Before the 2011 MLB season, the Atlanta Braves created quite a stir by sending utility infielder and worthy All-star Omar Infante along with reliever Mike Dunn to the Marlins in exchange for Dan Uggla. This year however, no such buzz has occurred. No big name deals like Pujols or Fielder or Darvish. Not a one. Could this be the “calm before the storm”?
Recently, Braves GM Frank Wren discussed his plans for this albeit static offseason (here’s the article: http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=ap-bravesquietwinter). In it, Wren states that “the quiet winter is proof of his confidence in the Braves’ talent, even after the team blew an 8 1/2-game wild-card lead in September.” And yes, let’s be honest, it’s hard to retain your confidence in a team that literally unraveled in such a short period of time, and I myself certainly questioned my confidence in the team. But once the weakest link in the chain (i.e. Derek Lowe) was shipped off to Cleveland, my optimism returned.
Now I understand that Derek Lowe was not the only factor in the downward spiral last September, but he was surely one of the biggest. The other big factor that came in to play was the offense’s inability to bat consistently. What with Alex Gonzalez not having the ability to get the bat off his shoulder for any delivery that wasn’t in the opposite batter’s box, Dan Uggla swatting at flies the first few months, and hometown hero Jason Heyward being less than stellar, fingers tend to be pointed.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not in any way bashing these guys. Yes, I will admit, I did in October, but what fan wouldn’t? These things happen. But now that we have had the time to put the past behind us, and focus on the road ahead.
Let’s dissect the Braves roster and determine why Frank Wren feels comfortable with the way things are.
Freddie Freeman, 1B: Fresh out of a very respectable rookie season finishing with a BA of .282 with 21 HR and 76 RBIs and runner-up in the Rookie of the Year race behind teammate Craig Kimbrel.
Dan Uggla, 2B: Had a rough start in his debut season in Atlanta, but soon lived up to his name and finishing above the Mendoza Line by going yard 36 times with 82 RBIs.
Chipper Jones, 3B: Returning to his position on the number 3 bag for his 18th season with the Braves after 2 knee surgeries. Chipper has always been the crowd favorite at The Ted and looks as if he will continue to be for a little while longer. Only question is, how much more can those knees take?
Brian McCann, C: Getting most of the workload behind the dish, McCann is one of the heavier hitters in the Braves organization. He has recently shed a good bit of weight yet his power remains. He can always be one to count on when needed.
Tyler Pastornicky, SS: The up-and-coming rookie straight out of AAA Gwinnett, many are concerned about his major step up to the big leagues and if he can handle the job. Spring training will surely give us a first-hand look at his talent.
Jason Heyward, RF: Beginning his 3rd season as a Bravo, the local boy has been known for his targeting of automobiles with long balls. He is coming out of a mediocre season where a majority of his at bats were attempts to go yard with each swing. He has had the time to work on his swing and start focusing more on consistency rather than distance.
MIchael Bourn, CF: After being acquired from Houston last season, Michael Bourn led in stolen bases with 61, 22 of which came with the Braves. His speed at the top of the lineup is a big boost in efforts for postseason hopes.
Martin Prado, LF: Prado is more than likely going to be selected for the job in left field. He was the man for the job last season and he will surely fill the spot this season. He also adds a speed factor to the lineup.
A starting rotation that consists of a single veteran amongst a throng of young talent. Tim Hudson stands as the leader of the starters who include Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, Mike MInor, and a few others. This rotation is full of potential and has proven themselves as long lasting players in the sport. The only thing is that duration throughout games has to improve. They have to try and go longer into the games (at least 6-7 innings) before relying on the bullpen.
One of the main stories last year was the Braves’ strong reliever squad, mainly the much-feared O’Ventbrel trifecta. Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and closer Craig Kimbrel (who won Rookie of the Year in a unanimous vote) struck fear into the eyes of batters, and with a combined 2011 ERA of 4.92 with 424 K’s, they are the reliever equivelent in performance of the Smoltz-Glavine-Maddux rotation of the 90s. With the possible returns of Kris Medlen and Aussie sidearm hurler Peter Moylan, the bullpen will only grow stronger.
Knowing what I do about this team, I am absolutely 100% confident that this team has what it takes to contend in what is shaping out to be a very competitive NL East division. So yes, let the Angels spend their money on Albert, and Detroit reach out a hand for The Prince. Let the Rangers deal in a Japanese phenom in a negotiation bigger than Daisuke. As far as Frank Wren, and many Braves fans like myself, we like what we have and other than just a few tweaks, this team is sure to run like a well oiled machine.