The 2011 Winter Meetings are officially here, which means insanity is about to take over Major League Baseball. Whether it be conflicting reports on a free agent signing, a trade going down at 3:15 a.m., or a drunk Ozzie Guillen crashing the open bar, we can expect to see it all in the next few days. What do the Atlanta Braves likely have in store? Here's a look at what positions will be addressed:
This is the most pressing need for the club. Alex Gonzalez is gone and will not return to Atlanta in 2012. Jack Wilson is a free agent and probably couldn't handle the position on a full-time basis, though he could return with a limited role. And prospect Tyler Pastornicky, while talented, has recorded a total of 117 at-bats in Triple-A.
Short of finding some kind of superstar shortstop suddenly on the market (and Frank Wren likely won't), the Braves have two options: find a stop-gap solution for 2012, or hand the job to Pastornicky with some kind of veteran backup available on the bench.
Jimmy Rollins, who is now the biggest free agent on the market with Jose Reyes becoming a Marlin, is out of the equation. Rafael Furcal could make sense if the price is right, but he and the Braves have a bitter past after negotiations went south in 2008. Other than these two, the remaining free agents would not be much of an upgrade over the afore mentioned Pastornicky and/or Wilson scenarios.
On the trade market, Wren could look into acquiring Stephen Drew, Erick Aybar, or even making a big run at Starlin Castro, but teams seldom let go of their starting shortstops for anything less than a king's ransom. It's tough to see any of these clubs moving their players, even if Wren attempts to woo them with Atlanta's bevy of pitching talent.
Prediction: Atlanta stays put during the meetings, signs a backup shortstop in coming weeks, and goes into Spring Training with Pastornicky as the starting shortstop.
This is a tricky situation for the Braves, mainly because they could go into the Winter Meetings feeling very comfortable with their current outfield of Martin Prado, Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward, which really isn't far-fetched. If healthy, that trio has the potential to be very solid. There is a lot of risk that comes with it, though.
If Chipper Jones goes down with an injury at some point in 2012 -- and he will -- Prado is the immediate backup. That brings a hole in left field, which would currently be occupied by Matt Diaz. If Chipper is out for a long time, does Atlanta want Diaz playing every day? That could bring some problems.
Scary scenario No. 2: Jason Heyward is not performing or gets hurt. Again, Diaz is likely to be playing every day, and the team is without one of their best hitters in J-Hey. Add to that scenario the chance of Chipper, Uggla or Freeman getting hurt and the need for a quality corner outfielder becomes huge.
There are so many outfielders capable of handing left or right field that is seems pointless to identify a select few that Atlanta could target. Everyone on the free agent market from Carlos Beltran to Josh Willingham could be a fit, and everyone from Alex Gordon to Peter Bourjos could be a fit via trade. Braves Country will simply have to wait and see what transpires in the coming weeks.
Prediction: I think a deal gets done for a corner outfield in the near future. It may not necessarily come during the Winter Meetings, but a lot of groundwork will be set in place.
On Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado Rumors:
Honestly, it's tough to gage the market right now. A few weeks ago seemingly every team in the league was connected to either player, but all has gone quiet since and Wren went as far to say all the reports were false. My guess is the actual truth is somewhere in-between, with Atlanta talking to a few select clubs where they have big interest in a prospect or two.
I'll say this: Martin Prado is a very, very valuable baseball player to have on our roster. He can play multiple positions, is a legitimate hitter at the professional level and is a first-class citizen and teammate. His work ethic is unmatched around the league. It's going to take a lot to pry him from Atlanta.
As for Jair Jurrjens, I'd be much more inclined to move him should a reasonable deal come to the front office. The Braves have better, cheaper options for the starting rotation and Jurrjens is unlikely to re-sign with the club because of his ties to sports agent Scott Boras. His value is diminished somewhat because of his rough second half of the season, but he could still be a hot commodity in the coming weeks. I would not be surprised to see him dealt this week.
For more on the Braves, check out Talking Chop.