With the off-season upon us it's time to look at the five most pressing issues facing the Atlanta Braves this off-season, and what some possible outcomes might be. This is the first of a five-part series of posts that will be on the site today.
Question One: Who starts at the corner outfield spots?
The biggest buzz-phrase we've heard so far in this 48 hours of off-season is, "the Braves are looking for a right-handed power bat." Gosh, that seems an awful lot like what we were looking for last off-season, and we never acquired it (what a leap of journalism to assume we'll be looking for that this off-season). The most obvious place to put that big bat would be in the outfield or at fist base, so depending on how GM Frank Wren and company fare in that pursuit, that could solve one of the outfield spots.
The other outfield spot could be filled by the best position player to come through our system since Andruw Jones, the top prospect in all of baseball, Jason Heyward. Everyone will be keeping a close eye on him during the Arizona Fall League, and if he does well, they will be screaming for him to be given a job even before spring training starts. Some have suggested that the Braves will do with Heyward what they did with Tommy Hanson this season, and that is to have him start the year at triple-A and call him up around the All-Star break. The success Hanson had may actually help Heyward avoid this route, as the team may believe that it's better to put him on the major league roster from day one (as the probably should have done with Hanson). Of course, the Jordan Schafer failure could work against Heyward in this situation.
How about Matt Diaz?
If .313/.390/.488 doesn't earn someone a starting job, I don't know what will. The dude had the highest OPS on the team after Adam LaRoche and David Ross. Diaz deserves to be starting... somewhere... for some team. That brings me to the idea that Diaz may be used as trade bait, or rather trade fodder. If we are to get some sort of big right-handed bat via a trade, then Diaz could be part of a package that goes the other way. As good of a hitter as Diaz is, I get the feeling that the Braves have not always viewed him as an asset -- after all, they did try to sell him to Japan several years ago.
And then there's Garret Anderson. We should do as much as possible to stay away from this guy. He was our last minute stop-gap this season, and he doesn't need to be that again. There's too much risk in putting a veteran like this on the team because Bobby Cox seeming can't keep from playing him every day, and batting him in the middle of the order.
I really don't have much more of an idea of what the team will do with the corner outfield spots. Whoever starts in right field, if it's not Heyward, is only there until the organization is comfortable with calling up Jason Heyward, so that right fielder is a stop-gap at best. I don't think that will be Martin Prado. Cox is just being a homer when he says Prado can play right and Kelly Johnson can move back to second. I'd like to keep Diaz around -- the hittin' fool -- but he's not the pure power option that I think the team covets, and he's certainly not someone who Cox would ever bat cleanup on a regular basis. I know that I want to see Heyward in right on opening day, and if we can get a right-handed bopper to play left field, then that will add two formidable bats to our 2010 lineup.
Coming up later, Question Two: What do we do with six starting pitchers?