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Inbox: How to judge Braves' offseason?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers fans' questions
February 8, 2019

Can you explain how Braves fans should see this offseason as anything but a failure? -- @chipriggsphoto Other than J.T. Realmuto, who was that one potential target not landed who would have been a bona fide difference maker worth committing prospects or multiple years? Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were

Can you explain how Braves fans should see this offseason as anything but a failure?
-- @chipriggsphoto
Other than J.T. Realmuto, who was that one potential target not landed who would have been a bona fide difference maker worth committing prospects or multiple years? Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were never true options and Game 3 of last year's World Series lasted longer than Corey Kluber's potential availability.
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Landing the club's top outfield target in Michael Brantley would have likely proven beneficial over the next couple seasons. This pursuit might have ended differently if Georgia didn't have income tax and the National League had the designated hitter. My feeling is the Braves were very close to matching the two-year, $32 million deal Brantley got from the Astros. When the dollars are similar, player preference always wins out.
Andrew McCutchen was a potential short-term fix, but the Braves certainly didn't value the 32-year-old outfielder as favorably as the Phillies, who gave the former MVP a three-year, $50 million deal. That deal would have certainly made sense for the McCutchen who produced a .917 OPS from 2013-15. But considering his OPS was .802 over the past three seasons, this might have been some of that stupid money Philadelphia promised to spend.
The primary concerns surrounding the Braves are their lack of an established frontline starter and the lack of catching depth. Realmuto would have been a great addition, but the Braves were not willing to acquiesce to the volume of prospects sought by the Marlins, who seemed to need Austin Riley, the club's No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline in 2018, in the deal. Maybe more importantly, Atlanta wasn't willing to provide the MLB-experienced option that Miami ended up getting from the Phillies in the form of catcher Jorge Alfaro.
At some point, the Braves will have to utilize some of their prospect capital, which as a whole will inevitably regress in value. A deal didn't make sense for Realmuto or Sonny Gray. But if the Giants are prompted to pull the trigger before this season starts, there's still a chance some of these prospects could be used to land Madison Bumgarner.
If you consider this offseason a disappointment, allow yourself to re-evaluate in a couple years when it's easier to decipher what was gained or lost via what was done and what wasn't. But I don't think it's fair to call it a failure when $23 million was committed to a former MVP in Josh Donaldson, and Brian McCann was brought back to possibly alleviate concerns about the young pitching staff.

Donaldson still has the potential to be one of the game's top offensive performers. McCann might not be the same guy who hit 20 homers on an annual basis during his first stint with his hometown team, but if you're unaware of the impact he can have on a clubhouse and a pitching staff, go back to see what his former Astros teammates had to say when he re-signed with Atlanta.
Right now, assuming no more starting pitching or bullpen help is acquired, where do you predict us finishing in the division?
-- @chris_a_larson

As I was forming this answer, I wondered if the team that finishes fourth in the National League East might actually be the NL's fifth-strongest team? This division race has the makings to be great and it will become even more interesting if Harper or Machado end up with Realmuto in Philadelphia.
We've spent the past couple months focusing on all of the significant additions to a division whose most influential addition last year might have been Aníbal Sánchez, who joined the Braves on a Minor League deal near the end of Spring Training. That's just how it works. You know exactly how it's going to go, until it doesn't.
As things currently stand, I'll deem the Nationals the favorites and predict the Mets will finish second. But at the same time, I think the Braves might actually be better than last year. Their offense is more formidable and their plethora of arms leads me to believe the bullpen will exceed expectations. The rotation is a definite concern, especially when you're competing in a division that includes Jacob deGrom/Noah Syndergaard/Zack Wheeler and Max Scherzer/Stephen Strasburg/Patrick Corbin.
At this point last year, I was thinking the Braves would finish third. I'll make the same prediction this year. But unlike last year, I won't be shocked if I'm wrong.
What Minor Leaguers that were not called up last year do you expect to make the Major League club out of Spring Training?
-- @cody_dixon11

Quite honestly, the only player I could see possibly fitting this description is Jacob Webb, a right-handed reliever who posted a 0.96 ERA over his final 18 2/3 innings for Triple-A Gwinnett last year. But Webb's underdog bid for an Opening Day roster spot will likely only be successful if injuries deplete the Braves' bullpen during Spring Training.
Jesse Biddle and Sam Freeman are the fringe bullpen candidates who are out of options. So for now, let's project six of the eight bullpen spots will be filled by Arodys Vizcaíno, A.J. Minter, Darren O'Day, Jonny Venters, Biddle and Freeman. Chad Sobotka, Shane Carle and Dan Winkler are the top candidates to battle for what would be the other two spots. There's also a chance the Braves could opt to use Luiz Gohara or Max Fried out of the bullpen.
So while I expect Webb and rising prospect Kyle Muller to draw attention during camp, the depth of the 'pen might keep them at the Minor League level during the early portion of the regular season.

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