ATLANTA -- Alex Anthopoulos has maintained a patient and thorough approach as he has spent the past few weeks devouring information and evaluating the organization he inherited when he was named Braves general manager and executive vice president on Nov. 13.As the Winter Meetings begin Monday in Lake Buena Vista,
ATLANTA -- Alex Anthopoulos has maintained a patient and thorough approach as he has spent the past few weeks devouring information and evaluating the organization he inherited when he was named Braves general manager and executive vice president on Nov. 13.
As the Winter Meetings begin Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Anthopoulos will have an opportunity to extend trade conversations he's already had with fellow executives and also get a better feel for who might be available on the free-agent market. There's a chance he could strike a deal, but his primary focus will be to continue getting a better feel for how to best address his club's needs.
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While none of Atlanta's needs might be deemed definitive, there are a number of items on the wish list as Anthopoulos aims to move the club away from the tough portion of the rebuilding process that began after the 2014 season.
The Braves could benefit from the addition of a proven reliever, and if the right deal materializes, there could be a desire to trade for a top-flight starting pitcher. From an offensive perspective, Anthopoulos will keep his eyes and ears open for ways the club can improve at third base.
The only definitive need the Braves have this offseason is to create a lineup spot for outfielder Ronald Acuna, who could stand as MLBPipeline's top overall prospect when he makes his expected debut early next season. The spot would be created by parting ways with either Matt Kemp or Nick Markakis.
Though it does not appear the Braves have had any serious discussions regarding Kemp or Markakis, the Winter Meetings may at least provide an opportunity to get a better feel for their respective trade markets.
Bullpen: Anthopoulos took a step toward cleaning out his bullpen when he traded Jim Johnson and his $5 million cost to the Angels last week. Now, he may look to add some experience to a bullpen that will once again be led by closer Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter, Jose Ramirez, Sam Freeman and Dan Winkler. The Braves also recently acquired Chase Whitley, who stands as one of the multi-inning options that will exist as Atlanta plans to primarily utilize an eight-man bullpen.
Starting pitching: Sean Newcomb made his Major League debut in June and already owns the third-most career starts (19) among the current projected starters. Julio Teheran is the only member of this group who has made more than 65 career starts, but his inconsistencies create reason to question his future in Atlanta. Newcomb, Luiz Gohara and Mike Foltynewicz all have the potential to become legit front-line starters. But if the Braves are going to be legit contenders by 2019, they likely need to add a potential ace at some point within the next year.
Third base: Johan Camargo is capable of serving as the primary third baseman next season, and in 2019, there's a chance Austin Riley could be positioned to get a call to the Majors. But if the Braves would rather utilize Camargo as a versatile bench asset, they could look to add some experience to their lineup with the addition of a short-term third baseman. There may also be a desire to remain flexible with Camargo to keep him available to serve as the shortstop if Dansby Swanson's struggles extend into '18.
Who can they trade if necessary
RF Markakis: Though the preference would be to trade Kemp, the Braves may have to settle on moving Markakis, who is financially much more attractive as he enters the final season of his four-year, $44 million contract. Markakis' production has dipped over the past few seasons, but he still gets on base consistently and is highly respected throughout the game. He could certainly draw some interest.
Anybody not named Acuna or Freeman: OK, maybe the list of untouchables extends slightly beyond Acuna and Freddie Freeman, but it shouldn't go far beyond this duo. A year ago, the Braves halted their pursuit of Chris Sale when the White Sox made it clear any return needed to include Swanson. Swanson still has the potential to have a distinguished career, but he stands as one of the latest examples of how quickly a prospect's value can diminish within the span of just one year.
The Braves have a number of top quality pitching prospects, and it wouldn't necessarily be easy to part ways with any of them. But in order to get a top-flight starting pitcher, it might be necessary to eventually part ways with at least one of these young arms.
Per MLBPipeline.com, the Braves' Top 10 prospects are Acuna, LHP Kolby Allard, RHP Kyle Wright, RHP Mike Soroka, RHP Ian Anderson, LHP Gohara, LHP Joey Wentz, LHP Max Fried, 3B Austin Riley and OF Cristian Pache.
Gohara and Fried could both start the season in Atlanta's rotation, and there's a chance Soroka and Allard could join them at some point during the summer. Riley will likely garner a lot of attention next summer, and Pache has the potential to make a meteoric rise similar to the one Acuna experienced this year.
Rule 5 Draft
The Braves have 37 players on their 40-man roster and thus could make a selection in next week's Rule 5 Draft. They already have to carry Winkler through most of May to satisfy the requirement that existed when he was taken in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. But given the expectation Winkler could be a mainstay in the bullpen, this likely won't be a deterrence if the Braves want to choose a player this year.
The Braves have not revealed an exact payroll projection, but if it stands where it did this year, they will have approximately $40 million available to spend this offseason. Even if they were to trade Kemp, they would likely need to eat a sizeable portion of the $36 million (accounts for his salary minus the Dodgers' financial commitment) he is owed over the next two seasons.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.