Braves need an active offseason to avoid irrelevancy
Its been 19 years since the Atlanta Braves have entered the offseason without Chipper Jones on their roster.
Without Jones, the Braves have lost a little spunk on paper. Sure, he didn’t hit 40 homers or rack up 130 RBIs in a single season, but now that Jones is gone, Atlanta lacks that superstar image. Brian McCann seems as if he is out the door and Braves fans are still waiting to see a breakout year from Jason Heyward. Yes, Freddie Freeman is on the rise and the club’s pitching is as strong as it was in the days of Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine, but Atlanta can’t have its usual sleep offseason this year.
The Braves clearly have some holes in their lineup. Martin Prado will likely move to third base to fill some enormous shows, leaving a vacancy in left field. It’s also almost certain that Atlanta — given Fran Wren’s previous offseasons — won’t resign center fielder Michael Bourn, which seriously hinders the Braves’ playoff chances for next year. It’s clear that Atlanta has some areas to adress this winter. Fans just have to pray that Wren is a little more active than he has been in years past.
This year’s free agent class, headlined by Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke, is a bit weak this year, but there’s still some very attractive options the Braves should consider. As an Atlanta fan, here are some viable courses of action the Braves could try to reach the Fall Classic next year:
• Free Agent options: There are two guys I believe the Braves will take a serious look at this winter. I have been a huge proponent for the Braves to sign Nick Swisher and this is finally the year that they can do it. Given, Swisher has never played for a National League team, the change of scenery could perhaps put some new life into the veteran’s bat. Swisher is starting to hit for more contact and the power is definitely still there. Atlanta has been hungry for a power hitter for years. Swisher would be a perfect fit, if he is willing to play left field. The other obvious outfielder Atlanta should think hard about is Cody Ross. Since shining for the San Francisco Giants in their World Series run a few years back, Ross has seem to come into his own. The 31-year-old stuggles a bit as a contact hitter, but like Swisher, he can hit for power, too. I believe Ross’ power numbers will only climb as it seems he is beginning to enter his prime. If Atlanta can sign him, Ross could adress a big area of need right away.
• Trades: I really hope that Atlanta explores a trade for Minnesota Twins outfielder Josh Willingham. The All-Star outfielder won a Silver Slugger award and proved he is one of the premiere power bats in Major League Baseball. If Willingham played for a better team, like the Braves, you would only see him pound even more home runs and knock in even more RBIs. Not a lot of teams were high on Willingham last year, but after an extremely impressive 2012, I predict he will land on a contendor. Hopefully it’s Atlanta.
• Free Agent options: The picking is slim for free agent center fielders. Atlanta already claimed Jordan Schafer off waivers from the Houston Astros, but I don’t think he is the team’s answer in that position. The Braves will make an undesirable offer to Bourn, so it’s very unlikely he will resign. If he does, Atlanta will a solid center fielder for many years to come. If Bourn doesn’t return, Atlanta will either have to settle for an average center fielder in free agency or get creative with a trade. Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino are options, but they aren’t close to Bourn’s caliber. If Atlanta has to settle, however, either player would fit in just fine. It’s just tough to get excited about either of them. A dark horse candidate that the Braves could pursue is Tampa Bay Rays center fielder B.J. Upton. I just don’t see Wren dishing out the kind of dough to bring in Upton.
• Trades: Oddly enough, the most likely trade the Braves could pull off is also for another Twins outfielder. I wouldn’t be surprised if Atlanta conjures up a deal for Denard Span, shipping out some of their pitching depth. Span is an interesting player. He has speed. He can hit for average and he has a little bit of pop in his bat. Obviously, Span wouldn’t be the trade fo the year, but he could help Atlanta out if they’re able to land at least one power hitter. The Braves could also make a move for Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton. While he doesn’t play center field, they might get creative and switch some other outfielders around to cater to Upton’s arrival.