I’ve already spoken about the need to jettison Dan Uggla from the 2014 roster, but besides that move can the Braves make any other moves in 2014 that would improve the starting offense?
Short answer: not really. Or rather, it’s not obvious.
The Braves are set at every starting offensive position, so there is no obvious hole to plug (aside from the aforementioned second base). So improving the starting eight likely can’t be done without a dramatic move of some kind. First off, let’s quickly examine the starting eight and then try to find some ways that the Braves could make a “dramatic move.”
Catcher seems like it will be handed off to the troika of Evan Gattis, Gerald Laird, and Christian Bethancourt. Atlanta could certainly try and bring Brian McCann back, but all indications are that he would be too expense for too many years. With Gattis as the presumptive primary catcher, offense from the backstops should be similar — Gattis hits for more power, but gets on base less than McCann. As the season goes on I could see the Braves working Bethancourt into more of an everyday role in the Majors if he progresses as expected.
First base is set with Freddie Freeman. Shortstop and third base seem locked down with Andrelton Simmons and Chris Johnson. The outfield corners are set with Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, and there is an immovable contract in center field in the form of B.J. Upton. Certainly one of the ways that the Braves could find more offense is for the elder Upton to greatly improve in his second year in Atlanta — but that falls into the category of hoping for better offense, rather than the category of actually trying to upgrade a position.
All starting spots seem to be spoken for, outside of the second base conundrum which awaits some type of resolution — likely a resolution in which Uggla is gone and some combination of La Stella/Pena/Pastornicky/Elliott are given the playing time.
With no obvious position to plug the Braves could try to make some sort of big move that would seek to overhaul a large part of the roster. This is rarely done in Atlanta — the last time was probably when the Braves sent Justice and Grissom to Cleveland for Lofton. Though one could argue that it was also done last year when the Braves moved Martin Prado and prospects for JUpton and and Chris Johnson. The Atlanta front office may have to get creative and move multiple players in an effort to unload Uggla. They may also want to take this opportunity to sell high on a few players.
Chris Johnson finished with the 2nd-highest batting average in the National League, but he did it with an incredibly large amount of luck — his .321 average was helped along by a .394 BABIP, the highest in baseball, which he paired with the lowest walk rate on the team (5.3%). Both of those factors — lots of hitting luck, and no on-base ability outside of hits — could conspire to make him an offensive albatross if more of those balls in play start turning into outs. Add to that an after-out anger that seemed to rub some folks (Terry Pendleton among them) the wrong way. Now could be the right time to sell high on Chris Johnson.
Evan Gattis made the Braves Promotions Department trip over each other on the way towards their next El Oso Blanco night, but now might be the time to trade him while the hype is still hot? I certainly don’t want to see him traded (I love the White Bear), but from a baseball perspective his stock is probably pretty high right now, and who knows if he can repeat his 2013 performance.
Who would these players be moved for? I have no idea. But as the Braves review this past season and look to further improve their team next season, they may have to make some tough choices about trading away popular players coming off of good years. And they’re not afraid to do that, this is the same front office crew that just last year traded one of the most popular Braves players, Martin Prado.
I would expect anything to happen with the Braves this winter. A full year of the talking heads talking about strikeouts may have gotten to some people in the front office and they might want to do something about it. But I wouldn’t expect the Braves to force anything. If they make a big (dramatic) move, it will be one that other teams are coming to them about, instead of one that they are trying to force on another team. As mentioned above, the Braves are set with their starting eight, if they choose to stand pat…
… But as I said at the beginning of this off-season the Braves have to avoid the same-team-returns-for-next-year syndrome. It’s an easy syndrome to fall into, and it may work, but on the offensive side there were some major holes exposed in the team’s ability to be consistent at the plate, with so many similar hitters being prone to collective slumps with lots of strikeouts.
All of the additions the Braves made last year — the Uptons and Johnsons — were about finding more offense; and while they hit more home runs in 2013 than they did in 2012, they scored fewer runs. Do the Braves make more moves and tinker with the current offensive recipe, or do they let it marinate another year and hope it tastes better? We’ll see…