The Major League Baseball Winter Meetings begin Monday in Florida. While the Braves' roster is almost set, it does not mean they will stay put during the meetings.
General Manager Frank Wren did his big business early in the offseason, trading for Dan Uggla to fill the much-needed right-handed power hitting role, and trading for Scott Linebrink to fill the middle relief role that was needed. The lineup and pitching staff are both set heading into the season, but the Braves are still in need for a utility infielder and fourth outfielder.
The utility infielder has the chance to be filled in-house. The Braves have more than one option for the role, such as Diory Hernandez and Brandon Hicks. Both are solid defensively and are capable of filling the role of late-inning replacement for all three positions. All indications are Hernandez could hold the position heading into the season, but there is always the chance of a signing to fill it. That chance looks even better when considering whether the Braves are comfortable handing the position to Hernandez.
The fourth outfielder could go several directions. With the trade for Uggla moving Martin Prado to left field, it eliminates the need for a platoon in left field again. This spelled the end of Matt Diaz in Atlanta, and it means the need for a true defensive fourth outfielder. The Braves have enough offensive firepower to get by on those days when Chipper Jones does not play, without having to acquire a fourth outfielder with pop.
The most attractive option for the position that I have been harping on for a couple weeks now is Tony Gwynn Jr. He is an elite defensive outfielder who should be the most pursued player for the position this offseason. His arm is average at best, but his speed and instincts are excellent. Alfredo Amezaga is another option, a player who has solid defensive numbers in his career and can play everywhere, including the infield. The concern is he did not play in 2010 due to knee surgery, and he will be 33 years old. Former Brave Josh Anderson could also be a candidate to return, as he has great speed for the outfield. The lone internal candidate is Matt Young, who has proven himself worthy of a chance but does not have the best defense in comparison to other options. Regardless, his defense is enough to get by at the position if they want to save the little cash left.
The other concern heading into the meetings is moving Kenshin Kawakami. The Braves have spoken to several MLB teams, as well as Japanese teams, in an attempt to trade the pitcher and get relief on the payroll. However, Kawakami has so far balked at going back to Japan, and other interests appear minimal. If he realizes the Braves are serious about not giving him time on the big league roster in 2011, he will more than likely accept what is proposed. Also, the Braves could benefit from moving Kawakami in the form of a couple million extra in the pocket. It is something the Braves might focus on during the meetings, and it is definitely something to keep an eye on during the offseason.
Check back during the week for updates on the happenings of the Braves and rest of the NL East during the meetings.