Inbox: Will 2018 be a rebuilding year?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman fields fans' questions

September 19th, 2017

Does the front office view 2018 as a year of development for the young players or do you expect them to make moves in order to contend?

-- @timhall89

Ownership and some executives might be tempted to make a big splash via free agency or a trade this winter in an effort to not only avoid what would be a fifth straight losing season, but to also possibly make a run toward the postseason.

It currently seems more realistic to project the Braves to become playoff contenders in 2019. But if the right deal or right piece becomes available, the club may be willing to use its resources to make a significant acquisition.

Of course, if this route is chosen, there should be a high level of confidence the required asset would be capable of providing significant value beyond next year, when it will be more feasible to project Atlanta as a legit playoff contender.

There is certainly reason to be excited about what 2018 might bring. Ronald Acuna,'s No. 5 overall propect will make his much-anticipated debut, and at some during the season, Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard and possibly Kyle Wright will likely be deemed ready to join a rotation that has already welcomed , , and at different points this year.

Even if the Braves don't acquire a third baseman this year, there's a lot to like about the offensive potential. But pitching will influence when the Braves are ready to take that next step and begin to further distance themselves from the most painful portions of their rebuild.

Gohara and Newcomb have provided a glimpse of what might be coming as the Braves prepare to welcome Soroka, Allard and some of their other legitimate top-flight pitching prospects. Mike Foltynewicz and will also likely be back within the rotation next year.

Over the next few weeks and months, the Braves have to decide who might fill the final rotation spot to begin next year. Should either Fried or Sims fill that spot? Would it be best to trade for a controllable top-of-the-rotation starter? Or should R.A. Dickey's $8 million option be exercised? Dickey's recent struggles have made the decision more interesting. But if the Braves don't acquire a top-flight controllable starter, it will likely be more economically wise to exercise Dickey's option, rather than spend money on an unfamiliar short-term asset, who might no longer be needed once Soroka and the other rising prospects are given a chance to gain a couple more months of development on the farm.

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How early could we see Acuna at the MLB level next season?

-- @KeneelySports

As long as Acuna meets expectations throughout Spring Training next year, he will likely make it impossible for the Braves not to put him on next year's Opening Day roster. Of course, before this occurs, the club will spend this winter creating a lineup spot by attempting to trade either Matt Kemp or . As mentioned in last week's Inbox, Markakis is the more likely to be traded because teams will not have interest in assuming Kemp's contract.

From a financial and "controllability" standpoint, there may be benefits to waiting until the middle of April or possibly at some point in May to promote Acuna. But the current sense around the club is that the young phenom will most likely be in Atlanta's Opening Day lineup next year.

If Brian Snitker is on the way out, will the front office really go with internal options or look outside for a new voice?

-- @WVHCrash

This was addressed last week, but because it will remain a popular topic, it's worth mentioning again that Ron Washington would be the top internal candidate if the Braves don't exercise Snitker's 2018 option.

If the Braves do opt for a new voice, they won't rule out the possibility of pursuing external options. But Washington, a runner-up during last year's interview process, is the current favorite. Terry Pendleton, Eddie Perez and Bo Porter are the other internal candidates who would be considered.

Why is Freddie Freeman still playing? Can he not do any more damage to his wrist?

-- @bhobbs85

There are no structural concerns regarding Freeman's previously fractured left wrist. Yeah, because he spent a little more than a month in a cast and then began subjecting the wrist to daily rigors, he understandably experienced some fatigue during most of August. But since he attempted to preserve strength and energy by not taking batting practice on the field, he hasn't necessarily felt like he's still been swinging a "wet newspaper."

This certainly isn't a unique approach. Many players have chosen to bypass batting practice to preserve energy for games. One of the first players I covered to do so was Javy Lopez, who stayed away from the afternoon sun as much as possible during his 43-homer season in 2003.

Is there a chance Austin Riley will have a chance to win a job either through Spring Training or early in the 2018 season?

-- @HoldenPerkins

It was encouraging to see Riley produce a .900 OPS after his promotion to Double-A Mississippi and steadily mature as an offensive threat as this season progressed. The 20-year-old is a physically gifted prospect with upside from the power perspective. But I think we need to see him grow into his body a little more before making an accurate projection about his ability to have the footwork necessary to handle third base as early as next season.