Footprints in the Snow: Atlanta Braves

Footprints in the Snow is FanHouse's look at the paths to be forged by MLB teams this winter as they look ahead to 2009.

And frankly, there's only so long that you can allow prospects to develop without actually using them to make your team at the big league level better (that's not to say that trading blue chipper Tommy Hanson is acceptable; it's not). But the Braves, by virtue of the Peavy rumor train that's rolled through MLB gossip circles over the past few weeks, are one of the biggest teams to watch over the next few weeks: a new GM gets his chance to make a mark on a team with the chance to return to glory by pulling off a trade with his West Coast counterpart and fitting the pieces to make the Braves stop stinking up the NL East in embarrassingly anti-historical fashion.

Who may leave:
Mike Hampton, SP/Bane
Tom Glavine, SP/Geriatric
John Smoltz, SP/Demigod

What do they need?
As you can clearly see: pitching. Well, that and an outfield bat. Atlanta seems pretty locked up in terms of the infield (although that's certainly subject to change pending a possible trade for Peavy), what with Casey Kotchman at first, Kelly Johnson at second, Yunel Escobar at short and Chipper Jones at third. But you also have to remember that there are plenty of other options for the team in terms of minor leaguers --

Jordan Schafer

Brent Lillibridge comes to mind at least as someone who would play short and slide Yunel to second if KJ was moved to the Pads.

What should they do?
They should do whatever it takes to get Peavy, within reason. Additionally, as rumored, they should try and add one more upper-mid starting pitching option. Look, the Braves' previous 14 season dominance of the National League East existed because they had a well-constructed team, but it was centered around great pitching. The trio of Greg Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz are clearly enough to shore up any rotation in their prime. And that's what they did. But last year, as an example, Jair Jurrjens (a freaking rookie) led the Braves in almost every major pitching category.

They need a top shelf starter -- Peavy -- plus another solid 2/3 guy, like Derek Lowe, to slide in with Smoltz (more on that in a second) and Jurrjens and heeeeeeeello division championship. It seems like a long shot to get both; certainly someone like Lowe or A.J. Burnett or Ryan Dempster (*shudder*) is going to be pricey. And potentially not worth it -- Lowe, for my money, is the best option just because he's so quietly studly and extremely reliable.

So yeah, starting pitching is a must, as is trying to find a power bat for the outfield not yet named Jason Heyward. Ryan Ludwick of the Cardinals is rumored as a potential trade option, and while it's a must to get someone with some pop in the middle of the lineup, prying Ludwick or someone else away is probably No. 3 on the list of things to do.

My personal first option is getting Smoltz signed ASAP. And hopefully that's Wren's thinking too.

What will they do?
Excellent question. And that's only because we don't really know what Frank Wren's stra-tegery will be heading into his first offseason. He has $40 mil on the table to toss around, so it makes sense that he would try and beef up the Braves' starting pitching. But, it's not exactly like everyone wants to be spending excess money right now, and if Wren's in-season roster manipulation is any indication, I'm not totally sold on this whole "free-spender" type of attitude that everyone keeps assuming he'll embrace.

I honestly believe the Braves will get Jake Peavy -- the Padres know their Cy Young winner wants out, they need to get prospects back, and the Braves have the fortunate distinctions of a) having the best available prospects, b) not being in the Pads' division and c) being on Peavy's wish-list for teams he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause.

I also think that Wren locks up Smoltz again -- he almost has to, simply because John is still talented enough to succeed, and he's a GD legend on the Braves team; letting him walk would be an utter fail in terms of public relations. The third starter and the outfielder are also within reach, but the quality of return on both of those, I tend to believe, will be born on by whether or not Wren can successfully extract Peavy from San Diego without paying too much.

If he looks like a fool and hands over a ton of prospects, it's going to taint the entire offseason, even if it means better results now. But the reality is that Wren has inherited a team that's been watching the Phillies and Mets succeed (to varying degrees) over the past few years in a division that was once exclusively Atlanta's. And that's unacceptable. If he wants to make his mark as a preeminent general manager in Major League Baseball, he can do it now, but it's going to take a careful blend of "win now" and "think long term" to keep the fan base and his bosses happy while remaking Atlanta into a contender.

Footprints in the Snow: Atlanta Braves originally appeared on MLB FanHouse on Mon, 10 Nov 2008 13:15:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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