What were your thoughts regarding the Jaime García trade?
-- Janet B., Smyrna, Tenn.
Though there are legitimate concerns about the durability of the injury-plagued Garcia, the Braves really didn't give up much to acquire a veteran who has proven effective when healthy. They parted ways with two pitchers (John Gant and Chris Ellis) who have ceilings as back-end starting pitchers and an infielder (Luke Dykstra) who produced a .696 OPS while hitting .304 with Class A Rome. This is the effect of drawing six walks and totaling 18 extra-base hits (no home runs) over 342 plate appearances.
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There's certainly reason to be concerned about Garcia, who has made more than 20 starts just once over the past five seasons. And even though he started 30 games this past season, endurance seemed to become a factor as he posted an 8.58 ERA over his last seven starts and completed as many as four innings in just one of his four September starts.
Garcia will certainly have some extra motivation as he progresses through the final year of his contract. This can only take you so far if the body is not cooperative. But if the veteran southpaw gets off to a good start, the Braves could opt to trade him and allow Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair or one of their other rising prospects a chance to end the season in the rotation. This could be an option, but it would not be as easy to flip a pitcher with a $12 million salary as it was this past year to do so with Jhoulys Chacín, Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell.
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If the Braves reach a point where they are missing Gant or Ellis, that will mean a lot has gone wrong with the development of Sean Newcomb, Patrick Weigel, Max Fried and some of the other highly regarded pitching prospects who could reach Atlanta within the next year or two with a much higher ceiling.
What does it mean for Wisler and Blair if the Braves add one more starting pitcher this offseason?
-- Andy B., Montgomery, Ala.
We've already reached the point where it looks like both Wisler and Blair could begin the 2017 season in Triple-A Gwinnett's rotation. This plan could change courtesy of an injury or the unlikely possibility that Atlanta pays the steep price it would require to trade for Chris Sale, Chris Archer or Sonny Gray. The price for any of these controllable frontline starters would likely include at least one member of this group -- Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Wisler or Blair.
While the Braves have not extinguished the thought of acquiring any of these three starters, I'd say the likelihood of them doing so rivals that of Tyler Flowers ending Game 7 of next year's World Series with an inside-the-park home run. Of course at this time last year, I might have put similar odds on somebody actually giving up Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Blair for Shelby Miller.
So while we've come to at least remain cognizant of the unexpected during general manager John Coppolella's tenure, there certainly isn't reason to get overly excited about the possibility of seeing Sale in a Braves uniform next year. The White Sox want a return that would trump what the Braves gained for Miller, and Coppolella doesn't want to be on the other end of such a deal.
What is your early prediction for the lineup next year?
-- Octavio B., Sacramento, Calif.
The makeup will depend on how the Braves utilize the versatile Sean Rodríguez, who certainly didn't perform like a strict platoon option as he produced an .831 OPS in 248 plate appearances against right-handers and a .934 OPS in 94 plate appearances against left-handers in 2016. The right-handed Rodriguez and left-handed-hitting Jace Peterson will serve as super utility options who have the ability to play a variety of positions when not assigned to second base.
Rodriguez and Peterson could platoon at third base with Adonis García, who produced a .765 OPS in 152 plate appearances against left-handers and a .700 OPS while tallying 12 of his 14 homers over 411 plate appearances against right-handers. There likely won't be a strict platoon, but Garcia will not be viewed as an everyday option.
With the assumption that Rodriguez will start at least 120 games while handling a variety of positions, I'll project the primary lineup to look like this: Inciarte, Swanson, Freddie Freeman, Matt Kemp, Nick Markakis, Rodriguez, Flowers and either Garcia or Peterson.
If you need further indication of how much this lineup has improved over the past year, remember Garcia ended 2015 as the cleanup hitter and entered '16 in that same role.