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5 offseason questions Braves must answer

@mlbbowman
October 23, 2020

Less than a week after being eliminated from the National League Championship Series, the Braves are already preparing for how their roster might look during the 2021 season. Here are five of the top questions surrounding the Braves entering the offseason: • Dates, big decisions: Braves' offseason FAQ 1) Will

Less than a week after being eliminated from the National League Championship Series, the Braves are already preparing for how their roster might look during the 2021 season.

Here are five of the top questions surrounding the Braves entering the offseason:

Dates, big decisions: Braves' offseason FAQ

1) Will they re-sign Marcell Ozuna?
With Josh Donaldson hitting behind Freddie Freeman in 2019 and Marcell Ozuna situated behind the veteran first baseman this year, the Braves have had two of the best offenses in franchise history. To continue maximizing Freeman’s significant value, there is once again a need to find a legitimate power threat to place behind him in the lineup.

Ozuna’s return depends on whether the NL continues using the designated hitter. If this doesn’t happen, the defensively limited Ozuna would essentially be more likely to sign with any American League club. But even if the Braves can utilize the DH again next year, the question is whether they’ll be willing to match the years and dollars Ozuna will get as one of this year’s top free agents.

Here are the top 25 free agents for 2020-21

Whether it’s Ozuna or somebody else, a primary offseason focus has to be securing a big bat. Looking at the free-agent market, George Springer is the top option to fill Atlanta’s needs. There’s also reason to debate a one-year deal with 40-year-old Nelson Cruz or signing Joc Pederson to platoon with Adam Duvall.

With the DH in place, Ozuna might still be the best bet amongst these options. But the limited availability will increase his demand and possibly his price to the point where the trade market might end up being the best route.

2) Who might be in the rotation?
Maintaining the assumption that Mike Soroka will be ready at least within the first month of the 2021 season, the Braves have a strong rotation base with Soroka, Max Fried and Ian Anderson. It would be great to assume Bryse Wilson’s strong start in Game 4 of the NLCS was confirmation that he is ready to be a reliable big league starter.

But the fact is, the jury is still out on both Wilson and Kyle Wright, whose rising value was tarnished by his clunker in Game 3 of the NLCS. So while maintaining hope that at least one of these young hurlers takes that next step next year, there is seemingly a need to add to Atlanta’s starting pitching depth this winter.

If Trevor Bauer is indeed willing to accept a one-year deal, he’d be a great fit to extend the Braves’ recent practice of high-dollar, short-term deals. The other top options on the free-agent market are Marcus Stroman, who elected not to play this year, and Masahiro Tanaka, who posted a 4.06 ERA over the past three seasons for the Yankees.

3) Is there a need to address the bullpen?
Closer Mark Melancon and Shane Greene are free agents and Darren O'Day would be as well if the Braves do not exercise his $3.5 million option. There’s certainly reason to expect they will at least make an attempt to re-sign each of these relievers. But even if a couple of them would go elsewhere, there’s still quality depth within Atlanta’s relief corps.

Will Smith experienced a frustrating season as home runs plagued him after a positive COVID-19 test forced him to miss Summer Camp. Smith and Chris Martin are both capable of handling any high-leverage role. The same could be said of A.J. Minter, if he is able to build on the success he had while striking out seven of 10 batters in Game 5 of the NLCS.

When you also account for the presence of Tyler Matzek, Jacob Webb and Huascar Ynoa, there’s less reason to think adding to the bullpen will be a priority. But the Braves’ needs will be influenced by what the future holds for Melancon, Greene and O’Day.

4) Is Ronald Acuña Jr. healthy?
President of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos recently said Ronald Acuña Jr. will not need surgery to repair the left wrist that occasionally proved problematic during the latter part of the season. All indications are the young outfielder will simply need to take advantage of the chance to rest the wrist, which became inflamed during the second week of August.

Acuña hit .245 with 10 homers and a 1.055 OPS over the 28 regular-season games he played after returning from the injured list. He was productive during the first three games of the postseason but went 4-for-31 and struck out 11 times while constructing a .483 OPS over the final nine. He battled through discomfort, but it doesn’t appear he was dealing with structural damage.

5) Will Tyler Flowers return?
With Travis d'Arnaud set to attempt to repeat his impressive first season as Atlanta’s primary catcher, the question is who should be his backup. William Contreras seemed to make significant strides offensively this year. But exactly how far he has come will not be known until he is given a chance to experience the Minor League season he was denied this year.

While Contreras and Shea Langeliers extend their respective developments, the Braves might benefit from bringing Flowers back to spend another year in the backup role. Tyler Flowers has a strong bond with d’Arnaud and the capability to enrich Contreras and Langeliers in the receiving department.

Even if the Braves opt to go with somebody other than Flowers, there’s definitely a need to find somebody capable of filling the gap between the start of the season and when Contreras might be ready.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.