With the Braves having addressed their starting-pitching needs, will they try to go after a catcher?
-- Julio L., Austin, Texas
While general manager John Coppolella has kept the door open to add at least one more pitcher, there is now at least a little more time for him to address his desire to strengthen the catching position with the acquisition of somebody who could share the position with Tyler Flowers. The odds of acquiring Brian McCann remain a long shot, as the Braves would like the Yankees to eat at least half of the remaining contract (two years, $34 million), but they are not necessarily willing to provide the kind of prospects that would give New York reason to make this move. It might be in McCann's best long-term interests to remain in the American League, where he could continue to be utilized as a designated hitter.
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The Astros have shown interest in McCann to fill the void created by the potential departure of Jason Castro, a free agent who has grabbed the Braves' attention. Castro slashed a meager .210/.295/.375 over the past two years, but he is considered a cerebral catcher who is more than capable of handling a pitching staff. In other words, he represents an intriguing left-handed-hitting complement to Flowers, whose leadership also provides significant value to a young pitching staff.
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Nick Hundley is another free-agent catcher who has been mentioned, but given that he bats right-handed, the Braves would seem to favor Castro. Coppolella will continue to evaluate free agency and potential trades, but with Flowers and Anthony Recker already in place, he views his search for a catcher as more of a want than a need.
The Braves still have never shown any interest in Matt Wieters. As for those holding out hope for Wilson Ramos, there were concerns about his knees before he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in September. Thus, unless he gets to the point where he's willing to accept a one-year deal for less than $7 million per season, he shouldn't be viewed as a viable option.
What are the odds the Braves trade for Chris Archer, and what would they be comfortable giving up for him?
-- Will L., Auburn, Ala.
Braves fans should feel quite fortunate that Coppolella truly lives by the mantra of leaving no stone unturned. You really don't know somebody might be willing to give you Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair for Shelby Miller until you ask.
Along this same line, Coppolella entered this offseason hesitant to part ways with many of his highly regarded prospects because he believes that in 2017, many players will better define their respective future values. Still, he and his staff members have done their due diligence by asking about the likes of Archer, Chris Sale, Sonny Gray and other top-flight controllable starting pitchers who might be available via trade.
As things currently stand, it seems like a long shot for the Braves to land any of these three aforementioned starting pitchers. But I'd have said the same at this time last year about landing Swanson, Inciarte and Blair. So it might be best to say it is never wise to ignore Coppolella's aggressive approach to the trade market.
It wouldn't be wise to part ways with prospects to find a short-term fix. But if given the chance to grab the ace Atlanta's rotation needs for 2017 and beyond, then it makes sense to continue evaluating what the cost might be.
When will the Braves start addressing the bullpen?
-- Scott R., Macon, Ga.
As I prepare for my 17th season on this beat, I don't remember the Braves ever entering an offseason without a definite need to improve their bullpen. With Jim Johnson, Arodys Vizcaíno, José Ramirez (reliever), Mauricio Cabrera, Chaz Roe, Ian Krol and Daniel Winkler (if healthy, as a Rule 5 selection he'll need to begin the season on Atlanta's roster), Atlanta already has the components of what could be its Opening Day bullpen.
With that being said, it would be wise to add some depth to this relatively young group that is far from proven. The Braves have already made the surprising decision to give a Minor League contract to Jordan Walden, an injury-plagued right-handed reliever who didn't fit well in the clubhouse during his previous stint in Atlanta. They may now try to further enhance their bullpen depth by adding more veterans who are willing to sign a Minor League deal and attempt to earn a roster spot during Spring Training.
Who are some "under-the-radar" prospects who can contribute to the big league club within the next few years?
-- Tyler K., Le Mars, Iowa
Instead of focusing on a guy like 18-year-old outfielder Ronald Acuna -- the Braves' No. 17 prospect who has risen from obscurity over the past 12 months and positioned himself to possibly soon rank among the club's top 10 -- I'll mention guys like dominant left-handed reliever A.J. Minter, who could be in Atlanta's bullpen next summer, or Patrick Weigel, a 6-foot-6 right-hander who began this past season with Class A Rome and ended it as a dark-horse candidate to join Atlanta's rotation at some point in 2017.
Given that Minter was primarily used just once every three days as he distanced himself from Tommy John surgery, we don't yet know exactly how he might handle the bullpen's everyday rigors. But despite fatiguing in the final weeks of his first full professional season, the hard-throwing southpaw still managed to record 47 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings while limiting opponents to a .216 on-base percentage.