The Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) is nearing the end of spring, and there are still many unknowns surrounding the remaining position battles and opening day roster construction.
This week I’ll take a look at each area of the team in one post. I will list the locks, then discuss which spots are still up in the air. The players listed in red are the ones who have not yet made the roster.
Lineup (8 of 8 spots are locks): Surprisingly, the lineup is not quite a sure thing because of possible platoons at second and third, though it’s mostly set, especially if we base our guessing off of the lineups of the past few spring games. This seems to be the prevailing lineup:
1. Ender Inciarte, CF (L)
2. Erick Aybar, SS (S)
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B (L)
4. Adonis Garcia, 3B (R)
5. Nick Markakis, RF (L)
6. Hector Olivera, LF (R)
7. A.J. Pierzynski, C (L)
8. Jace Peterson, 2B (L)
While I’ve had Garcia on the roster bubble all spring, comments on a recent broadcast by the GM, and Garcia’s repeated inclusion in lineups, leads me to believe that he will be the starting third baseman. That said, both he and Peterson will share a large part of their playing time with Beckham, Johnson, and Bonifacio.
Bench (3 of 5 spots are locks): At least three bench players are known: backup catcher Tyler Flowers, infield backup Gordon Beckham, and everywhere backup Kelly Johnson. That leaves Emilio Bonifacio to find a spot, as well as the crowded veteran outfield trio of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Jeff Francoeur.
There has been mention that the team could cut Bonifacio loose and eat his $1.25 million salary. Until recently he was hitting poorly, and still leads the team in strikeouts this spring — not a good sign for a low-power contact hitter off the bench. That decision to cut money is complicated by the probable need to eat some, if not most, of the salaries of both Swisher and Bourn.
Both Swish and Bourn have had good springs, so it seems reasonable to believe that the Braves can find teams that are interested (as long as Atlanta eats a large portion of their salary). If the Braves can find a taker for one of those guys, then they probably cut Bonifacio and keep Francoeur and whomever between Swisher and Bourn wasn’t traded. That gives them the greatest veteran trade power leading up to the trade deadline in July — as I presume they will swap as many veterans on short contracts as they can for prospects, much like they did last year.
We should know more on Tuesday, when the team is required to inform Francoeur of where he will start the year.
Rotation (3 of 4 spots are locks): The top three spots in the rotation appear to be solid locks, while the fourth spot is still up in the air with the poor finish to the spring by Chacin. Atlanta will not need a fifth starter until April 12, so while I’ll list those candidates, they will start in the minors and get recalled on the 12th.
The right-handed heavy rotation of Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, Matt Wisler and Jhoulys Chacin seem like the four the team will take north. Chacin is the only question mark after some rough outings recently. With starting pitching so thin throughout the majors and in the Braves organization, I have to believe that they’ll at least see what they have in Chacin for the first few weeks of the season. If he’s not up to the task, then they have a phalanx of young starters who should be ready by mid-April.
ManBan had been the early favorite, but Folty came on strong in his last start while Banuelos has been hit hard in two of his three appearances. Neither seem like options to be in the opening day rotation due to their delayed start to spring.
Young righty John Gant was considered for the fifth spot for a hot minute, but he’s much more likely to begin the year in the minors. Though his good spring could accelerate his timetable. The forgotten one, Williams Perez, could sneak into some sort of roster spot in the rotation or bullpen.
Bullpen (6 of 8 spots are locks): This is the area with the most uncertainty, and an area that could change a lot between now and opening day due to trades, releases and waiver claims. The locks appear to be Arodys Vizcaino, Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, Alexi Ogando and Jose Ramirez, all right-handers.
With the acquisition on Sunday of left-hander Eric O’Flaherty, he becomes another lock. One of the remaining spots seems like it will go to Rule 5 reliever Daniel Winkler, who received a strong vote of confidence from the GM on a weekend broadcast.
That leaves one bullpen spot, and until recently is sounded like it would go to another left-hander — the helmet-hat wearing Alex Torres. Like Chacin, A. Torres has gotten hit a lot lately, and the team may be rethinking his inclusion in the bullpen. The only other competition at this point seems to be from righty Carlos Torres, the improbable resurgence of Hunter Cervenka or someone else from minor league camp, or one of the starting candidates falling to the pen.
With that eighth spot in the pen going away in mid-April once the team needs a fifth starter, my best guess is that spot will be filled by Banuelos or Perez, with either of them serving primarily as long relievers. If I had to put money on it right now, I’d choose Perez, but a lot could happen between now and opening day.
For a bit of fun reading, click here for a look at the final MTM post from last spring.