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Braves can overcome big free-agent departures

Despite loss of Hudson, likely exit of McCann, Atlanta a contender with young core

Tim Hudson is a reminder that prices are going up. Baseball teams have money to spend, and with a thin free-agent market and at least 20 clubs thinking they've got a chance to win the World Series in 2014, it's going to be a great offseason for a lot of guys.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann are going to get more money than anyone thought possible at this time last year, but Marlon Byrd did just fine for himself as well. This is the way the system is supposed to work.

If you're Braves general manager Frank Wren, what are you thinking? You probably had Hudson penciled in for $9 million in 2014. Instead, he got $23 million over two years from the Giants.

Wren simply could not go there, and so he's left with a hole in his rotation. At 38, Hudson is still good for 25-30 starts and 175-200 quality innings. He's also a great teammate, a great influence on all those young guys in the Atlanta clubhouse.

On the other hand, baseball's best organizations endure these kinds of things. They assign a value to each player, and sometimes that means walking away if the money gets uncomfortable.

Given how salaries continue to increase, budgets can be a moving target. Regardless, the Braves, who were already one of baseball's youngest teams, are about to get even younger.

Here's their rotation (and ages) at the moment:
Mike Minor (25)
Kris Medlen (28)
Julio Teheran (22)
Brandon Beachy (27)
Alex Wood (22) or David Hale (26)

Not bad, huh? Yes, there are questions, and Wren certainly will be shopping for a starter. Beachy has made five starts since recovering from Tommy John surgery. He appears to be good to go, but until he goes back out there for a full season, there'll be some doubt.

Wood has made 11 big league starts, while Hale has made just two. To think Atlanta could go the distance next season with those six starters could be a stretch, but the talent level is still good.

Because the Braves don't have unlimited resources, they have to build a great top-to-bottom organization, and that's what Wren has done.

Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, right fielder Jason Heyward and first baseman Freddie Freeman were all 23 on Opening Day in 2013. Closer Craig Kimbrel was 25.

The bidding for Hudson was modest compared to what it'll be for McCann. With the Yankees and Rangers among the interested teams, his decision probably will come down to where he wants to play.

So the Braves are braced for another hit. Still, if you look at them from a certain angle, you can convince yourself they're good enough to win the National League East again.

They still have baseball's best bullpen and a front of a rotation that could still be very good. In Freeman, Simmons and Heyward, they have three of the NL's best players.

If B.J. Upton can get his career back on track and if Justin Upton has a productive year, Atlanta could have a dynamic offense. There are questions at second base -- what has happened to Dan Uggla? -- but there were questions last season, too.

If McCann leaves, Wren still has options. First, is Evan Gattis capable of being a full-time catcher in the big leagues? Would a Gattis-Gerald Laird platoon be enough?

Or is top prospect Christian Bethancourt ready? He's 22 years old and coming off a season in which he hit .277 at Double-A.

So the Braves have interesting pieces to plug into the spot vacated by Hudson and the one that is likely to be vacated by McCann, but there'll be uncertainty until Atlanta sees how it all shakes out.

If Beachy is healthy, the rotation appears to be in very good shape. And if the Uptons have productive seasons, there'll almost certainly be enough offense.

In the end, the bottom line is actually fairly simple. The Braves will be competitive again, even with a couple of stinging losses. They've drafted well and done a tremendous job scouting internationally.

Now the Braves are doing what baseball's best teams occasionally must do. They're moving on and adjusting and trusting the overall strength of their baseball operations. Don't be surprised if they're right back playing October baseball next season.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.
Read More: Atlanta Braves, Tim Hudson