For nearly two decades, the Atlanta Braves could go into the offseason knowing exactly what their plans were for third base.
Following Chipper Jones' retirement at the end of the season, the Braves now have a huge hole at the hot corner for next year and beyond.
Who fills it? There may be fewer options than you would expect.
The most obvious in-house candidate is Martin Prado. As he has shown over the course of about 1,300 innings since 2008, Prado is more than capable of handling the defensive responsibilities that comes with third base. He posted a DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) of +25 since 08, which is impressive. The 29-year-old Venezuelan should also hit well enough to solidify the position.
The only other option in the organization is Juan Francisco. And, honestly, he isn't an option. Francisco is 25 years old and still hasn't improved his discipline at the plate, striking out in 34.1 percent of his at-bats last season.
When you consider his mediocre line of .234/.278/.432 came predominately against right-handed pitchers -- Francisco is awful against lefties -- it's tough to justify making him anything more than a bench player in 2013.
On the free agent market, there really aren't any fits. David Wright could hit the market if the Mets decide to decline his option, but even then Wright is likely out of the Braves' price range. The second-best option would be someone like Brandon Inge or Placido Polanco, and that just isn't happening.
General manager Frank Wren could look into trades. Atlanta has the pieces to acquire a top-tier third baseman, although very few will be available.
Chase Headley is a guy who will likely make the headlines all winter. After a couple of solid seasons in San Diego, Headley broke out to be an MVP candidate this past season while hitting .286 with a .875 OPS and 31 homers.
The issue with Headley is that the Padres' asking price will be sky high. It's tough to imagine the Braves landing the 28-year-old star without parting with numerous top pitching prospects, which Wren has been hesitant to do in recent years.
Given the amount of interest the rest of the league will have in Headley, it's tough to see Atlanta giving up the farm when there are multiple other areas on the roster to address.
There will surely be other third base options mentioned as possible trade targets. It's just a little too early to begin speculating with no other obvious candidate out there.
Prado should be the starting third baseman next season. He makes the most sense for a multitude of reasons, especially when you consider how few legitimate options are going to be on the market. Look for a strong season at the hot corner from Prado as the post Chipper Jones era begins in Atlanta.