I'll start out by saying this about Frank Wren—he made a smart move ending negotiations with the Padres about Jake Peavy when the trade demands became unreasonable.
Four players, and two of them already in the majors, for Peavy? Not taking anything away from the 2007 Cy Young Award winner, but the Braves can't afford to give the farm away for a No. 1 starter who, frankly, isn't the most durable.
Looking at the Braves' roster right now, I'd say there are between five and eight roster spots yet to be determined for opening day 2009.
3B Chipper Jones, 2B Kelly Johnson, 1B Casey Kotchman, and C Brian McCann should be occupying the 2-6 spots in the Braves' order come April. A rumored swap of Johnson for Ryan Ludwick might be beneficial, as the Braves could insert Martin Prado as the starting second baseman and Ludwick would fill the hole in left field. I don't see Johnson going anywhere.
Part of the reason I was skeptical on the Peavy trade is that Yunel Escobar would be going the other way. There isn't a shortstop ready in the Braves' system that could take over right now. Brent Lillibridge is a defensive whiz, but his offensive talents would make him a No. 8 hitter.
As much as Rafael Furcal's return to the Braves would be nice to see, I don't see the Braves essentially paying $25 million next year by trading away inexpensive players for Peavy and signing Furcal to a free agent contract. They're better off long-term with Escobar at short, especially if his shoulder is back to 100 percent.
Jeff Francoeur's trade value is so low right now he's not going anywhere either. He'll be starting 150 games in RF in 2009 and hopefully with a better mental approach than he had this year.
I don't see the Braves going anywhere to get a backup catcher either. Clint Sammons might not be Brian McCann with the bat, but he's definitely better than Corky Miller this past year, and he should improve while giving McCann some more late season rest. IF Martin Prado and IF Omar Infante will be back after good seasons both as pinch hitters and as fill-ins.
The back end of the bullpen shouldn't change much either. Mike Gonzalez should be ready to go, Rafael Soriano should be recovered from his ulnar nerve surgery, and Manny Acosta's hamstring should be 100 percent by now. Re-signing Will Ohman would help, and Blaine Boyer's got a great arm, but overuse and the inability to put people away with two strikes last year hurt him.
The only person sure to be back in the Braves' starting rotation on opening day is Jair Jurrjens. The rest of the rotation is full of question marks. The other two outfield slots are question marks, too.
Jorge Campillo's role is undetermined right now. He'll be back on the opening day roster barring an injury or unexpected trade, but whether that's as a back of the rotation starter or long man out of the bullpen is unknown.
That leaves eight unsettled roster spots: three or four starters, one or two relievers, and three outfielders.
The players who don't know where they'll be come opening day include RP Royce Ring, RP Peter Moylan, SP James Parr, SP Chuck James, SP Mike Hampton, SP John Smoltz, SP Tom Glavine, SP Jo Jo Reyes, SP Charlie Morton, SS Brent Lillibridge, RP Jorge Julio, OF Brandon Jones, IF Greg Norton, OF Gregor Blanco, OF Matt Diaz, and OF Josh Anderson.
If I'm GM Frank Wren, I try to re-sign Mike Hampton. I give him a low base salary one-year deal with incentives, and if he hits certain clauses, the option on the second year kicks in.
Hampton was decent once he finally returned from the DL in July, and giving him a $1M base deal with incentives for a couple million more to come back as a No. 4 starter would be a decent idea, especially since he's apparently willing to come back for a lesser price because the Braves were patient with him for so long.
I'd leave prospects Tommy Hanson and Jordan Schafer in the minors to start the season. If the need arises and they prove they're ready, then promote them midseason. Both are young and have never played above Double-A, so throwing them into the fire isn't the smartest thing right now.
Keeping in mind that SP Tim Hudson will be back around September, that's one rotation slot that has some flexibility. John Smoltz has pitched as both a reliever and starter, and he proved he was still dominant despite fighting shoulder problems in the early part of 2008. I think the Braves will bring him back and have him and Jurrjens front the rotation.
Looking on the free agent market and realizing the dream signings likely won't happen (Teixeira, Furcal, Lowe, Burnett, Sabathia), I'll turn my focus to a few players who are right now under the radar that the Braves could sign without breaking the bank.
There is risk involved in all of these.
The Braves are looking for a power-hitting outfielder, and Adam Dunn may be a good fit. I'm not his biggest fan because he strikes out too much and is an average at best defensive outfielder.
There isn't a whole lot of interest in Dunn right now, and the Braves do need a left fielder, and signing a guy who's regularly on base 40 percent of the time, drives in 100 runs a year, and hits 40 homers at least deserves some serious consideration.
Raul Ibanez is older but a decent option, as is Pat Burrell, who is streaky and a defensive liability.
As far as free agent pitchers go, I wouldn't touch Randy Wolf. The two pitchers who have good stuff but are injury risks that aren't the hottest tickets right now are Brad Penny and Ben Sheets. Both, when healthy, are top of the rotation starters who are still only 30 years old.
Sheets is a type-A free agent, meaning the Braves would forfeit a draft pick, which is why Penny may be a more likely option.
What might be the Braves' roster on opening day:
RHP Jair Jurrjens
RHP Brad Penny
RHP John Smoltz
LHP Mike Hampton
RHP Charlie Morton
LHP Mike Gonzalez
RHP Rafael Soriano
RHP Peter Moylan (may not be ready by opening day)
RHP Blaine Boyer
RHP Manny Acosta
LHP Will Ohman
RHP Jorge Campillo
RHP James Parr
C Brian McCann
3B Chipper Jones
1B Casey Kotchman
2B Kelly Johnson
SS Yunel Escobar
IF Martin Prado
IF Omar Infante
LF Adam Dunn
CF Josh Anderson
RF Jeff Francoeur
OF Gregor Blanco
The 2009 Braves probably won't be fighting for a division title. However, the major thing to do is have a number of younger players to be ready for a starting or significant role for 2010 and beyond. The future of the Braves rests on the development of Reyes, Morton, Hanson, Schafer, Tyler Flowers, Jeff Locke, and Jason Heyward.
The future is bright, but 2009 will only be if everything possible goes the Braves' way.