There was once a time when coming up with enough money to lure a superstar to the Atlanta Braves was not an issue. Those days are now gone, putting general manager Frank Wren into a very difficult situation each season when the July 31 trade deadline rolls around.
As constructed now, this Braves teams needs help in a couple of departments. The two relatively easy fixes are in the bullpen and on the bench, where veterans capable of stepping in are a dime a dozen each summer as teams look to load up on prospects and shed salary.
The biggest area of need for Atlanta will be their starting rotation, and they've already been an active bunch searching for possible solutions. Big names and lesser-known guys have been mentioned as possible targets, everyone from Zack Greinke to Jason Vargas.
For as much as the Braves would like to add an ace to their starting rotation, money is going to define everything they do from here on out. And until Liberty Media Corporation, the current owners of the team, sell the franchise, it's going to remain this way.
Greinke, who is far and away the most attractive piece on the market, will become a free agent at the end of the season. Just 28 years old, he would give Atlanta their first legitimate ace since the days of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.
With great talent comes a hefty price tag, and that'll be the case for Greinke whether he works out a contract extension this month or waits until the offseason arrives. The Braves have the prospects to entice the Brewers to send their star pitcher south, but will they have the money to keep him around for more than two months?
Wren and the Braves will have approximately $35 million to spend this offseason, which would certainly pay for the $15-20 million Greinke expects to receive annually for the next five or six years. At the same time, there are plenty of other issues to address.
If the club does somehow end up with Greinke -- whether it be in the next week, month or over the winter -- they'll be guaranteeing him about one-fifth of their payroll moving forward. His cost would likely make Michael Bourn too expensive to re-sign, who will also be a free agent at the end of the season.
Martin Prado will become a free agent after next year and will command a considerable amount of cash to stick around in Atlanta. Tommy Hanson will be eligible for arbitration, as will Jason Heyward. The same goes for Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel in two more years.
Assuming the Braves want to build around these five guys -- and they should -- it's going to cost a lot of money to keep them in town.
These contracts will have to coincide with Greinke's (or any other pitcher the Braves lock up in the coming months), and that could be a serious issue for the club moving forward.
Take a look at the Phillies, who have much more funding annually than Atlanta does. They were reckless with their spending on a few guys (Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee), and now they're set to lose a few of their cornerstone pieces in Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino.
The Braves do not have the payroll flexibility to afford a bad contract or two, and they'll need to be thrifty with their spending to stay successful moving forward.
If the Braves do intend on making a serious push after Greinke, they will need to plan accordingly moving forward. With Bourn likely out of the picture, finding an adequate center fielder is an absolute must. And if they do somehow land him, it also likely means Brian McCann's days in Atlanta are done once the 2013 season wraps up.
Those are some big time decision for Wren and the front office to make, and the potential downside to putting all of their eggs in one basket may sway them to look at other options.
It could mean Matt Garza of the Cubs or free-agent-to-be Shaun Marcum of the Brewers. It could also mean they try and re-develop a once-promising pitcher in the way of Francisco Liriano, who has been linked to the club in recent days.
It's your move, Frank Wren.
The last time they had this kind of money to spend, it was spent on Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez (who spent all of one season in Atlanta) and Kenshin Kawakami. I don't think you'd find any Braves fans who think of that trio of moves in a positive light, and Atlanta cannot afford another poor showing this time around.
The next few months are going to define the future of the Braves, for better or for worse. Get ready.
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