ATLANTA -- This has been a unique offseason as the Braves have dealt with the fallout from former general manager John Coppolella's ouster and spent all of October evaluating who will now head their baseball operations department.Once the Braves determine who will be making the ultimate roster-related decisions this offseason,
ATLANTA -- This has been a unique offseason as the Braves have dealt with the fallout from former general manager John Coppolella's ouster and spent all of October evaluating who will now head their baseball operations department.
Once the Braves determine who will be making the ultimate roster-related decisions this offseason, they can dive into what could be a very influential Hot Stove season. The team might still be a year away from becoming legitimate postseason contenders. But with a few bullpen upgrades, they may maximize the potential value of a lineup that could use another power bat and a young rotation that could rapidly improve as next summer progresses. Here are three key issues facing Atlanta this offseason.
Free agents: Righties Jason Motte and R.A. Dickey, lefty Ian Krol
Arbitration-eligible players: Righties Mike Foltynewicz, Arodys Vizcaino and Dan Winkler; first baseman Matt Adams; utility men Jace Peterson and Danny Santana
How will the Braves create a lineup spot for Ronald Acuna?
Acuna has established himself as one of baseball's top overall prospects and has a legitimate chance to be on Atlanta's Opening Day roster. To create a lineup spot for him, the Braves will likely have to part ways with either Nick Markakis or Matt Kemp.
While Markakis could draw some trade interest as he enters the final year of his contract, it will be much more challenging for Atlanta to find a suitor for Kemp, who came to Spring Training in good shape this year and then battled numerous hamstring ailments that adversely affected his conditioning.
It seems unlikely the Braves would eat the approximate $33 million they would owe Kemp over the final two years of his contract. But this might be something that is discussed as they prepare to introduce Acuna, the 19-year-old five-tool phenom who stands as the most impressive prospect Atlanta has produced since Andruw Jones.
How will they fortify their bullpen?
It was odd to see the Braves part ways with former pitching coach Roger McDowell after the 2016 season, just a couple days after giving a two-year deal to Jim Johnson, who had revived his career under McDowell's watch. Johnson will be given a chance to bounce back from the struggles experienced this year, but the uncertainty surrounding his future will likely influence Atlanta to add at least one veteran reliever this offseason.
Vizcaino is capable of handling the closer's role and A.J. Minter certainly enhanced his candidacy as he struck out 17 of the last 31 batters he faced this year. Jose Ramirez and Winkler are also capable of adding quality depth to the bullpen. But instead of relying too heavily on this quartet of relatively inexperienced relievers, the Braves will likely attempt to add experience to their relief corps.
Will they attempt to upgrade at third base?
Johan Camargo appears capable of handling third base on a daily basis, and there's a chance promising prospect Austin Riley could be deemed Major League-ready within the next two seasons. But Camargo's value might be maximized via his defensive versatility and the jury is still out regarding Riley's ability to capably handle third base from a defensive perspective. Thus, Atlanta will at least discuss whether it makes sense to attempt to find a power-hitting third baseman via the free agent or trade markets.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.