ATLANTA -- Given there was a possibility that Mallex Smith may have spent a majority of the 2017 season with Triple-A Gwinnett, the Braves didn't immediately alter their Opening Day roster plans on Wednesday afternoon when they traded Smith to the Mariners, who then promptly flipped the outfielder to the Rays.
With Smith no longer available as an insurance option if center fielder Ender Inciarte is sidelined for an extended period, the Braves have something else to think about as they fill the final spots on their bench.
Though there have been recent reports that the Braves could deal for James Dozier or Brandon Phillips, the likelihood of them trading for a second baseman remains slim. The price for Dozier is too steep, especially given that No. 2 prospect Ozzie Albies could reach the Majors at some point this season. As for Phillips, the Braves haven't talked to the Reds about him for more than a month, primarily because his choice to use his veto privilege in November led them to sign Sean Rodriguez.
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Phillips' rejection was seemingly a blessing for the Braves, who will benefit from Rodriguez's versatility as they continue with their plan to utilize an eight-man bullpen and a four-man bench, which would include their backup catcher.
The Braves have had recent discussions with Kelly Johnson and Jeff Francoeur about the possibility of returning. But at this time, they are simply weighing their options and evaluating specific bench needs.
With Rodriguez and Jace Peterson, the Braves have a couple of capable options to fill the second-base spot until Albies is deemed big league ready. Rodriguez and Peterson will also both serve as super-utility options, meaning that both could see some time at each of the infield and outfield spots.
Given that Rodriguez will likely draw a majority of the playing time at second base, Peterson -- a left-handed hitter -- can be considered one of the four projected bench players. Another spot will be occupied by the backup catcher, either Anthony Recker or Tuffy Gosewisch.
If Inciarte needs a couple days off, Rodriguez or Peterson could fill the center-field spot. But the Braves also seem to be leaning toward giving a roster spot to Emilio Bonifacio, a switch-hitting veteran outfielder who signed a Minor League deal in December.
Now that the Braves no longer have the option to promote Smith from Gwinnett, Bonifacio seems to be the most likely option in the event that Inciarte is forced to sit out.
If the Braves end up giving one their bench spots to Bonifacio, Chase d'Arnaud, who compiled a .547 OPS over his final 133 plate appearances this past season, might begin the season with Gwinnett. But this would essentially create a situation where Peterson might be the only backup infielder for most games.
Deciding whether to carry Bonifacio or d'Arnaud could influence whether the Braves fill their final bench spot with an infielder or an outfielder. There's obviously a chance they could carry both of these players, but at this point, it seems like they'd rather increase their options by signing at least one more experienced position player to a Minor League deal before the start of Spring Training.