ATLANTA -- Since participating in nine of the 10 National League Championship Series played from 1991-2001, the Braves have now gone 15 consecutive seasons without winning a postseason series.
This fact was not ignored as Braves president of baseball operations John Hart and general manager John Coppolella welcomed manager Brian Snitker and some of their top advisors, scouts and coaches to the Orlando, Fla., area this week for the club's annual organizational meetings. The participants are surely further motivated by the exciting postseason unfolding around them as they plan for the 2017 season and beyond.
When Hart and Coppolella started their reign at the top of Atlanta's baseball operations department two years ago, they began engineering a massive rebuilding process aimed toward mimicking the annual success the Braves enjoyed throughout the 1990s and early part of this century. Consequently, the past two seasons have been painful at times, but there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel. The Braves won 20 of their final 30 games this season courtesy of a much-improved lineup that should remain relatively intact throughout the offseason.
As the Braves look toward next year, their primary needs are the addition of at least two veteran starting pitchers and a catcher to pair with Tyler Flowers. They could assess the trade market for veteran outfielder Nick Markakis, but Markakis' success this year -- he hit .269 with 13 homers and 89 RBIs -- seemed to actually create more reason for him to stay in Atlanta while Mallex Smith continues to develop.
The pool of starting pitchers on the free agent market is weak this offseason, but the Braves are reluctant to trade some of the top prospects they have acquired over the past two years.
"If there's a need, we'd probably rather fill it via free agency, rather than through trades," Coppolella said. "We've worked so hard to add all of these young prospects and all of this young talent. The last thing we want to do is to trade away three or four of them that we like, so that we can get a quick fix. Everything we've done has been the hard way for the long haul. There haven't been any quick fixes or anything done easy."
Ivan Nova, Doug Fister, Rich Hill and Jeremy Hellickson are among the top free-agent starting pitchers. With a few waves of pitching prospects primed to reach Atlanta within the next few years, the Braves will likely target pitchers willing to take contracts that do not exceed three years. This may take Nova out of the equation.
As things currently stand, the Braves plan to enter next season with Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz in their rotation. If they add two more pitchers this offseason, they will be sending a motivational message to Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair, who would be among the group of pitchers competing for the fifth spot.
"There were opportunities here for some young arms [this past season]," Coppolella said. "Some of them really took to those opportunities and some of them are still trying to take to it. We still like all of our young arms. Sometimes, force feeding them isn't the way to go. This would give them the opportunity to keep growing if we can add some starters around them. It would help them get better and it would help us get better."
The Braves cleared some space on their 40-man roster as they outrighted six players who passed through waivers. Right-handed pitcher Joel De La Cruz, catcher Blake Lalli and infielders Brandon Snyder and Daniel Castro were placed on Triple-A Gwinnett's roster. Left-handed pitchers Matt Marksberry and Andrew McKirahan were placed on Double-A Mississippi's roster. Left-hander Jed Bradley was claimed off waivers by the Orioles.