It's not even a month into the offseason, and Atlanta seems to be forgotten about already.
With speculation of Michael Bourn, BJ Upton, Josh Hamilton and Angel Pagan ending up in cities such as Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and San Francisco, Atlanta is getting left out of offseason talk, save for the occasional BJ Upton murmur.
The thought process is generally that, without Bourn, David Ross and Chipper Jones, Atlanta is going to regress back into a mid-eighties win team that is good enough to hang around for a few months, but not good enough to make it into October with the big boys.
In the past two seasons, the Atlanta Braves are 112-23 when Craig Kimbrel makes an appearance.
Last season alone, Atlanta was 58-5 when Kimbrel threw a pitch.
It's almost as if I don't need to expound anymore on this slide.
I mean, do you really need me to tell you that Fangraphs has Kimbrel compiling 6.8 WAR in his 139.2 innings pitched between 2011 and 2012, or that he struck out 16.66 batters for every nine frames he completed?
His ERA was a minuscule 1.01, but his FIP and xFIP, stats more indicative of future success, were even lower in 2012 at 0.78 and 0.88.
He's even getting more accurate—his walk rate dropped almost one and three-quarters of a batter per nine innings (3.74 to 2.01).
2012 was literally a season for the ages for the Braves stopper, and things should be no different in 2013. As long as the Braves can give him a lead, Kimbrel will give Atlanta a win.
There was a lot in 2012 that just simply didn't go right for the Braves.
First, ace Brandon Beachy went down for a year with a partially torn UCL and a trip to Dr. James Andrews for Tommy John surgery.
Then, upstart hotshot shortstop Andrelton Simmons was sidelined for two months with a broken pinkie, forcing Atlanta to utilize (if you can call it that) Paul Janish's .269 OBP for 186 at bats.
Add to that a disappointing injury-plagued campaign for Brian McCann (one that would force him to undergo shoulder surgery for a torn labrum) and another perplexing year from Dan Uggla in which he would nearly record his weight in strikeouts and pop-ups yet increase his walk rate and WAR, and you get a pretty frustrating season from four very valuable Braves.
2013 could be an entirely different story.
McCann's surgery was successful, and while he could miss some time early in the season, Atlanta will be getting a healthy and productive McCann to insert into the heart of the order.
Simmons returned in September to put together a productive final month, and should prove to be a defensive dynamo all season long, providing much value from a historically offensively starved position.
Beachy is set to return after the All-Star break, and with his talent level he could give the Braves a Kris Medlen-esque lift in 2013.
And as for Uggla, the walk rate is actually very strong (14.9 percent in 2012), and he was still valuable (he was a 3.5 win player last season), so there is still hope that he can turn in a good 2013 campaign.
And by "young arms," I of course mean Kris Medlen and Mike Minor.
You know their stories. Minor struggled with command and consistency for the entire first half before posting a second half ERA of 2.16 and establishing himself as not only a vital component to the Braves' rotation but also an ace in a manner of speaking.
Medlen, on the other hand, was inserted into the rotation on the last day of July and was simply the best pitcher in baseball ever since. In 83.2 innings, his ERA was 0.97.
Me oh my.
We've been waiting for Minor to put it together and do this for a few years, but Medlen caught Braves Country by surprise. Regardless, both starters are completely legitimate and have both the stuff and attitude to make a profound impact upon the rotation.
Moving forward, Medlen and Minor look to be mainstays and rotation toppers for the Braves in the years to come, and they will look to do a season's worth of damage in 2013 as opposed to just a half-season's worth.
It is extremely sad, of course, to see the great Chipper Jones depart from this organization.
However, the changing of the guard could not have come at a more opportune time.
Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman have been preparing the last couple years for their time to shine, and now it seems as if they are ready to bust out and emerge into superstardom.
Perhaps Heyward broke out this year, hitting 27 home runs to pair with 21 stolen bases, an .814 OPS, a Gold Glove in right field, and 6.6 WAR to his name. He was also crowned "King of the Little Things" by Fangraphs.
However, with another year of experience under his belt, his strikeout and walk rates should improve, and he should truly blossom into an MVP-caliber player, capable of carrying a team much like Chipper did for two decades.
Freeman on the other hand, is in a slightly different place than Heyward. His aesthetic stats suffered along with his eyesight but his strikeout and walk rates have been improving along with a ridiculously strong line drive rate. With an uptick in BABIP, Fangraphs projects Freeman to be comparable to Joey Votto.
I'll take that.
So Chipper's gone. Michael Bourn is likely to walk too.
But the Braves have already brought back McCann, Tim Hudson, and Paul Maholm, and have signed Gerald Laird to replace veteran backstop David Ross.
And they're not done yet. Not by a long shot.
Martin Prado is likely to make the move to third base to enable Atlanta to sign (or trade for) a couple outfielders.
In center field, Angel Pagan, Shane Victorino, Denard Span and BJ Upton are all serious options for the Braves, with Upton seemingly the frontrunner at this point. Yes, his OBP was embarrassing in 2012, but he defends really well and could still pull it all together.
In left, Cody Ross and Nick Swisher are also still options to help fill the void left by Bourn and Chipper.
At this point, Atlanta's depth chart looks a little thin with Jordan Schafer and Juan Francisco currently owning starting gigs. But by the end of the offseason, there will likely be two out-of-house options plugging center and left field, and their aggregate value will prove to impact the Braves significantly.