Atlanta Braves: The 5 Most Important Decisions To Make This Offseason
The Atlanta Braves may have a very busy offseason ahead of them.
Although they blew their chance for the playoffs this past season, the Braves still have potentially one of the strongest lineups in baseball.
In the coming months of the offseason, the Braves have the chance to make large improvements to their roster.
This season, the Braves have the potential to become World Series contenders.
There are a few important decisions they must make, however, that can greatly improve their chances of postseason success in 2012.
Who Will Be the Starting Shortstop for 2012?
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Alex Gonzalez's contract has come to an end, and while he played great defense and average offense, it is unlikely that he will be re-signed.
Last season, he hit a mere .241 and had difficulty maintaining his health.
This leaves the shortstop position open for the 2012 season.
There is the option of Tyler Pastornicky; however, he may not be prepared to play in the 2012 season.
There are a few impressive shortstops currently on the free agent market, the biggest names being Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins.
However, a large signing such as this is unlikely for the Braves because of their high expense and demand.
The Braves could also make a less expensive trade for Omar Infante, who hit .276 for the Marlins last year and .321 for the Braves the year before.
Does the Bullpen Depth Need to Be Improved?
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Last year, although the Braves had one of the best bullpens in baseball, its depth didn't go much past Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel and Eric O'Flaherty.
The Braves struggled to find relievers who could perform consistently, and as a result, the aforementioned trio received an overload of innings and experienced fatigue near the end of the season.
Last year, because of injuries to relievers, as well as disappointing performances, the Braves had difficulty maintaining the depth of their bullpen.
This offseason, the Braves could pick up a reliever or two in order to rid the team of this issue.
However, even if they decide to leave the bullpen as is, it will be in great shape.
This year, Kris Medlen and Peter Moylan will return from injuries, which will be a great improvement to the bullpen.
Also, the Braves have rookies such as Arodys Vizcaino and Anthony Varvaro, who may provide extra depth.
Who Will Be the Starting Outfielders for 2012?
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In the outfield positions, the Atlanta Braves have a potential overflow of talent for 2012.
Among the players who will compete for a starting spot are Jason Heyward, Martin Prado, Jose Constanza, Michael Bourn and even a possible trade.
Of these players, Constanza is the least likely to take a starting position for the 2012 season because of his lesser offensive talent when compared to his teammates.
Heyward's performance last season, after his stellar rookie year, was overall a disappointment, although he is likely to bounce back in 2012.
Michael Bourn is the best candidate to start in center field this coming season, without a doubt.
Although Martin Prado struggled last season and managed to hit only .260, he still holds a career batting average of .293. He has the potential to greatly improve the Braves next season.
With the great amount of starting pitchers in the minor league system, the Braves have the ability to acquire an impressive outfielder in a trade, such as Matt Kemp or Carlos Quentin.
However, if a trade such as this were to occur, it would greatly limit the playing time of potential stars Heyward and Prado.
The most likely and most productive starters in the outfield positions for the coming season are Prado, Bourn and Heyward.
What Will Happen to Derek Lowe?
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In 2011, Derek Lowe had one of the worst seasons of his career.
His record was 9-17, and he achieved an ERA of 5.05.
This is fairly pathetic, considering his contract is for $15 million per year.
The Braves have almost zero chance of getting Lowe off their roster, because there is no team that would be willing to trade for him.
And because of the great amount of young talent competing for a starting spot in the pitching rotation, Lowe hardly has a chance of pitching as a starter.
His most likely destination is the bullpen, where he will hopefully be pitching as little as possible.
Who Will Win the 5th Spot in the Pitching Rotation?
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Assuming all are healthy, the starting pitching rotation for the Braves will most likely look like this:
1. Tim Hudson
2. Tommy Hanson
3. Jair Jurrjens
4. Brandon Beachy
However, the fifth spot will be up for grabs.
Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado will all be competing for this spot.
The decision of who to pitch may be tough, as these are three of the best pitching prospects in baseball.
The most likely of the three to achieve the starting spot is Julio Teheran, who in Triple-A went 15-2 with a 2.55 ERA.
However, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado already have a fair amount of major league experience and performed very impressively, which could improve their chances.