The Atlanta Braves did some major retooling this winter. Iconic third baseman Chipper Jones retired, and the Braves needed to fill the void in the lineup his retirement created. Initially, it appeared that the signing of BJ Upton to play center field would be Atlanta's big move, but then, GM Frank Wren managed to acquire BJ's brother Justin from the Diamondbacks for a package of players that included Martin Prado, who was penciled in to replace Jones at third base. With two Uptons in the fold, it's a new era of baseball in Atlanta, and Braves fans hope that era ends with a championship.
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End of Season Postmortem
2013 Season Preview
You May Say I'm a Dreamer (11:30 PM)
2013 Burning Question (12:45 PM)
This Is My Nightmare (2:00 PM)
X-Factor (3:15 PM)
Top Ten Prospects (4:30 PM)
Depth Chart (as of 2/21)
C: Gerald Laird
1B: Freddie Freeman
2B: Dan Uggla
SS: Andrelton Simmons
3B: Chris Johnson/Juan Francisco
LF: Justin Upton
CF: BJ Upton
RF: Jason Heyward
SP: Tim Hudson
SP: Kris Medlen
SP: Mike Minor
SP: Paul Maholm
SP: Julio Teheran
CL: Craig Kimbrel
There's not just one new Upton in Atlanta…there's two, as Justin joined BJ in town months after his older brother signed with the Braves as a free agent. Atlanta also has a new backup catcher in Gerald Laird, who is the likely Opening Day starter due to Brian McCann's offseason shoulder surgery. The Braves also have a new third baseman in Chris Johnson, a new setup man in Jordan Walden, and some new bench pieces in Matt Pagnozzi, Ramiro Pena, and Jordan Schafer.
The retirement of Chipper Jones is obviously the most significant loss to the Braves. His seemingly obvious heir, Martin Prado, was traded to the Diamondbacks in the Justin Upton trade along with starting pitcher Randall Delgado and some prospects. Long-time backup catcher David Ross signed with the Red Sox, shocking Braves fans nationwide. Center fielder Michael Bourn signed with the Indians, though not until last week. Bench bats Lyle Overbay, Eric Hinske, and Jeff Baker all left town, as did relievers Chad Durbin, Peter Moylan, and Miguel Batista. The Braves also parted ways with starting pitchers Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, once thought to be long-time cornerstones of their rotation. Another starting pitcher, Ben Sheets, announced his retirement during the final week of the season.
The only rookie who will seemingly have an impact on Atlanta initially this year is Julio Teheran, who finally appears to be getting a chance to earn the fifth spot in the starting rotation. If Teheran struggles, Sean Gilmartin could pressure him for the fifth spot in Atlanta's rotation. Other rookies that might see some time in Atlanta this season include all-glove, no-bat catcher Christian Bethancourt and the power hitting, lower-level dominating Evan Gattis, but it's largely a veteran squad for the mostpart, albeit not an *old* veteran squad.
The Braves seem comfortable going into the season with a platoon at third base between Johnson and Francisco, but a strong spring from either could tilt the scales of playing time in their favor. The fifth spot in the rotation seems to be Teheran's to lose, but he could end up in AAA again if he struggles. The Braves also have a number of players competing for a couple of spots on the bench, including Pena, Schafer, Tyler Pastornicky, Jose Constanza, and Paul Janish, who may open the year on the DL. Atlanta also seemingly has just two roles available in the bullpen to start the spring, though Cory Gearrin and Luis Avilan are the frontrunners to win those jobs.
Both McCann and Janish had shoulder surgery in the offseason, and their status for Opening Day is up in the air. McCann struggled terribly last season due in part to his injured shoulder, and the Braves absolutely need him at 100% this season. Starting pitcher Brandon Beachy had Tommy John surgery in June, and could be ready for the rotation by the All-Star Break, which would be a huge boost to the rotation.
Can Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco provide the Braves with adequate production at third, or will the team need to find an alternate solution in July?
A World Championship is the best case for this bunch, and that's possible if the new outfield of Upton, Upton, and Heyward all hit like they're capable of and the starting rotation is in the top third of the National League. Neither of those things seem like too much of a stretch, all things considered.
McCann isn't healthy all season, Dan Uggla takes another step back offensively, Kris Medlen's deal with the devil runs out, the Upton brothers don't feed off of each other like the team expected, and the Braves hover around .500 and fall to third in the NL East.
After winning 94 games last year, that seems like a realistic target again for Atlanta this season. This is one of the five or six best teams in the National League on paper, and a playoff berth seems like it's something that the team can easily achieve. But then again, that's why they play the games.