ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 02: Catcher Brian McCann #16 of the Atlanta Braves follow through on a swing during the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Turner Field on September 2, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
An in-depth look at what the Braves may look like in 2012, including what may change between now and Opening Day.
The Braves have not done a whole lot this offseason, and that is far from a bad thing. And while some have grown frustrated with a lack of moves from general manager Frank Wren, the simple fact is he has very little financial flexibility to work with.
Alex Gonzalez will no longer be an albatross at the back-end of the lineup, beginning the Tyler Pastornicky era in Atlanta.
Sometimes the best move a team can make is to not do anything. While both Martin Prado and Jair Jurrjens drew a lot of interest over the last few months, both could have a big role with the Braves in this upcoming season due to injuries and a need for production. And even with the chance either is dealt in the coming weeks, Wren would only make a move if it benefitted his team both in 2012 and beyond.
With Opening Day less than three months away, here is a look at what the 25-man roster will probably look like.
The catcher position in Atlanta has been solidified with Brian McCann and David Ross behind the plate. There is no chance anyone in the organization unseats either player and they will be with the club unless injuries arise.
The infield looks set with Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, Tyler Pastornicky and Chipper Jones. There is a chance Jack Wilson takes a few starts away from Pastornicky if the young 22-year old rookie struggles out of the gate, but it appears the club is more than ready to move forward with the young shortstop. Jones is always an injury concern, but he reportedly feels great and has lost weight to take some pressure off his knees.
The outfield is pretty set as well, with Martin Prado, Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward. If healthy and producing at the level each is capable of, the Braves could have one of the best outfields in baseball. That is far from guaranteed at this point, though, especially after both Prado and Heyward have missed significant time the last two years with various injuries.
In addition to Ross and Wilson, Eric Hinske and Matt Diaz are likely locks to begin the year as backups. That leaves one, maybe two spots open to fill. If the Braves do not add anyone else, guys like Jose Constanza, Brandon Hicks, Drew Sutton, Jordan Parraz and others could all earn a job if they turn some heads in Spring Training.
There is plenty of time left for Frank Wren to deal Jair Jurrjens or any one of our other starters, but one has to think the odds decrease as the season nears. As of now, though, it appears he will be a part of the 2012 rotation to begin the season.
Assuming he is healthy -- and that is far from guaranteed after undergoing back surgery in late November -- Tim Hudson will be at the front of the rotation for Atlanta. The same goes for Tommy Hanson, who is still just 25 years old, and his injured shoulder that bothered him throughout last season.
Brandon Beachy had a phenomenal season in 2011 and will be rewarded with a spot in the rotation. He will serve as the No. 3 starter in the rotation. Assuming Jurrjens is not dealt before Opening Day and his knees are healthy, he will have a spot in the rotation as well, likely as the No. 4 starter.
The fifth and final spot may be up for grabs, but one has to imagine Mike Minor already has a sizable lead over Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado. Not only does he have more experience in the Major Leagues, but he is also a southpaw, something the club seems to want in their rotation.
This is not to say Teheran and Delgado should get comfortable at Gwinnett. Other than Minor, every one of the four starters mentioned above struggled to stay healthy over the course of the last 12 months. Both pitchers will get plenty of work in Atlanta during the 2012 season.
The bullpen was arguably the biggest strongpoint for the team in 2011 and it has a chance to be even better in 2012, assuming Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty do not see any ill effects from pitching so much last year.
In addition to these three, they will be joined by some talented relievers with the ability to handle some of the late inning workload. Kris Medlen will be healthy and will serve as both the long-man in the bullpen, as well as a middle reliever. Arodys Vizcaino showed flashes of dominance in August and September and he will likely begin the year with Atlanta.
Peter Moylan may be gone, but Cory Gearrin is more than capable of duplicating his success, assuming he is used properly. And who can forget Christian Martinez, who pitched so well down the stretch this past year? He'll have a spot as well.
What may change:
The club could still add a fourth outfielder in the mold of Cody Ross, Ryan Ludwick or someone similar assuming the price is right. A utility infielder could be added as well, through a trade or free agency. The pitching staff is basically set, regardless if Wren deals a starting pitcher or not.
As of right now, this is a talented team making a deep run. Assuming they can stay relatively healthy -- and that is far from guaranteed -- they will be in contention for the playoffs and the World Series. The regular season will be here before we know it, and it could be a special one for Braves Country in 2012.