If Brandon Beachy's elbow continues to be problematic and Alex Wood or David Hale struggles in April, have the Braves really addressed their starting-pitching concerns?
-- Chad S., Rockdale, Texas
The desire to add depth in the starting-pitching department was influenced by the uncertainty surrounding Beachy's health and the inexperience of Wood and Hale. To gain depth while working with limited financial flexibility, the Braves attempted to gain insurance by signing Gavin Floyd, who right now can not provide a definitive assurance he will be ready to pitch before June.
While understanding the club was strapped financially, it is still hard to figure why Atlanta opted to take a chance on Floyd, who is eight months removed from an elbow-reconstruction procedure that repaired tears to the ulnar collateral ligament and flexor tendon.
General manager Frank Wren has said he is confident Floyd will be ready to pitch at some point in May. But given that Beachy went through 11 months of rehab before experiencing the first of multiple setbacks with his surgically repaired elbow last year, it is hard to match the level of confidence the Braves have expressed regarding Floyd.
When Beachy endured his struggles last year, we were reminded that a pitcher is often 18 months removed from Tommy John surgery before he feels normal again. If this proves true with Floyd, there is a chance he provides nothing more than back-of-the-rotation depth.
Though this might disappoint those fans who spent this winter hoping a difference-maker would be added to Atlanta's rotation, the Braves might be satisfied with this level of contribution, as long as Beachy does indeed rebound and begin to look like the guy who was leading the Majors in ERA before being sidelined by the surgery in June 2012.
If Beachy proves effective, the Braves will have four solid starting pitchers -- with Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran -- who would be viewed as a solid No. 2 or 3 in most big league rotations. Floyd's healthy presence would give the club a chance to stick to its plan to moderate Wood's workload as he progresses through his first full Major League season.
Like some fans, some of the Braves' players have continued to hold out hope that the club will eventually upgrade the rotation by acquiring David Price. But as things stand, it appears the season will begin with the same prevailing concern -- the lack of an ace -- surrounding Atlanta's rotation.
What does it say about the Braves' financial position when they lose a free agent they wanted to keep to the perpetually poor Oakland A's?
-- Alex K., Marietta, Ga.
Eric O'Flaherty's decision to sign a two-year, $7 million deal with the A's is somewhat a reflection on the uncertain financial position that the Braves face as they progress through these next few years with a high volume of arbitration-eligible players. But this also indicates the club did not necessarily have a high level of interest in re-signing O'Flaherty.
If O'Flaherty would have been willing to accept a discounted one-year offer, the Braves likely would have welcomed him back with the hope that he could provide value once he completes the long rehab process that follows Tommy John surgery. But they were not willing to make a two-year commitment.
Some might view a two-year deal as a gamble, given the fact that it is hard to know exactly how effective O'Flaherty will be coming off of the surgery. But when dealing with pitchers who are attempting to return midseason from this procedure, the multiyear offer might better be described as the only one that makes sense.
As long as he does not have any setbacks, O'Flaherty could join Oakland's bullpen in June or July. Given that it takes most pitchers 18 months to recover the strength they had before undergoing Tommy John surgery, the veteran left-hander might have to wait until the start of the 2015 season to regain the form that enabled him to produce a 1.68 ERA in the 217 appearances he made for Atlanta from 2010-13.
Though the A's seem willing to accept whatever O'Flaherty can provide this year, the Braves will enter this season with the hope that Jordan Walden, Luis Avilan and David Carpenter will repeat last year's act, during which they each capably filled the setup role after O'Flaherty was sidelined in May.
As long as Walden, Avilan and Carpenter live up to expectations, Atlanta might not regret this decision this year. But if O'Flaherty makes a full recovery and regains his strength for the 2015 season, the Braves might regret not making a multiyear offer to this talented reliever, who has shown some signs that he could be a reliable closer if given the chance.
Will Greg Maddux enter the Hall of Fame as a Brave or a Cub?
-- Ken G., McDonough, Ga.
The Hall of Fame will make this announcement Thursday. But it seems obvious that Maddux will be enshrined in Cooperstown as a member of the Braves organization. Yeah, he began his career with the Cubs and won the first of his four consecutive National League Cy Young Awards during his first tour of duty with Chicago's North Siders.
But Maddux won three of those NL Cy Young Awards and notched 194 of his 355 career wins while playing 11 of his 23 Major League seasons in Atlanta. Maddux will have the fond memories of the 10 seasons he spent with the Cubs, but the most indelible memories of his legendary career were created during his time in Atlanta.
Which of the 22 non-roster invitees do you see performing well during Spring Training?
-- Mitchell M., Roswell, Ga.
It will be fun to get a look at last year's first-rounder, Jason Hursh, and catch up with J.R. Graham, the high-energy, hard-throwing right-hander who could find a spot in Atlanta's bullpen once he proves he has overcome the shoulder ailment that sidelined him most of last year. It also will be interesting to see why right-handed reliever Shae Simmons has created a strong impression on many members of the Braves organization.
But among the non-roster invitees, I think most of the attention over the entirety of Spring Training will be placed on Tommy La Stella. Thoughts of La Stella beginning the season as Atlanta's starting second baseman died when it became apparent Dan Uggla would not be traded this winter. But the 24-year-old infielder still has a chance to make the most of his first opportunity in big league camp.
Though La Stella's defensive skills currently might be suspect, he has proven to be an advanced offensive talent throughout his professional career. He has hit .327 and walked more frequently (111 times) than he has struck out (88 times) in 241 Minor League games. It will be interesting to see how La Stella handles himself while facing some big league pitchers and introducing himself to a big league environment.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.