Evan Gattis will be the everyday pitcher in 2014.
It was a fairly quiet winter in Atlanta. The biggest news were the few fan favorites who left for other cities, and the future home of the Braves—Cobb County. There were a couple acquisitions that will help the Braves, but none that change the look of the club.
This calm offseason taught us a few things about the Atlanta Braves. From the financial issues to the bullpen, here is what we learned.
This isn’t the Ted Turner era anymore.
The Braves are struggling to sign players to contracts that they deserve. Scratch that, they aren’t struggling; they're just signing the wrong big contracts.
The Braves couldn’t afford to keep Brian McCann, who would have accepted much less than he deserved.
They have given Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel contracts beneath what both of them asked and were projected to earn.
Jason Heyward asked for $5.5 million. The Braves can’t afford to raise their offer by $0.3 million.
The places where the Braves have decided to splurge haven’t paid off.
B.J. Upton hasn’t hit over a .246 average since 2008. That’s a risky move to bring him to Atlanta and pay him $72.5 million over five years.
The risk hasn’t yet led to a reward.
As for Uggla, the Braves have tried trading him anywhere and paying the majority of his contract just to loosen up some money.
Nobody will take him.
There is going to be a new stadium built for the Braves in Cobb County, and the Braves are paying for roughly half of it. Where is that money coming from and why can’t it be spent on the sport itself, as opposed to a new place to play?
These issues will only get worse when it becomes pay day for the stadium and salaries are continuously getting higher and higher.
Thankfully, that leads us to our next point.
The famous Freddie hug.
This may seem like a pointless, heartfelt takeaway that is nice to hear but doesn’t really matter from a fan’s perspective. However, this might be what saves the Braves from losing some important players in the future.
We’ve already established that money is an issue in Atlanta. What isn’t an issue is players wanting to play in Atlanta.
These players aren’t in the news for steroids or drunk driving.
In September, the Braves were the center of attention on Sports Center on the night when Brian McCann blocked the path of Carlos Gomez, who was reaching home plate after unsportsmanlike behavior. Sure, McCann broke a rule or two for the stunt, but he was standing up for his teammates.
This team loves each other.
With an organization that doesn’t have the most financial incentives to keep players from leaving, having a team whose players don’t want to leave is what it takes to keep some in Atlanta.
I’m not saying this will keep most players, but even one is more than they would have had otherwise.
Gerald Laird will be a backup catcher for the Braves this season.
Braves General Manager, Frank Wren, told AJC reporter Carroll Rogers, “We saw last year by having that third catcher it gave Fredi flexibility.”
The catchers not playing the field for the day can come in as a pinch hitter to add power to the lineup.
These catchers also offer fielding versatility to the team. As we saw with Gattis playing on various corners of the field last season, Doumit is able to play multiple positions as well.
This is adding up to be another successful year for Atlanta catchers.
Brandon Beachy will return in 2014.
There wasn’t a big signing for a new Braves starting pitcher this winter.
Brandon Beachy will likely be back on the mound this season.
The fifth spot in the rotation is more questionable but probably will be Alex Wood.
The reality is this lineup won’t be performing at the top of their game when the season starts. Beachy needs time to adjust after coming back from Tommy John surgery and only pitching in five games in 2013.
This will be Wood’s second season in the major leagues. Batters weren’t used to what he was capable of last season. This year, he will need to show that he is able to have a low ERA again.
Medlen, Minor and Teheran hopefully will transition smoothly into this new season. Teheran needs to become a more consistent pitcher from game to game this year. The other two will be a reliable core to this rotation.
There is still work that needs to be done with these pitchers. Only time will tell how these pieces will all come together.
Craig Kimbrel is the best closer for the Atlanta Braves.
The biggest relief, as a Braves fan watching a tied ballgame in the ninth inning, is when Craig Kimbrel makes his run to the mound.
He has a 1.21 ERA. It feels weird when he lets a run score. It just doesn’t seem natural.
But a bullpen doesn’t just consist of one closer. The relief pitchers that lead up to Kimbrel are impressive as well.
Led by Luis Avilan, the relief pitchers also should make onlookers feel at ease. Avilan has a 1.52 ERA in 65 innings pitched.
The bullpen is one of the strongest, most reliable assets of this team. This season isn’t a fluke, either. The Braves are known for their dominant bullpen.
Grant Brisbee of SB Nation wrote an article last August saying the Braves have “the best bullpen in the world, two years running.” It was the case then, and it could easily be the case again in 2014.