ATLANTA -- As Braves general manager John Coppolella engineered a massive rebuilding process over the past two offseasons, he has proven he is not willing to leave any stone unturned. His diligence has positioned the team to enter this offseason with fewer obvious needs.And although Coppolella will have more money
ATLANTA -- As Braves general manager John Coppolella engineered a massive rebuilding process over the past two offseasons, he has proven he is not willing to leave any stone unturned. His diligence has positioned the team to enter this offseason with fewer obvious needs.
And although Coppolella will have more money to spend than he has either of the past two years, his aggressive nature could lead him to be creative as he evaluates both the trade and free-agent markets.
Coppolella has said that his primary needs are a starting catcher and two veteran starting pitchers who have the potential to help Atlanta build off this past season's late success and to enter its first season at SunTrust Park with a team that will compete for a postseason berth.
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Below is a look at where the Braves stand:
Free agents: C A.J. Pierzynski, LHP Eric O'Flaherty, OF Emilio Bonifácio
Arbitration-eligible: OF Ender Inciarte, RHP Arodys Vizcaíno, RHP Chris Withrow, LHP Paco Rodríguez
Rotation: It looks like the Braves will enter next season with a rotation that will include Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and two veteran starters they plan to acquire via free agency or trade. This could create a battle for the fifth spot in the rotation. Matt Wisler currently stands as the favorite, but Atlanta is hoping top pitching prospectSean Newcomb will prove to be ready at some point next season. Aaron Blair's stock has fallen significantly during his first year in the organization, but he also could factor into that rotation battle during Spring Training.
Bullpen: Jim Johnson has been given a two-year extension and the chance to continue in his role as the team's closer. If the former closer Vizcaino returns healthy next year, he could team with Mauricio Cabrera and José Ramirez (reliever) to give the Braves a solid core of hard-throwing setup men. Lefty Ian Krol also provided some comfort as he re-established his value this year. Withrow and Shae Simmons could also provide some late-inning value if their arms prove to be more durable than they were this past season. An interesting newcomer could be A.J. Minter, a talented left-handed reliever who has been consistently praised throughout this season by Atlanta's talent evaluators.
Catcher: Even before Wilson Ramos suffered a major knee injury during this season's final week, there was reason to doubt the Braves would pay the cost (both financial and in regard to Draft-pick compensation) to sign the veteran catcher this offseason. There also seems to be minimal interest in Matt Wieters, but the Braves seem committed to find a starting catcher so they can use Tyler Flowers as their backup. Flowers provides adequate offensive value and pitchers like throwing to him, but his tremendous struggles against opposing basestealers will make the Braves hesitant to enter next year with him as the starter and Anthony Recker as the backup.
First base: Nearly three years later, it is obvious the Braves went the right route when they decided Freddie Freeman was a better choice than Jason Heyward to serve as a cornerstone. Freeman put forth MVP-caliber production this year, and he'll earn $106.5 million over the next five seasons. A potential backup option for next season could be Jeff Francoeur, if he opts to return to Atlanta as a free agent.
Second base: Prospect Ozzie Albies hopes to be ready by the start of Spring Training after suffering a right elbow fracture in September, but Jace Peterson might once again begin the season as Atlanta's primary second baseman. Peterson showed he's capable of hitting left-handed pitchers, but given the minimal opportunities he was given, it seems likely the club would utilize him in a platoon role again next year. Chase d'Arnaud is the most likely internal candidate to fill the right-handed portion of this platoon. But at some point next year, Albies could be deemed ready to assume the everyday role.
Shortstop: Dansby Swanson did exactly what the Braves hoped after they brought him up from Double-A Mississippi in August. Swanson spent this season's final six weeks proving he was both physically and mentally ready to accept the challenges of being an everyday shortstop at the big league level. The mature former top overall Draft pick provided a reliable glove and the kind of plate approach that may earn him a shot to move up to the lineup's second spot next year.
Third base: It seemed like this would be an area the Braves would attempt to address this offseason, but that was before Adonis García went to Triple-A Gwinnett to learn how to play left field and returned as a much-improved third baseman. Garcia will never be a Gold Glove Award candidate, but he has made enough strides that his power potential negates some of his defensive shortcomings. Martín Prado might have at least intrigued Atlanta this offseason had he not opted to re-sign with Miami.
Outfield: There might be some offseason chatter about the Braves trying to trade Nick Markakis, but they could be hesitant after he spent the second half providing indication he has regained the power he lacked following neck surgery in December 2014. Once Matt Kemp arrived in early August, he teamed with Inciarte and Markakis to form a valuable outfield trio. Kemp's value could increase if he attains his goal to drop a few pounds and become more mobile. If Atlanta sticks with this same trio, Mallex Smith could begin the season as a backup or have the opportunity to play on an everyday basis for Triple-A Gwinnett.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.