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Inbox: Can Atlanta contend for a Wild Card spot?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman fields questions from Braves fans

I've been watching the Braves for 40 years and this looks like one of the weakest teams they've ever fielded. Is there any reason they will actually be a Wild Card contender?
-- Bill D., Winfield, Kan.

Instead of punting this season and fielding a club that might've mirrored those miserable ones you seemingly have forgotten from the latter portions of the 1970s and '80s, the Braves have ardently attempted to construct a competitive roster while keeping their primary offseason focus on improving the farm system.

As a result, they have made their Major League roster much less imposing by taking a chance on the likes of Nick Markakis, Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson and a collection of non-roster invitees, highlighted by Jose Veras and Eric Young Jr. If Markakis makes a full recovery from neck surgery, he'll provide some much-needed value to a suspect offense. It might be too much to expect Grilli, Johnson and Veras to all bounce back from a rough 2014. But if just two of them prove valuable, the bullpen has the potential to be better than last year's.

Video: Outlook: Markakis brings steady production at plate

The addition of Shelby Miller strengthens the front end of the rotation. But if Mike Minor has not fully recovered from last year's left shoulder ailment, there will be less reason to be optimistic about the starting staff's ability to compensate for the club's offensive inadequacies.

Video: Outlook: Miller has ability to bounce back in 2014

While I'd like to think it would be nearly impossible for this year's offense to be any worse than last year's, I can't ignore the doubts that are enhanced when simply attempting to construct lineups that make sense against right-handed and left-handed starters. There is greater potential with the lineup that could be used against lefties. But with that being said, they've faced a southpaw starter in a little less than a quarter of the games they have played over the past two seasons.

Given the strength of the National League East and the many questions surrounding this new-look Atlanta roster, it would not be wise to project the Braves as a postseason contender. But if the offense proves successful in its attempt to put the ball in play more consistently and run more frequently, this is a club that could finish slightly above the .500 mark. If so, they'll keep things interesting into September -- something last year's lifeless club did not accomplish.

Submit a question for the Inbox.

Am I the only person that feels like we traded a lot of talent and got nothing better than a team's fourth- or fifth-best prospect in return?
-- Bret M., Salt Lake City

When analyzing the returns the Braves received this year, it is vital to remember that they were offering just one year of Jason Heyward and Justin Upton. The impressive prospect haul -- Mike Foltynewicz and Rio Ruiz -- they gained from the Astros was a product of the fact that they were able to offer four years of Evan Gattis.

Do you think Alberto Callaspo or Jace Peterson wins the second-base job? I like Peterson's speed and Callaspo off the bench.
-- Kyle E., McPherson, Kan.

If you haven't gathered from my Tweets or stories I've written over the past couple of months, I'm not too high on Callaspo. If he's truly in shape, then maybe he will prove valuable as a guy who can play second base and occasionally spell Chris Johnson at third base. But I think the Braves would be best served to give Phil Gosselin a chance to play second base until Jose Peraza is deemed Major League ready.

Video: Johnson on expectations for '15, working with Seitzer

Are there any more trades that the Braves can pull off in the offseason?
-- David R., Atlanta

While the Braves do not appear to have any imminent deals in the hopper, they are still working the phones and evaluating ways to improve both this year's roster and their pipeline. Even if they don't strike any deals within the next few weeks, look for lots of activity near the end of March, when they will need to decide what to do with some of the non-roster invitees who will not be making Atlanta's Opening Day roster.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for
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