Acquisitions:  2B Dan Uggla, RHP Scott Linebrink, LHP George Sherrill, RHP Rodrigo Lopez, 1B/3B/OF Joe Mather, MGR Fredi Gonzalez

Losses:  OF Rick Ankiel, RHP Kyle Farnsworth, 1B/3B Troy Glaus, 1B Derek Lee, LHP Mike Dunn, IF Omar Infante, RHP Kyle Cofield, CL Billy Wagner, OF Matt Diaz, MGR Bobby Cox

Projected Roster:
LF Martin Prado
CF Nate McLouth
3B Chipper Jones
2B Dan Uggla
C Brian McCann
RF Jason Heyward
1B Freddie Freeman
SS Alex Gonzalez

Projected Rotation:
RHP Tim Hudson
RHP Derek Lowe
RHP Tommy Hanson
RHP Jair Jurrjens
RHP Brandon Beachy/LHP Mike Minor/RHP Rodrigo Lopez

CL RHP Craig Kimbrel/LHP Jonny Venters

The Braves offseason was greatly overshadowed by that of the Philadelphia Phillies but entering the 2011 season GM Frank Wren has constructed another compelling roster that is fully capable of winning 90-95 games.  By doing so, one would have to believe that the 2011 Braves will be in the hunt for the NL Wild Card, if not the NL East title depending upon the health of the Phillies.

The Braves biggest move over the winter was the acquisition of power-hitting 2B Dan Uggla for utility All-Star Omar Infante and LHP Mike Dunn.  Wren and the rest of the Braves brass should hang their hats on this deal for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, Uggla will provide the much-coveted right-handed power bat that the Braves have desperately needed in the middle of their order.  Braves faithful will remember that the last time Chipper Jones had a right-handed power hitter behind him in the lineup for a full season was in 2008 with Mark Teixeira.  Chipper hit .364 that year, OBP’ed .470, and clubbed 22 homers in 128 games.  I wouldn’t bet three cents on the reproduction of those numbers, but Braves fans and Atlanta’s front office remain hopeful that a .300/.400/20/80 season is attainable for Chipper.

A majority of the initial skepticism regarding the Uggla deal has dissipated in large part due to Wren’s ability to extend the 2B to the tune of 5 years, $62 million.  In doing so, the Braves will avoid the rent-a-slugger plague that cost them uber-prospects Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, and Adam Wainwright (among others) for three total seasons of Mark Teixeira and J.D. Drew.  Uggla will be a Brave through his prime seasons at a market-value contract, a feat that speaks volumes about this offseason for Atlanta.  However, the most impressive thing about the deal is that the Braves were able to acquire an All-Star who has averaged 31 homers, 100 runs scored and 93 RBI over his five-year career without having to give up any of their prime prospects.  In fact, the Braves farm system is so replete with young talent that MLB FanHouse recently ranked it second in all of baseball behind only Kansas City. And, as Dan O’Brion reported just this week, the Braves are licking their chops at the spring emergence of #1 prospect Julio Teheran and partner-in-crime Arodys Vizcaino.

The rest of the Braves offseason was spent trying to fill the gaps in the bullpen left by the retirement of LHP Billy Wagner and the departure of RHP Kyle Farnsworth.  Although most of the roles will be filled internally via young hurlers like Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrel, Wren was able to provide two much-needed veteran presences, RHP Scott Linebrink and LHP George Sherrill, to guide the young corps and provide set-up help.  With the acquisition of Sherrill, the Braves have three left-handed relievers (Venters, O’Flaherty, Sherrill) who are pretty good at best and serviceable at worst.  Assuming the proper situational use of the bullpen, the Braves bullpen should not be expected to blow leads late in games.

The Braves will exit Spring Training with a fair number of questions but have the roster flexibility to account for a variety of scenarios.  If CF Nate McLouth is unable to regain the form that he displayed as a Pirate in 2008, the Braves will rely on the re-emergence of a healthy Jordan Schafer.  If talented pitching prospects Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy are unable to improve upon their inconsistent 2010 campaigns, the Braves will be able to turn to RHP Rodrigo Lopez, who they signed to a minor-league contract a few weeks before Spring Training.  If (when) Chipper Jones hits the DL, the Braves will be able to slot Martin Prado back to 3B and use utility-man Joe Mather in the outfield.  RHP Kris Medlen, who was enjoying a bust-out campaign in 2010 before undergoing Tommy John surgery, is expected to recover by late August and provide rotational depth down the stretch.

All in all, the Braves did an excellent job of addressing their most alarming needs without disturbing their farm system or their payroll.  Given the expected steady production from top rookie Freddie Freeman at first (unfortunately for the Braves, steady production from a rookie is not always, if ever, a given), the team should be well-prepared for success in 2011.  My only concern is that the team’s defense, or lack thereof, will come to haunt a pitching staff that contains two pitch-to-contact hurlers in Hudson and Lowe and a developing ace in Hanson whose K-to-9 ratio declined drastically in the second half of 2010.

Grade: A-

– Hot Offseason Index –

2 Responses to “Hot Offseason Action: Atlanta Braves”

  1. I think Uggla will add some needed pop, but I think Atlanta’s defense is going to be shaky. Alex Gonzalez is good, but Chipper’s mobility is likely to be diminished and Uggla is pretty terrible. Then there’s Prado, who’s never played the outfield, and McClouth, who is terrible. Maybe I’m making too much of this, but Tim Hudson and Derrek Lowe are two extreme ground ball pitchers and they need guys behind them who can make plays.

  2. I agree w/Coley. The front office did not address defense at all. The least they could have done is trade Brooks Conrad. (‘How bout Brooksy for a 6th round draft pick? Well, 30th round and $20,000? Fine, $10 grand flat. Okay, okay, a bag of balls and a case of Coors Light. Anyone?’) Maybe he’ll have a new employer by April. Like Lowe’s.

    I’m glad that the lineup is improved, though. McLouth has been hitting the ball well in the Grapefruit, which is good b/c Jordan Schafer is looking more and more like a AA all-star at best. Braves should hit more taters, but there will be a lot of strikeouts. Not much speed, either, so forget about that ABC stuff. Still, the moundsmen should put the team in a position to win most nights.

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