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Braves set sights on outfield in free-agent market

ATLANTA -- Less than 24 hours after the Braves were eliminated from this year's postseason, general manager Frank Wren downplayed his upcoming challenges by pointing out that he essentially has to fill just a couple needs to complete the roster reconstruction process.

Coming off a 94-win season, the Braves have been afforded the rare luxury to enter an offseason without the need to find pitching. Instead, Wren's efforts will be focused on finding Chipper Jones' replacement and keeping tabs on the possibility of re-signing Michael Bourn, who will garner plenty of attention on this year's free-agent market.

Wren's efforts will be aided by the fact that he will have approximately $25-30 million to spend on the players that he could acquire via trade or free agency. In other words, the Braves will have the capability to pursue Bourn, Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton, Angel Pagan, Nick Swisher and any of the other top outfielders on this year's free-agent market.

As the Braves evaluate their options over the next few weeks and months, they will keep close tabs on the free-agent outfield market that includes the likes of Shane Victorino and Cody Ross. They also would be among the teams that would show interest if the D-backs do indeed make Justin Upton available via trade.

With a thin crop of third basemen on this year's free-agent market, the Braves have the option of acquiring two outfielders and moving Martin Prado from left field to third base.

With a left-handed heavy lineup that will once again include Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann, the Braves would like to find a right-handed power hitter to put in the middle of their lineup. But this certainly will not stop them from at least monitoring what it might take to get Hamilton, who stands as the top prize in this year's free-agent process.

Hamilton might be the only member of this year's free-agent class to net a larger contract than Bourn, who is expected to get plenty of attention from the Nationals and the Phillies. But there is also some chance that Bourn's cost might have dropped, as he hit .225 with a .335 on-base percentage after the All-Star break.

Even with Bourn registering 155 strikeouts at the top of their lineup this past season, the Braves certainly recognize the fact that he is one of a few players who resemble a prototypical leadoff hitter. Thus they will certainly continue to evaluate the possibility of bringing him back to Atlanta.

As expected, the Braves on Tuesday exercised the contract options that Tim Hudson, McCann and Paul Maholm all have for the 2013 season.

Players can start signing with other clubs after midnight ET on Friday.

Contract issues
Free agents: Bourn, CF; Eric Hinske, OF/1B; Lyle Overbay, 1B; Jeff Baker, INF; David Ross, C; Matt Diaz, OF; Reed Johnson, OF; Miguel Batista, RHP; Chad Durbin, RHP; Peter Moylan, RHP; Ben Sheets, RHP

Eligible for arbitration: Jair Jurrjens, RHP; Martin Prado, INF; Eric O'Flaherty, LHP; Tommy Hanson, RHP; Paul Janish, SS; Heyward, OF; Jonny Venters, LHP; Kris Medlen, RHP

Club options: McCann, C -- $12 million ($500,000 buyout); Hudson, RHP -- $9 million ($1 million buyout); Maholm, LHP -- $6.5 million ($500,000 buyout)

Non-tender possibilities: Jurrjens

Areas of need
Outfield: The only definite projection regarding next year's outfield is that Heyward will once again be in right field. While Heyward is athletic enough to play center, the Braves have already said that they would not see him as an option to play the position in the event that they do not re-sign Bourn.

Third Base: If the Braves acquire two outfielders this winter, they could simply make Prado their everyday third baseman. There is also a chance that they could provide significant playing time for Juan Francisco, who has been told that it would be in his best interest to drop some weight while spending the next few months playing in the Dominican Winter League. Another unlikely option would be to have Prado be part of a platoon in left field and at third base. He would move to third base when the opposing team is starting a left-handed pitcher.

Bench: Johnson, Hinske, Diaz and invaluable backup catcher Ross will all hit the free-agent market. Johnson and Ross appear to be the most likely members of this group to return. Wren and his staff will likely be in the market for at least one veteran pinch-hitter before the winter concludes.

2013 payroll
The payroll for the 2013 season will once again sit around $94 million. While this figure has essentially remained the same for most of the past decade, there is a chance Wren could find more value in this amount this year. During this past season, the Braves were burdened by the $10 million that they still owed Derek Lowe, who was traded to the Indians around this time last year.

Michael Bourn