Questions Still Face Braves
After an offseason spent rebuilding the pitching staff and failing to land Rafael Furcal, Jake Peavy, and A.J. Burnett, the Braves still have several questions to answer heading into Spring Training.
Who will provide right-handed power in the batting order?
Last season, even with Mark Teixeira in the lineup, the Braves were near the bottom in slugging, total bases, and RBI. With Casey Kotchman taking over for Tex, the dearth of power is even more severe. Four of the Braves' eight positions will be manned by left-handed batters. The team needs to plug left-field with a solid right-handed bat. A trade for Xavier Nady would be a great short-term solution. Jermaine Dye has also been discussed. In any case, the Braves need an upgrade over Matt Diaz, and need Jeff Francoeur to remember how to hit.
Who will fill in for Chipper?
It is a foregone conclusion that Chipper Jones will have at least one stint on the DL. He will also have another ten or so games in which he is too hurt to play, but not hurt enough to go on the DL. Throw in another dozen or so in which he is limited to pinch-hitting, and the Braves are faced with the prospect of doing without their best hitter in one-fourth of their games. Martin Prado and Omar Infante combined for 5 homers in 545 at-bats last season, and cannot fill the gaping hole that Chipper's absence leaves in an already power-starved lineup. Free agent Ty Wigginton would be an excellent choice to back up Chipper and spell Kotchman against lefties. Whether the Braves can afford that luxury with Greg Norton under contract is another question.
Who will be the number five starter?
Assuming newcomer Kenshin Kawakami claims the fourth spot in the rotation, the fifth starter will be little more than a placeholder for Tommy Hanson, who should arrive in Atlanta after the All-Star break. The league caught up to Jorge Campillo late in the season, and Jojo Reyes has never lived up to his potential. Tom Glavine has publicly stated that he is not interested in a situation where he has to compete for a job. Would he be open to what amounts to a three month guarantee?
Who will play center field?
Josh Anderson is out of options, and is likely to be on the roster. Gregor Blanco had a respectable .360 on-base percentage and stole 13 bases in 2008, but struck out 99 times. Each is a speedy baserunner, fair defender, and totally lacking in power. If the Braves do not pick up a new left-fielder, or give Andruw Jones another try, look for Cox to play whichever has the hot bat in center, and platoon the other with Matt Diaz in left.
Who will be the situational lefty out of the bullpen?
With Mike Gonzalez penciled in as the probable closer, the likely candidate is Boone Logan, the young, 6'5" pitcher acquired from the White Sox in the Javier Vasquez deal. Although Logan posted an exellent strikeouts-to-walks ratio and a solid strikeouts per-nine innings average, "Batting Practice Boone" had an abysmal 5.95 earned run average. Will Ohman wants to return to Atlanta, and it might not be a bad idea for Frank Wren to place a call to his agent before another team snaps him up.
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