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Altanta Braves Offseason Outlook

October 26, 2012

Baseball

The way the Braves ended the 2012 season left a bad taste in my mouth and hopefully the same goes for the players, coaching staff and management.  The one game playoff was a disaster.  Errors, poor hitting with runners in scoring position and a terrible call by an umpire left both the players and fans wondering what could have been.

Barring some Brett Favre-esque comeback tour, the Braves will go into the off-season in search of a third baseman for the first time in almost 20 years.  Chipper Jones is gone putting an end to an era in Braves baseball that no one will soon forget.  Along with the hole at third base, Manager Fedi Gonzalez and General Manager Frank Wren have other holes to fill on a roster that many thought had the talent to make a deep run in the playoffs.  With Derek Lowe and Chipper Jones coming off the books, the Braves have $24 million to spend in salaries this offseason.  Combine that with the likely departure of Michael Bourn and Eric Hinske and that adds another $8 million.  Wren might have to get a little creative but there are options out there and the Braves really only have two positions to fill.

Catcher – The Braves have a $13 million dollar option for 2013 on Brian McCann and I seriously doubt they decline it.  He had shoulder surgery just over a week ago that will likely keep him out until the start of the regular season if not longer.  Even though he struggled mightily in 2012, he still smashed 20 home runs for the 5th consecutive season and drove in a respectable 67 runs.  Hopefully the shoulder surgery and rest will help him get back to his usual self, otherwise this season could be his last in a Braves uniform.  David Ross should be resigned and is a more than capable backup that can get the Braves through the first month or so of the season.

1st Base – Freddie Freeman is the Braves’ future at first base.  He isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  He showed improvement during his sophomore season with the Braves.  He improved in almost every category except for average which took a major dip during the last month of the season.  With Chipper gone, the Braves will need him to show more consistency at the plate while continuing to improve on his power numbers and being a force in the middle of the lineup.

2nd Base – It is safe to say that Dan Uggla has been a bust so far in his time with the Braves.  He was never going to be a guy that hit .300 but if you take out that ridiculous hitting streak he had during last season, he has hit below .200 the rest of the time.  The Braves owe him a lot of money over the next four years and let’s face it, no one is going to take on that big of a contract for a .200 hitter who strikes out over 150 times per season.  I haven’t completely given up on him yet but another season resembling this past one and the Braves might have to seriously think about making a change.

3rd Base – As much as I like the fact that Martin Prado can player anywhere on the field, he is a natural infielder.  With Chipper Jones now retired and with a lack of options in free agency, Prado is the logical choice to take over at third base.  Outside of Kris Medlen, Prado was the Braves MVP and should be rewarded with a long term deal.  Probably the easiest decision that Fredi and Frank have to make this winter.

Shortstop – If Andrelton Simmons doesn’t go down, I’m not so sure that the Braves don’t catch the Nationals and win the division.  Don’t believe me?  Go check Paul Janish’s stats.  He hit .186 with a measly 6 extra base hits while filling in.  Simmons on the other hand hit .289 with 11 extra base hits in one less at bat.  Simmons is another up and coming player that the Braves can be really excited about.  The job at short is his to lose at this point with very little competition behind him.

Right Field – Jason Heyward rebounded from a miserable 2011 season to put up the best numbers across the board for his young career.  He showed more power in the second half of the season and if Fredi Gonzalez could stop trying to be Bobby Cox then he is a potential 30/30 guy if not 40/40.  He is an above average defensive outfield and can play all three spots if need be.  He is another player that the Braves are going to rely on long term as we usher out the old and continue to bring in the new.

Left Field – With the anticipated move to third by Prado, left field is one of the positions of biggest need for the Braves.  There are some names out there to be had both in free agency and also through trades.  The name I like the most is Arizona’s Justin Upton.  Although he is due close to $39 million over the next 3 seasons, he is the type of right handed power bat that the Braves are still searching for.  He can play both out field spots and brings speed and the ability to make things happen on the base paths as well.  The Diamondbacks have said publicly that they are not interested in trading Upton but a package built around some young pitching and an additional prospect or two and I think they would change their tune.

Center Field – As much as I love Michael Bourn, the reality of it is that he is a Scott Boras client and Boras always seems to pinch every penny he can out of teams.  Not that I blame him because that is his lively hood but he will likely ask for an annual salary of about 12-15 million over the next 5-7 years and if I’m the Braves I walk away from the negotiating table on that one.  Bourn has speed which is what the Braves lack but he strikes out entirely too much for a leadoff hitter and isn’t worth that kind of money.  On the other hand, B.J. Upton has speed and is no slouch defensively.  He will be expensive but he will likely get somewhere around 8-10 million which is more along the lines of what the Braves can afford.

Starting Pitching – With Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Paul Maholm, Mike Minor and Tommy Hanson all under contract for next season, I seriously doubt the Braves make any moves with regards to starting pitching.  As much as Braves’ fans seem to loathe sending Hanson to the mound every fifth day, he is our best option at this point and you won’t find a much better fifth starter on the open market.  Brandon Beachy should be in the rotation but he is likely out until the All-Star break but he will be a major factor once he returns.

Bullpen – Another area where the Braves should have very little concern is in the bullpen.  Craig Kimbrel, Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters will all be back.  Christhian Martinez is a serviceable pitcher and Louis Avilan stepped up big toward the end of last season.  Chad Durbin likely won’t be back but he is easily replaced since there are a number of guys who will be free agents this winter.  The biggest wild card will be Pete Moylan.  He has been injury prone over the last few seasons but I see the Braves bringing him back since he is a fan favorite and when healthy, one of the better relievers in the game.

Projected Lineup

3B Martin Prado (R)

CF B.J. Upton (R)

RF Jason Heyward (L)

1B Freddie Freeman (L)

LF Justin Upton (R)

C Brian McCann (L)

2B Dan Uggla (R)

SS Andrelton Simmons (R)

Projected Rotation

Kris Medlen

Tim Hudson

Mike Minor

Paul Maholm

Tommy Hanson

Outlook

The possibility of a Heyward, Upton, Upton outfield might be a pipe dream but Wren has the assets to go for it and finally bring some balance to a lineup that has been without much right handed production for quite a while now.

With the roughly $32 million in contracts that come off the books plus a small increase in payroll, the Braves should have somewhere in the neighborhood of $35 million to spend.  Players like Zach Greinke and Josh Hamilton will eat into that amount entirely too much as both will likely command around $20 million per season.  The Braves need to fill essentially two outfield spots and bringing the Upton brothers in will give the Braves one of the better defensive outfields in the league.

Every other position is set going into next season so there is very little the Braves need to do there.  The rotation will likely look exactly the same as it did last season.  I can just hear the groans from Atlanta fans now but the reality of it is that our rotation is still really good.  With Brandon Beachy due back by mid-season and with Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran waiting in the wings the Braves also have a lot of depth which is more that most teams can say.

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About claytoncrowe

I'm an Accountant and an aspiring sports writer. Basketball is my specialty and my dream job is to be the General Manager of an NBA team.

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4 Comments on “Altanta Braves Offseason Outlook”

  1. Ryan Says:

    The Braves have a lot to be proud of coming out of 2012. Considering the way they improved their win-loss record from 2011. Much improved. I totally agree and still feel robbed of what-might-have-been after watching how this playoff season ended. As a Brave fan who is off the reservation, (CA) here are my thoughts on what needs to happen…
    First, fielding has to remain constant or improve. Minus the last game, they were the best in the bigs when it comes to defense.
    Second, speed kills. We cannot lose the balance of speed and power that has worked so well this year.
    Third, You can never have enough quality starting pitching. These must be our guiding principles this winter.
    Some things are certain. Heyward needs to remain in RF. Freeman remains at 1st. McCann behind the dish, with Ross spelling him as needed. Simmons at SS.
    Here is where it gets interesting; I would personally love to see Francisco bust his ass this off season. Drop the weight, build the discipline, and compete for the 3rd base job. I’ll sacrifice some range at 3rd for the power he brings. That dude has massive potential.
    That would allow Prado to act as utility man for Franc versus lefties, and spell Uggs when he starts to slump. Oh and would some please arrange a meeting for Dan with the same hitting coach Heyward has been using….I can’t take much more of his not living up to expectations.
    I would love to see Bourn back as a brave next year. His speed and fielding outweighs some (not all) of his K’s. Realistically though, he probably won’t be here. So that leaves us with 2 problems; we need a true lead off guy (a problem since Rafael left and Michael arrived) and we need the speed to balance our power. I was pleasantly surprised to see what Heyward and Simmons brought to the table with their fleet feet, but we need more. I am tempted by 2 scenarios…1) sign Justin Upton for left field and make Constanza our everyday center fielder and lead off guy. (Which may free up enough cash to land Greinke, sending Hanson to the pen)
    2) Sign Justin Upton for center and send Prado to Left. Not ideal, and would put more stress on a bench which is average defensively, but not so much offensively.
    My preference would be option 1, which would undoubtedly make us a force in a very competitive NL East. But even without Greinke, we have a starting staff that is solid and getting stronger, especially with this years experience. I was also pleased with the way the bullpen was used this year as opposed to last.
    Finally, it comes down to money. Doesn’t it always come down to money? If Wren can pull off what we need and get at least a couple wants, I’ll be very happy. Make it happen Frank!

    Reply

    • claytoncrowe Says:

      I agree with you on the speed thing 100%. It is something that the Braves have lacked for quite some time now. Bourn remedied that and I would love to have him back but his price tag is a little more than I’m willing to go.

      I could take giving Constanza a shot if we traded for Justin Upton and got another starting pitcher.

      The only thing I’m not sold on is Juan Francisco. Nothing against him but I just don’t see him as an every day option. I could be wrong.

      Reply

  2. John McCoy Says:

    I agree with most of your comments Clayton. Obtaining both Upton Brothers is a pipe dream, if I had a choice between the two, I would definitely take Justin. I also like Prado better in the two hole, I would not be shocked to see Simmons end up in the lead off spot, if not next year, then maybe soon after that.

    Reply

    • claytoncrowe Says:

      I agree John that it would be a pipe dream but we have the means to get it done and I love the possibilities that the lineup both offensively and defensively would bring.

      Reply

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