Free agent preview: Atlanta Braves

The Braves weren't the best team in the National League this season. But they *were* clearly better than the St Louis Cardinals during the regular season, and yet, they were forced to play the Cardinals in the one game wild card playoff. The Cardinals prevailed, and the Braves playoff run was over after just one game, leading to ire and scorn from the fanbse towards the new playoff system. Going into 2013, Atlanta has some holes to fill, and they're probably not going to be as good as they were in 2012.

Needs
Atlanta center fielder Michael Bourn is as good as gone, with the veteran speedster hitting the free agent market likely to cash in on a multi-year contract. Atlanta will likely make an effort to retain him, and will end up either failing due to their payroll constraints, or overpaying for Bourn (like they did for Dan Uggla) and hamstringing the team's payroll for the future. The team also needs a replacement at third base for the retired Chipper Jones. Left fielder Martin Prado seems likely to switch to third and turn the team's attention to a left fielder, but if the Braves are able to find a suitable third baseman on the free agent or trade market, they could just keep Prado in left. The Braves also need to rebuild their bench, with just slugging third baseman Juan Francisco (also a possibility for the third base job), and light-hitting middle infielders Paul Janish and Tyler Pastornicky signed for next season.

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Possible Options
For the bench, the Braves will make every effort to re-sign backup catcher David Ross, especially with Brian McCann's injury problems last season. If the team is unable to sign Ross, the alternatives are much less appealing for Atlanta, and ones the club probably doesn't want to consider. The team will also look to bring back trade deadline acquisition Reed Johnson, the fourth outfielder that the team has needed for years in order to idiot-proof the team for manager Fredi Gonzalez. The team's rotation and bullpen look fine for now, with no major losses coming out of either. If they aren't hit too hard, I like their chances for next year. You can check more sports betting sites down the road, to see what the Over/Under on wins is for them next season when it's released. I'd take the "over." Now, those two pesky, gaping holes on the squad…the Braves aren't going to sniff Josh Hamilton in center, and I think BJ Upton would be out of their price range along with Bourn. Angel Pagan of the Giants seems like a good fit, but at 31, Pagan isn't a franchise guy like Jason Heyward in right field, putting the onus on the team to win soon. The center field free agent class this year is weird: there's the top tier with Hamilton, Upton, and Bourn, the second tier that is essentially just Pagan and Shane Victorino, and the third tier with a bunch of players who probably shouldn't be playing every day for a contender. For the left field hole, Nick Swisher could be an excellent fit as a non-elite, but solid, corner outfielder, along with Torii Hunter, formerly of the Angels. Both of those players are also getting up there in years (especially the 37-year old Hunter), but both would slide into the outfield spot nicely. Because of how ghastly the free agent class at third base is this offseason, I doubt the Braves would fill that slot (if not occupied by Prado) with a free agent, unless they're enamored with a potential veteran free agent in Kevin Youkilis.

Trade Options
The Braves once vaunted farm system has taken a step back after the graduations of Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and Andrelton Simmons, but they still have a pair of potential top of the rotation starters in Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado, both of whom are coveted by teams and can't fit into a loaded, veteran Braves rotation. By the same token, Atlanta has a disappointing Tommy Hanson (with a potentially injured shoulder) on the roster that they could sell low on, along with the soon to be DFAed Jair Jurrjens. Two names that Atlanta *could* deal but likely wouldn't are Mike Minor and Kris Medlen, both of whom blossomed into Atlanta's best starters in the second half of the season. Considering that the first half's ace, Brandon Beachy, should be back from Tommy John surgery sometime in the summer, starting pitching *will* be getting dealt by the team in some capacity. There's also the matter of Atlanta's bullpen, where setup men Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty will make millions in arbitration this offseason.

Trade Targets
With a stable of players like that to trade, Atlanta GM Frank Wren can get creative in looking to fill his team's holes. Chase Headley of the Padres could be a third base target, but with his two years of team control left, it will take a sizable offer to pry him from San Diego's grips. Atlanta-area radio hosts have linked the team to Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, which has drawn mostly a sizable series of guffaws from the team's fanbase nationally. Could the team possibly work something out with the Rangers for power hitter Mike Olt, or with the Angels for the defensively inept Mark Trumbo? It's doubtful, but Wren could at least make a phone call. Peter Bourjos of the Angels could also be targeted to replicate Bourn's range in center field. I do think that the Braves are going to get creative in filling their holes in center and left/third this offseason, because that's the team's MO. Who saw Wren picking up Paul Maholm at the deadline to fill out the rotation, and who saw the Uggla trade coming two offseasons ago? Expect to be surprised, and look past the obvious names this winter.

Joe Lucia

About Joe Lucia

Joe is the managing editor of The Outside Corner and an associate editor at Awful Announcing. He lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and is smack dab in the middle of some of the best (and worst) sports fans in the country.

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