if you let Hanson go and can move into the bullpen when Beachy returns.
Onto the other half of the battery. Brian McCann went to the operating table days after the season ended for shoulder surgery that will have a long stretch of rehab accompanying it. Rumor is he’ll miss up to the entire first month of season. With Ross, this doesn’t pose too large a problem, as he could have easily filled in the starter role until McCann returned and the Braves could have Christian Bethancourt as their backup for that time. Now that Ross is gone, the Braves face a tough choice – let Bethancourt start for a month or go out and find a free-agent catcher who’s only guaranteed a month or so as a starter. Bethancourt is young and could certainly be the one to inherit the starter position from McCann, especially if the veteran puts up numbers like this past season. McCann’s contract with the Braves is up at the end of the 2013 season, and the salary he’ll likely be in the market for can’t justify his .230 average. At least not for the Braves.
I say let Bethancourt have a month. If nothing else, the Braves will have a chance to see what the future may hold for them and what he’ll need to work on. They can pick up a cheap backup to have on hand, one they won’t mind spending money for after McCann returns to the lineup.
As far as the infield is concerned, first baseman Freddie Freeman has shown he has a spot with his name on it for some time to come. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons is a good fit, even if the jitters got the best of him in the Wild Card game. Second baseman Dan Uggla is a puzzle. His average and power numbers were even worse this past year, and many Braves fans would love to see him go, but his large contract makes him a tough piece to move. In the meantime, his OBP was close to .350 and his glove was solid enough to give him another year to sort his bat out. Frankly, if his hitting makes a turn for the better this year, the Braves offensive production would get a serious shot in the arm.
As for third base, Chipper has left a large hole there, but it’s time to look forward. Juan Francisco remains the player who is a third baseman, but there have been talks for some time about Martin Prado filling the void after the Hall of Famer moved on. Francisco has some definite pluses: good glove and good power at the plate. But, much like the Kung-Fu Panda, he’s going to need to slim down and speed up to be truly competitive. He’s still young and knows his conditioning is important, but it remains to be seen if he’ll follow through. I’m a big fan of Prado and seeing him play at almost every position on the diamond convinced me he’s a good fit for the hot corner. His dedication to the game assures me he’d be more than ready to take on the position as a starter and flourish in the role.
If you move Prado to third, then you have one or potentially two holes in the outfield. Bourn is a coin flip, in my opinion. I don’t think the Braves will be able to offer him what he (or agent Scott Boras) would like to receive, and considering who will be going after him, the competition is stiff. Now, I’m going to take an unpopular stance on Bourn, which I hate to do, because I really like having him on this team. But while his season numbers look great, his second-half numbers are not nearly as strong. I’m talking a batting average drop of 86 points and half the total bases of the first half. I’m not picking on him at all. My concern is the rest of the lineup seemed to go as he went. If Bourn had a bad game or a bad couple of games, so did the Braves. Which isn’t his fault, but if the Braves are going to use a big chunk of what they have to spend over the next five or six years, I think it’s understandable to want more consistency out of their leadoff man.
I still haven’t answered the question. This one is tough. I’d love to see the Braves hang onto to Bourn. If they can’t make it work, there’s been talk of B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino and even Cody Ross. These are all strong players with a lot to bring to a team. Victorino is a short-term player because of his age, and I don’t think that’s what the Braves need. Upton is a solid choice; he’s young and has a lot of speed and power numbers. But his average has been dropping, and the Braves can’t be certain what they’re getting. I’ve even thought it would be a good move to put Jason Heyward in center. Hear me out! Good speed, great arm, good bat. Sounds like a plan to me!
I don’t know. There are so many variables and not enough outfielders on the free-agent market. But what if you moved Heyward to center, managed to pick up Giancarlo Stanton from the fire sale that is the Marlins and left fielder Ryan Ludwick to round out the outfield? That’s so crazy it just might work …
Alright, Braves fans. I think that signals the end of this. We didn’t make it to the bullpen, but I don’t foresee many moves happening there. The Braves had every reason to be proud of the bullpen. And the bench? Besides Jordan Schafer, I can’t make too many predictions as to who will stay or go in the next couple of months, but it will definitely prove interesting, I’m sure. Whatever happens, this is a team that just needs to tweak a couple spots and will certainly find themselves in the hunt for October next season.