How the Atlanta Braves Can Fix Each Major Weakness Before the 2014 Season
Yeah, 96 wins is great and all, but consider the following:
The face of the franchise for the past two decades retired the previous season.
In July, Atlanta's No. 1 starter was sidelined for the rest of the year.
The jaw of the Braves' brightest young star was broken in August.
One of the key cogs in the Braves rotation underwent a second elbow surgery two weeks removed from a return from Tommy John surgery.
Two players worth a collective $25.45 MM were deemed liabilities by manager Fredi Gonzalez and were either benched or left off the NLDS roster entirely.
When all of this is taken into account, 96 wins looks mighty impressive. Going into the offseason though, there are four major items to address on the Braves' agenda.
Here's what Frank Wren and Co. will be looking to fix this offseason.
In the world of economics, there is a term called "sunk costs," which are previous costs incurred that cannot be recovered.
Dan Uggla's remaining contract of two years, $26 MM is a sunk cost.
Save for his second-half hitting streak in 2011, Uggla has been very, very bad since being shipped to Atlanta. His hustle and leadership in the clubhouse are undoubtedly invaluable, but his performance at the plate and play in the field have been decidedly detrimental to the team.
So detrimental in fact, that he was left off the Braves' NLDS roster entirely.
Unless there is a suitor willing to surrender a prospect or a handful of cash for Uggla, Atlanta needs to eat the $26 MM and cut ties with its second baseman.
The Braves won't be in the market for Robinson Cano, but should they choose to pursue a fix in free agency, Frank Wren could be looking at Omar Infante, Skip Schumaker, Chase Utley or even take a gamble on the injury-prone Brian Roberts. Internally, Atlanta could look at prospect Tommy La Stella.
Free-agent second basemen courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.
No. 1 Starter
With regard to the starting rotation, the Braves could go one of two ways:
1.) They sit tight and hope to develop either Mike Minor or Julio Teheran into an undisputed No. 1, or
2.) They go out and acquire a No. 1.
That's really the only way Atlanta is going to get past the first round of the playoffs. Fredi Gonzalez's rotation is very good, but without a lockdown ace, the Braves will continue to have trouble in the postseason.
Kris Medlen is a fiery competitor, and Alex Wood has a load of talent, but only Mike Minor and Julio Teheran possess the combination of stuff and swagger to ever match up against the Kershaws and Wainwrights of the National League.
Should management see them only as very talented No. 2 starters though, Frank Wren needs to give the Tampa Bay Rays a call and inquire how much it would take to fetch David Price.
Earning just over $10 MM in 2013, Price will command a higher salary after the arbitration process this offseason, but he won't be exorbitantly priced. In exchange for a handful of high level prospects—Christian Bethancourt, J.R. Graham and Lucas Sims come to mind—and possibly a major league starter, Atlanta would acquire a reasonably priced clear-cut alpha dog for two seasons.
It's worth a phone call.
This slide defies the slideshow title in the sense that catcher was not a weakness for the Braves in 2013.
However, once Brian McCann walked off the field in Los Angeles, there became a vacancy at the catching position for Atlanta.
McCann has been wonderful for the Braves throughout his nine-year career. He's been a clubhouse leader, a run producer, a game-caller, a battery mate and one of the most consistent, productive Braves in recent memory.
After paying B.J. Upton handsomely last offseason though, it remains to be seen whether or not Atlanta is able or willing to give McCann the contract that he deserves.
Unless Frank Wren decides to ship Christian Bethancourt to Tampa Bay for David Price, the Braves are likely to fill this opening from within, using a combination of Bethancourt and Evan Gattis, with Bethancourt a possibility to win the job outright.
Should the Braves need to dip into free agency, a slew of options is presented, including but not limited to: John Buck, Jesus Flores, Gerald Laird, A.J. Pierzynski, Carlos Ruiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Free-agent catchers courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.
I mentioned in the first slide that Dan Uggla's contract should be considered a sunk cost.
B.J. Upton's $75.25 MM contract should be considered an investment.
Sunk costs are lost causes that need to be cut; there is still hope that Upton turns his career around. When he's hot, Upton is the type of player that can carry a team—a team like the Braves who showed up to the NLDS without any life in their bats.
As far as I'm concerned, getting Upton right will be offseason priority numero uno.
I don't care what it takes to get him mentally and mechanically right again, but the Braves need to find out, and they need to do whatever it takes to keep Evan Gattis from running around in left field once the 2014 postseason rolls around.
With B.J. Upton crushing fastballs, the Braves lineup becomes a much more potent force, and the Braves outfield features three Gold Glove candidates.
Get B.J. Upton right.
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