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Inbox: Time to lock up younger players?

Beat reporter Bowman answers questions from Braves' fans
Why are the Braves not locking up some of our younger players (Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Kris Medlen, for example) to team-friendly contracts like the Rays and other teams are doing?
-- Garrett L., Sikeston, Mo.

Once the holiday season concludes and Spring Training approaches, I think we will start hearing more about the possibility of the Braves attempting to gain some cost certainty by buying out some of the arbitration years of their arbitration-eligible players.

There has also been some recent buzz about the possibility that the Braves could extend Martin Prado a multiyear contract offer as he prepares to enter his final arbitration-eligible season. This would keep the valuable Prado in Atlanta for at least a few more years and likely save the club a few dollars for the 2013 season.

This season's group of arbitration-eligible players includes Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters, Kris Medlen, Prado and Heyward. As first-year arbitration-eligible players, Venters, Medlen and Heyward are all in line to receive their first significant payday.

Prado is the only member of this group who would not be eligible for arbitration after the 2013 season. In addition, Kimbrel, Freeman, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor are among those who will join the arbitration-eligible ranks within the next two seasons.

So in an attempt to gain some cost certainty, Atlanta will likely approach Heyward, Freeman and quite possibly Medlen this winter to discuss the possibility of buying out some of their arbitration-eligible years.

Because of the injury risk and uncertainty that comes with the closer position, I do not think the Braves will discuss this arrangement with Kimbrel. They will be more than glad to pay him the $20 million-plus he would receive during his arbitration-eligible seasons if he continues to be as dominant as he has been during his first two full big league seasons.

It seems like the teams expected to be interested in Michael Bourn haven't pursued him very hard. Any chance the market softens, allowing the Braves to re-sign him?
-- Chris L., Denver, Colo.

Now that the Phillies and Nationals have landed their center fielders via trade, many of you have asked about the possibility of Bourn returning to the Braves. The quick response is, "Not a chance."

With this being said, I asked an American League scout last week who would be the best option for the Braves to play in left field. After thinking for a minute, he said, "Bourn." He laughed. I laughed and then said, "but seriously?"

For the 2013 season alone, Bourn is the best option. He would provide the Braves the leadoff hitter they need and fill out one of the greatest defensive outfields of all-time.

And when dealing with a one-year agreement, the Braves would not have to worry about how healthy his valuable legs might be three or four years from now.

Still, with all of this being said, I can't see anything developing to the point where Bourn's price and contractual demands would drop to the point where Atlanta could be considered a legit option.

Don't forget that Bourn already rejected the one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer the Braves offered him in early November. At the time, it was assumed the Phils or Nats would end up giving him an offer that rivaled the five-year, $75 million deal the Braves gave B.J. Upton.

Now that does not seem so certain, but it does seem certain that Bourn's agent, Scott Boras, will not allow him to accept a deal that makes it look like he's settling to return to Atlanta.

Have the Braves thought about a non-typical platoon with Reed Johnson and Juan Francisco? When the opposing team starts a lefty, Johnson could be in left and Prado at third base. When a righty is thrown against us, Francisco could play third base and Prado plays left field. Could Prado sustain his level of play in this type of situation?
-- Ken H., Santa Barbara, Calif.

It's certainly an idea worth debating. As you alluded to, the fear would be that Prado would not be able to find comfort while shifting back and forth between the two positions. The Braves had this concern entering this past season. Then they watched Prado hit .301 with a .796 OPS while making at least 10 starts at four positions. So yeah, I think this potential arrangement would have to be deemed a possibility.

With David Ross gone, who will be the team's practical joker?
-- James I., Los Angeles

Well, when he's not preparing the pregame meal or lining the field in preparation for a game, Prado is quite capable of keeping things loose in the clubhouse. We'll probably also see the fearless Medlen show more of his comedic value this year. But with all due respect to all other candidates, I think Tim Hudson has been the team's best practical joker since he came to Atlanta.

Do you see the Braves bringing Ernesto Mejia to the Majors as a bench player and backup for Freeman?
-- Joey S., Loganville, Ga.

The signing of Johnson to serve as a backup outfielder and right-handed bat off the bench did not necessarily diminish the odds of Mejia being in Atlanta next year. Though Mejia has never played at the big league level, it is not easy to find the right-handed power that he has continued to show while playing in Venezuela this winter.

This past summer, I described Mejia as somebody who looks like Albert Pujols and profiles more like Mike Hessman. Multiple scouts have since described Mejia as a much better hitter than Hessman, who was essentially a Quadruple-A power threat.

Mejia's value is hurt by the fact that he really can't play any other positions besides first base, but there is a good chance his power potential will give him a chance to prove himself off of Atlanta's bench at some point next year.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for

Atlanta Braves, Juan Francisco, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Reed Johnson, Craig Kimbrel, Kris Medlen