The Atlanta Braves are heading into this offseason with the realization that things are going to look different next season.
After falling to the St. Louis Cardinals in the one-game tiebreaker for the Wild Card spot, the Braves will be looking to retool and fill the empty spots on their team in order to make another run at postseason baseball.
One of those empty roster spots belongs to Chipper Jones. The longtime Braves third baseman officially retired after the team's last game.
Jones, after 19 seasons with the Atlanta organization, leaves behind a tremendous legacy and will, undoubtedly, go down as one of the greatest players in team history.
Everyone is sad to see a class act like Chipper Jones depart the game, but, to me, it couldn't come at a better time for the Braves.
Obviously, Jones retiring is a big loss, but it's time now for a new identity to be formed for the Braves. When Bobby Cox retired, it was the beginning of the end for the Braves identity everyone knew. Likewise, Chipper Jones' retirement has sealed the end of this era.
The identity change won't be happening overnight, though. The Braves will be using every avenue to get the guys, some of whom they already have, they want to forge this new identity.
These are my bold predictions, though, that the Braves could be considering to establish this new era.
Brian McCann could have played his last game as a Brave
Brian McCann is recovering from shoulder surgery and now might miss the beginning of the 2013 season. This may be an unpopular prediction, but it could be time for the Braves to move on.
McCann still has a team option at $12 million, and while some may think this presents the Braves with a tough decision to make, I think the decision is a simple one.
Simple, but a bit complex.
It sounds like an oxymoron, but I just mean that the simple part is knowing that he will be replaced. It gets complex when you figure out how or when you want to do it.
By declining the team option, the club could just cut ties all together before the season starts. This would give them some payroll flexibility while also allowing them to address the catching situation sooner rather than later. However, it may work out to their advantage to keep him around for a little while longer.
If they were to exercise his option and allow him to come back, and prove that he is healthy, they could then trade him, possibly to help fill another need.
It may not make sense to trade if he re-establishes his value, but at that point, the Braves should have already committed themselves to another answer at catcher.
He'd still be an expendable piece, but not one that goes for free.
He may be a popular figure and leader of the Braves, but it can just be a business decision. Whatever the case, moving on from McCann would be a bold move to usher in a new era of Braves baseball.
Josh Hamilton would be expensive, but worth it for the Braves
Signing Josh Hamilton would be the boldest of bold moves that Atlanta could make this offseason.
Before even discussing what this move could mean for the Braves, it must be noted that GM Frank Wren has asserted, possibly due to speculation over this move, that the Braves won't be making rash decisions in free agency.
If I may overlook that for a minute, this is exactly the type of move that the Braves need to make. Take a minute and forget all about Josh Hamilton's off-field problems, though they are a legitimate concern.
Inserting Josh Hamilton into the Atlanta Braves' lineup, with Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward around him, instantly makes it one of the more dangerous ones in the NL, possibly the whole league.
Some like to attribute Hamilton's success to playing in Texas, which does benefit power hitters, but looking at his splits will show you that there's not a glaring difference in home and away stats.
Another negative against Hamilton is his defense. Signing a player to a large contract if he's a liability in the field seems like a foolish idea, but having a plus-WAR rating is a decent indication that his defense doesn't have an impact on the team winning.
The fact of the matter is that Josh Hamilton is a pure hitter and a game changer. The Braves rarely make big offseason splashes on free agents, but they have the capability to make such a move.
No doubt, it would be a bold move that shakes things up in the NL.
Victorino would be another uncharactersitic signing, but is a fit for Atlanta
Center field is another area of concern for the Braves. Michael Bourn is due for a raise, and though he is a good player, the Braves would be wise to let him walk and let him be overpaid elsewhere.
Thus, another hole is made in the Braves lineup.
Now, Braves fans would be sure to question why all the predictions deal with hitters when the starting pitching is also in need of some work.
Fair point, and maybe it's just me, but I think the pitching will be fine.
Injuries and inconsistency plagued them last season. With everybody healthy, and Jair Jurrjens spending some time on mechanics in Triple-A, the starting pitching should bounce back.
Also, rounding out the lineup might take some pressure off the pitching.
Shane Victorino is the first name that comes to mind as a free agent. He, like Hamilton, leans on the pricey side, but he'd be a great replacement for Bourn.
He provides both offensively and defensively, and plays the game with great passion. Not to mention that fact that it might peeve the Philadelphia Phillies, Victorino's former team, which would sure delight Braves fans.
The Braves could also find themselves dipping into their deep pool of pitching prospects to acquire a center fielder.
Jacoby Ellsbury is an interesting name that could be had at a reasonable price, though Boras might make any trade for him undesireable.
If Atlanta wants to keep it cheap and similar to Bourn, Denard Span and Pete Bourjos might also be available.