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Atlanta Braves Offseason Question No. 3: Does The Team Need Another Outfielder?

With Martin Prado, Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward currently in place, should the Braves add another outfielder The answer may surprise you.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 21:  Jason Heyward #22 of the Atlanta Braves strikes out  against thes Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium on September 21, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 21: Jason Heyward #22 of the Atlanta Braves strikes out against thes Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium on September 21, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
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On paper, the Atlanta Braves assembled a team that should have ranked near the top of the league in terms of offensive output. With a nice balance of speed and power and the riddance of players such as Melky Cabrera and Nate McLouth, scoring should not have been an issue in 2011.

For one reason or another, it never quite clicked for this team offensively. It seemed like there was always one or two players on fire -- Jason Heyward in April, Brian McCann in May and June, Freddie Freeman in July, Dan Uggla in August, Chipper Jones in September -- but the lineup could never quite put it all together at the same time.

Injuries and bad approaches at the plate attributed to this, but something was simply off with this team.

That leaves Frank Wren and the Braves in a tricky situation in the offseason. If everyone in the lineup is relatively healthy and producing as they're capable of, it would be silly to unnecessarily spend money or prospects to bring new players into the organization. Atlanta already has a team capable of competing for a championship in 2012 and they are yet to make a single move.

This all being said, what if injuries arise next year? What if Jason Heyward continues to not hit left-handed pitching? What if Martin Prado brings his miserable second half of last season along with him into next season? For a lineup that is technically set for 2012, there sure are a lot of question marks remaining.

That is why it makes sense for the Braves to bring in an everyday corner outfielder.

While it seems foolish to list off names of potential candidates -- literally every player from Matt Kemp to Jeff Francoeur will be mentioned in the next few months -- there is plenty of reasoning behind the addition of a proven outfielder capable of playing both left and right field.

Martin Prado's greatest attribute is his versatility. Few players in this league can adequately handle multiple positions defensively and still manage to produce solid numbers with the bat. Capable of playing first, second and third base, as well as both corner outfield positions, it only makes sense for Prado to become a super-utility player for the Braves in 2012.

It may take away a few at-bats from gritty Venezuelan, but there is no denying Martin will see plenty of playing time in this role.

For one, Chipper Jones is going to miss time next season. The old man has averaged just under 120 starts in the last five seasons and he isn't getting any younger. Prado would be his immediate replacement and would likely make at least 40 starts at the position, if not more.

Both Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla have track records of staying healthy throughout the long grind of a season, but both could always use a day of rest here and there. Assuming they both avoid injury in 2012 -- and that's far from guaranteed -- each would likely miss at least five or ten starts. Prado can handle both positions well and would make life easy on Fredi Gonzalez whenever he wished to give Freeman or Uggla a day off.

Then there's Jason Heyward. While it remains foolish to take at-bats away from the talented right fielder whenever he is healthy, injuries have plagued him ever since making his way through the Minor Leagues. Heyward has made the trip to the disabled list three times in two seasons and it's tough to imagine Heyward not missing some time in 2012. The solution for right field is an easy one, just as it was with Chipper, Freeman and Uggla: insert Martin Prado into the lineup.

Finally, there is the new left fielder. For the sake of the article and an example to use, let's use Josh Willingham, a free agent outfielder who has been linked to the organization in the past. Even if Willingham -- or the newly acquired outfielder -- stays relatively healthy next season, the chances of a minor injury or him needing a few days off is almost guaranteed. Prado is more than capable of handling left field and would fill in perfectly.

Add together the time Prado would play while serving as the first baseman, second baseman, third baseman, left fielder and right fielder and he plays at least 120 games, if not more. And this is of course assuming Prado stays healthy for the entire season, something he has failed to do in both years since becoming the full-time starter.

I truly believe this is the best way to go about improving the offense for next season.

The Braves would have an excellent insurance policy for just about every position on the field and Prado still receives regular playing time, even if it comes at a different position on any given night of the week. His versatility is, after all, what made him so valuable to Atlanta as he made his way to the Major Leagues.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.