The 10 Biggest Decisions the Braves Have to Make This Offseason
With another disappointing finish in the playoffs, the Braves enter the offseason with hopes of taking that next step.
While fans are clamoring for big changes, the Braves are close to being a World Series contender and have a solid nucleus to build around.
Like every team this offseason, the Braves have some questions that need to be answered—both in house and on the market.
Here's a look at many of the tough decisions general manager Frank Wren will have to make in preparation for 2014.
1. Inquire About David Price
The hot name right now for the Braves to pursue this offseason is David Price, and it makes sense.
The Braves need an ace to anchor a young staff, and the Rays will likely be looking to move him for the right price.
The reason Wren would pull the trigger on obtaining Price would simply be his outstanding results. The former Cy Young Award winner is 71-39 with a 3.19 ERA in four full seasons in the American League.
The downside to acquiring Price would be losing one or two of Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Kris Medlen and Lucas Sims. The Braves would also likely have to include Christian Bethancourt as well as another positional prospect.
With Price, you are likely looking at two years in a Braves uniform as he'll be a free agent in 2016 after arbitration the next two offseasons.
Is it worth the risk of trading a future ace for having one for just two years?
It is worth noting the Braves could have an ace in Adam Wainwright if they hadn't traded him for a short stint with J.D. Drew.
This is the question Wren will wrestle with this offseason.
2. Re-Sign Tim Hudson?
If the Braves land Price, they will not be able to afford Hudson.
If the Braves do not land Price, I'd expect Hudson to be back in a Braves uniform in 2014.
Hudson enters the offseason as a free agent, and the Braves will be interested in bringing him back on a one-year deal.
The lack of experience in the Braves rotation is clearly lacking without the presence of Hudson, who was pitching extremely well (2.45/3.17 ERA in June/July) before his gruesome ankle injury.
As I mentioned earlier, this will have some impact on what the Braves do in the Price sweepstakes.
As of now, I'd guess Hudson will be back with the Braves on a one-year deal.
3. Time to Trade Dan Uggla
The omission of Dan Uggla from the playoff roster in the divisional series looks like the end of his time in Atlanta.
The trade never worked out how the team envisioned. While Uggla did hit 77 home runs as a Brave, he failed to hit higher than .240 in a season.
It got progressively worse for Uggla as his average dropped from .233 to .220 to .179 while his strikeouts climbed to 156, 168 and 171 over his three seasons with the Braves.
However, trading Uggla will not be easy.
The 33-year-old second baseman is owed $26 million over the next two seasons.
If the Braves can find a trade partner willing to pay $5 million-$8 million of his deal, that would be a major win for the Braves.
4. Stay Away from Brandon Phillips
Another hot trade rumor involving the Braves is the Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips.
The thought of adding the three-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner is intriguing, but fans need to look deeper into the trade.
Phillips will turn 33 as the 2014 season progresses and is still owed $50 million over four years.
His average, on-base percentage and slugging have dropped over the past three seasons.
Here's a stat to chew on for a moment—Phillips' OBP of .310 was a point higher than Uggla's .309 this past season.
On first glance, it seems like a great idea.
But when you dig deeper, the Braves should stay away from this one.
The trend in baseball is to avoid as many long contracts as possible.
5. Go Young at Second Base
So no Dan Uggla and no Brandon Phillips at second base for the Braves.
While Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky are other internal in-house options, I think the Braves should give Tommy La Stella every opportunity to win the job.
Who is La Stella?
The 24-year-old is a former eighth-round draft pick who has emerged as one of the better hitters in the Braves' minor league system.
La Stella hit .343 with a .422 OBP and .896 OPS at Double-A Mississippi in 2013 after hitting .299 and .328 the previous two seasons in the minors.
He has seemingly not slowed down this fall.
#Braves 2B prospect La Stella 9-for-21 (.429) w/ 4 doubles, 7 RBI, 11 BB, 0 K in 7 Ariz Fall League games.— David O'Brien (@ajcbraves) October 22, 2013
The Braves have a tendency to go young, and this is another opportunity to do just that.
6. Let Brian McCann Walk
Brian McCann has likely played his last game with the Atlanta Braves.
While it will be tough to see McCann go after producing 176 home runs, 661 RBI and seven All-Star appearances, it is the right decision.
The Braves have two potential replacements in Evan Gattis and prospect Christian Bethancourt.
Then McCann is reportedly commanding six years and $100 million. While that is unlikely to happen, I don't think five years and $75 million to $80 million is out of the question.
That is a lot of time and money to invest on a soon-to-be 30-year-old catcher.
That trend about avoiding long contracts applies to McCann's situation.
7. Time for Evan Gattis
The career of Evan Gattis has underwent an amazing transformation.
Once unemployed, the 27-year-old went from a spring training mystery to a folk hero in Atlanta to a starter in the playoffs.
All this happened overnight, and it is now time to take the next step and become the Braves everyday starter at catcher.
Gattis provides 30-home-run potential as an everyday player and good enough defense behind the plate.
I am not convinced Christian Bethancourt is ready to take over that role, and Gerald Laird gives the Braves some insurance as a spot starter.
It's time to further unleash "El Oso Blanco."
8. Reboot B.J. Upton's Confidence
This isn't really a question to be answered but rather a reminder to the fans who will be the starting center fielder for the Braves next season.
There's no chance the Braves could or would trade B.J. Upton this offseason, and he will be given every opportunity to be the starter from day one.
Obviously, Upton struggled mightily in 2013, but we are in just year one of his five-year deal.
Upton has always been a streaky hitter, and he needs to endure longer hot streaks in 2014.
The Braves would be thrilled if he can get back to a .240 hitter (.248 career hitter) and provide 15 home runs and 15-20 stolen bases.
That would be a great rebound season and is not an unrealistic expectation.
Braves fans just need to embrace Upton as the starting center fielder in 2014.
9. Find a Starting Rotation Spot for Alex Wood
The Braves have a logjam of starting pitchers who could work themselves into the rotation in 2014.
However, the Braves need to reserve a spot for Alex Wood and let him grow.
Due to injuries as well as impressive results in the minors, the 22-year-old reached the MLB level quicker than many expected.
Wood demonstrated impressive stuff on the hill with results to back up that stuff, which was highlighted by his 2-0 record and 0.90 ERA while holding opponents to a .190 average in the month of August this past season.
The future looks bright for the big left-hander.
He has the potential to be a top-end starter, and the Braves need to let him begin his growth as a starting pitcher.
10. Sort out Bullpen
We know Craig Kimbrel will be closing out games for the Braves in 2014, we just don't know who will give him the ball with the lead.
The good news for the Braves with the amount of injuries to the bullpen in 2013 was the depth it created.
David Carpenter and Luis Avilan emerged as reliable setup men. Jordan Walden served as a solid set-up man when healthy and even Luis Avilan and Luis Ayala were reliable in middle innings.
Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters should return to health at some point (possibly May or June) but will the Braves bring them back?
The bullpen for an MLB team always features moving parts, so we may not know the answer to this shakeout for a few months.
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