Coming into this off season, the Braves were pretty well off, compared to many other teams, including those who made the postseason with them. Just like their needs all season, Atlanta came into the off season looking for a power hitting right handed bat. They made a fantastic deal early, acquiring second baseman Dan Uggla from the division rival Marlins, in exchange for utility man,(and first time all-star) Omar Infante, and middle relief prospect, the hard throwing lefty Mike Dunn, whom the Braves acquired last off season in the Javy Vasquez deal. While Infante was invaluable player in2010, and Dunn performed admirably, Uggla has the ability to make the Braves a MUCH better offensive team. If Uggla lives up to expectations, and batting in a better lineup in Atlanta, it is very conceivable for Uggla to have his best offensive season to date. A .280/100/35/100 line seems possibly given his chance to hit cleanup, between Chipper and McCann. Other than the Uggla deal, resigning Eric HInskie and bring Alex Gonzalez back to play SS may have flown under the radar, but these two deals help the Braves offense as well. Letting Troy Glause and Derek Lee go has now given Freddie Freeman the chance to begin the 2011 season as the starter at first base. Martin Prado will now be given the everyday job in LF after the Braves picked up Uggla.
The every day starting lineup is pretty much set, with the CF spot really being the only offensive position up for grabs coming in to spring training. McCann is set at catcher, Freeman at 1rst, Uggla at 2nd, Gonzalez at ss, and Chipper at 3rd. Prado has LF locked down, and Heyward has RF Locked down as well. The players trying to win the cf spot are Nate McLouth, who was an all-star and gold glove winner in 2008, but was horrible last season. Jordan Schafer, once the top prospect in the organization,who has struggled the last two seasons while battling through injury after injury, will be given a hard look again as well. Matt Young, the least known of the three is really a better fit in lf, but has the heart of a lion, and could win the spot with a great spring.Also in the mix will be Joe Mather, whom we picked up.
The starting rotation has its top 4 back, with Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy the two front runners to win the #5 spot. If they both put up respectable numbers during the spring, Minor would more than likely get the nudge, due to fact that he is the only lefty of the bunch. With Billy Wagner retiring, and Saito gone, the closers job,in my opinion, will be between Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrell. Venters, the lefty, has a power sinker and a good off speed arsenal, and has proven he can pitch good in big games. Kimbrell, the absolutely dominant righty, improved his control during his late season audition with the big club. With the signings of George Sherrill and Scott Linebrink, the bullpen appears ready for a great 2011 season. Really,the only unknown with the team,is going to be new skipper Freddi Gonzalez. How he gels with a well balanced group of veterans and young players could be a big key in how well the team plays.
The only real need left for the Braves is a utility type outfielder. We have Mather, but I am not sure if Atlanta is truly done with big moves. If the Braves can get there hands on a lead off type center fielder, such as, Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner, and can do so without given up a lot to grab them up, I believe the Braves will jump at the offer. I could even see them trading for Mike Cameron, who may be 38, but can still be a productive part time player. Now, whether they really are done, or they make another big move, the 2011 Braves have a good shot a making the playoffs yet again. I hope they play very well, and as always, GO BRAVES!!!!!!!!!