At the conclusion of the 2011 season, it was evident the Atlanta Braves needed one thing: offense. The late-season collapse of the Braves can be attributed almost solely to the offensive ineptitude. While the Braves had some offensive woes throughout the season, they were particularly magnified in September, when they blew an 8 1/2 game Wild Card lead to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Braves' offense actually looks good on paper. Brian McCann is arguably the best catcher in the game. Freddie Freeman put together a solid season, one in which he finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting. Dan Uggla had a down year as far as his average is concerned, but he also managed to hit the most homers (36) of his career.
Chipper Jones was the Chipper Jones most everyone expected. He missed his fair share of games as he usually does, but he was very productive when he played. Finally, Michael Bourn added stability to center field, where he was the stolen base threat at the top of the lineup that the Braves had sorely missed.
The Braves' offense suffered primarily due to Jason Heyward, Alex Gonzalez, and, to some extent, Martin Prado. Heyward won't be going anywhere, at least not this year. He will be given every opportunity to rebound from his disastrous season. It doesn't appear that Gonzalez will be back next year. He wants and will likely get at least a two-year deal from some team.
Therefore, the shortstop position will have to be filled. Frank Wren and the rest of the Braves' front office have expressed that they are comfortable giving prospect Tyler Pastornicky the job next season, but they are open to other solutions. Wren will undoubtedly explore all options and leave no stone unturned.
Furthermore, Prado's name keeps coming up in trade rumors (though Wren has denied that they are looking to trade Prado). While Prado did have a down year by his standards, he was far from the problem. Prado is a great player who is only two seasons removed from an All-Star campaign, so any replacement of his would have to be a major upgrade in order for Wren to pull the trigger on a deal.
The Braves could and may very well choose to go to Spring Training in 2012 with roughly the same team as last season. They may choose to sign a veteran shortstop to backup Pastornicky and then call it an offseason, all the while counting on a resurgence from Heyward and Prado. One thing is certain, however, and that is the Braves have an abundance of young pitching.
As it stands now, the Braves have eight starting pitchers. Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, and Brandon Beachy are virtual locks for the rotation. Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, and even Kris Medlen are candidates for the fifth spot. While it is certainly nice to have that depth in case of injuries, especially with the uncertainty surrounding current or past injuries to Hudson, Hanson, and Jurrjens, a lot of that talent is being wasted in Triple-A Gwinnett.
With the Braves' young talent, they have two real options to improve the offense. They could choose to trade an established starter like Jurrjens or Hanson to upgrade the offense, or Wren could trade one or two of the young guns. Regardless of what Wren chooses to do, the Braves' pitching depth does not need to go to waste.
Unless Wren gets extremely creative, shortstop and left field are the only two positions that may have a new starter next season. With the bevy of great pitchers on the Braves' roster, Wren needs to use that depth to bolster the offense. Every Braves' fan hopes that Heyward and Prado rebound, but Wren shouldn't put all his eggs in that basket.Tags: Atlanta, Atlanta Braves, Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Martin Prado, MLB