Braves fine-tune list of offseason needs
Relievers, catcher among top priorities for management
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Along with meeting with agents and fellow executives during the first day of this year's General Manager Meetings, Braves president of baseball operations John Hart and general manager John Coppolella took some time to discuss some of the decisions they might have to make over the next few weeks and months.
Below are some of their responses:
Primary needs: The Braves remain focused on adding a couple of relievers, including at least one lefty, and at least one catcher. They certainly won't be in the market for Matt Wieters, and their interest in some of the other free agents is understandably lukewarm. Thus, they have not ruled out the possibility of bringing Christian Bethancourt back with the hope that he will develop into the catcher they have long envisioned.
Whether the Braves reach a point where they have no choice but to express confidence in Bethancourt's ability to be their starter, they undoubtedly would like to bring A.J. Pierzynski back to at least serve as a backup next season. Pierynznski, who will turn 39 in December, has a great relationship with Hart that dates back nearly 25 years. But he's also positioned himself to be in high demand on the free-agent market.
"This guy is coming off of a big year," Hart said. "I'm sure he wants to determine what his market is. In his heart, I know he would like to come back to the Braves. I think we'd like to have him back. I think there is interest on both sides, but you just don't know when somebody is going to jump out there with a big offer. We will have certain limitations about where we can go."
Hector Olivera: Though the Braves have not completely given up on the thought of Olivera remaining at third base, it remains obvious that they want him to begin the seasaon as their starting left fielder -- a position he has been adapting to while playing in Puerto Rico over the course of the past week. Third-base coach Bo Porter spent a week working with Olivera on his outfield techniques last week. Like some other scouts, Porter provided some encouraging reports about the progress made by the 30-year-old Cuban, who had primarily served as a second baseman before coming to the United States this year.
"I think him going down and playing six weeks in Puerto Rico is going to be good for us," Hart said. "I think he'll come in to Spring Training and we'll know where we want to play him."
Starting pitchers: The Braves have discussed the possibility of pursuing Bartolo Colon, Mark Buehrle or Chris Young to add experience to their young starting rotation. At the same time, they have not ruled out the possibility of bringing Mike Minor back with a salary that would likely be far less than the approximate $5 million he would get if he were tendered a contract by the Dec. 2 deadline.
There are still some questions surrounding Minor as he attempts to return from shoulder surgery. He recently halted his throwing program for at least 10 days to improve his range and flexibility. It is unclear when the left-hander will be ready to begin throwing off a mound again.
"It's a big question that we face. He felt healthy last year and got hurt. He feels healthy now," Coppolella said. "It's tough to count on the health right now. We'll have to face a choice about whether we can tender him a contract."