Julio Teheran is the clear anchor for the Braves’ rotation. He looks to continue to keep things rolling after a bounce-back season. He has been the bright spot for a rotation that has been a revolving door throughout the past two seasons. John Coppolella fixed that. The team signed Bartolo Colon, a 2016 All-Star with 19 years of big league experience. The team also went out and traded for a left-handed pitcher in Jaime Garcia, who actually has similar career numbers to Julio, with the difference being he has struggled with injuries. If he can stay healthy, Garcia could be a sneaky good pickup. R.A. Dickey gives the Braves another geriatric starter to go alongside Bartolo Colon. Throwing the knuckleballer in the rotation right before Mike Foltynewicz in a series will likely throw off opposing hitters. The fifth spot goes to Foltynewicz over the likes of Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler. These guys will likely get an opportunity over the course of the season to prove themselves again at the major league level, but for now they go to AAA. Wisler could be a candidate to join the bullpen. The good news for them is that the veterans are on short-term deals, so if they prove their worth, they can easily flip someone for more farm depth and let one of the youngsters take over. The Braves’ offense was great in the season’s second half, and it appears that the bullpen should be pretty good as well. This left the rotation as the team’s weakness going into the offseason, but the front office at least patched it up… for now.
The Braves almost have too many options to work with here, and spring training will be a battle for bullpen spots. The team has made it clear that they will likely go with an 8-man bullpen. Jim Johnson will assume the closer role once again. Flamethrower Mauricio Cabrera comes back as well. Josh Collmenter will serve as the team’s swingman. Two southpaws will likely be on the roster, Paco Rodriguez and Ian Krol, who have both been acquired via trade in the past two seasons. Shae Simmons has been terrific in his time with the Braves, and if he can stay healthy he will have a bullpen spot. Though he is no longer the closer, Arodys Vizcaino will be on the roster as he looks to regain his form from his great 2015 season. If fully recovered from injury, Jordan Walden is surely talented to earn a spot in this rotation as well. He is currently only signed to a minor league deal. This Opening Day bullpen would be quite strong. As far as major league talent goes, Chaz Roe and Jose Ramirez are likely the odd men out, and it will likely be a matter of whether they are waived or sent down to the minors. Armando Rivero likely will not have a spot and will be returned to the Chicago Cubs. Daniel Winkler will likely be a big contributor next season, but the team will likely exercise caution and start him off on an innings limit in the minor leagues. The Braves have some great bullpen arms working their way through the minors, including Jason Hursh, Luke Jackson, Jacob Lindgren, Akeel Morris, AJ Minter and Caleb Dirks. With all this talent, it should not be hard for the Braves to find the right equation for a top-10 bullpen by season’s end.
Every day that Matt Wieters remains unsigned, the more likely he becomes an Atlanta Brave. He fills a position of need, has ties to the area, and it appears that his asking price will be manageable for the Braves as he has a very weak market. Although Tyler Flowers had a better season than Wieters offensively last season, both seasons appear to be outliers. Anyone that thinks Wieters would not be an upgrade behind the plate is kidding themselves. Tyler Flowers would make for a terrific backup, but his struggles against opposing baserunners is worrisome. It appears that Coppy is playing a waiting game with Wieters, but him having a tomahawk across his chest most definitely makes this team more competitive. A two-year deal at a reasonable rate and perhaps a club option would be ideal.
No surprise here. Freddie Freeman had an incredible 2016 season despite a slow start, and getting him some help in the lineup did the slugger wonders. His iron man status allows the Braves the luxury of going into the season without a primary first base backup.
It remains to be seen who will get the majority of playing time at second base. Both of these players are versatile and could see time at other positions. Add in Ozzie Albies’ inevitable 2017 callup, and the Braves face a conundrum at second base. This is not a bad problem to have. Rodriguez could see extended time at the hot corner if Adonis Garcia is unable to repeat his 2016 performance. Albies will likely be the guy by year’s end, but will likely not the opening day starter. However, if he shows he is healthy and has a nice spring training, it is still a possibility.
Adonis Garcia will get the benefit of the doubt to begin the 2016 season, but he will have to sustain a decent level of play with Sean Rodriguez and Rio Ruiz as candidates to take over his everyday role at the hot corner in 2017. Hard to imagine that he was our cleanup hitter not too long ago…
Dansby Swanson is one of the most intriguing candidates for Rookie of the Year in 2017. His play will be a huge factor in how competitive the Braves will be next season. One thing is for sure, Dansby is a winner, and carries unlimited potential at the big league level. The singing sensation Chase d’Arnaud appears to be in a position to win the last bench spot.
The acquisition of Matt Kemp and the second half surge for Ender Inciarte changed the whole dynamic of the 2016 Atlanta Braves. They went from one of the most stagnant offenses in the league to one of the most dynamic seemingly overnight. Nick Markakis has found his name in trade talks, but is still a huge part of the Braves’ offensive success, and should be retained. After all, his value almost increases with less time remaining on his contract. This will likely be the Braves’ outfield for the entire season, barring injury or a breakout performance by Mallex Smith. Speaking of Smith, you may notice he did not make the cut for the Opening Day roster. The team will likely keep him in AAA to get everyday at bats, and rightfully so. If he does not hold a grudge for being traded twice in two seasons, Kelly Johnson seems like the most likely candidate to be signed to fill in as the backup outfielder. Jace Peterson has the versatility to play centerfield, and Johnson can man the corner spots as well as first, second and third base. Having the likes of d’Arnaud, Johnson, Peterson and Rodriguez allows the Braves to carry an 8-man bullpen into the season with little reason for worry.