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Atlanta Braves Burning Question No. 2: Who Fills The Void At Shortstop?

With Alex Gonzalez becoming a free agent, what should the Braves do to fill their void up the middle?

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 20:  Alex Gonzalez #2 of the Atlanta Braves runs after hitting a home run against the Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium on September 20, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 20: Alex Gonzalez #2 of the Atlanta Braves runs after hitting a home run against the Florida Marlins at Sun Life Stadium on September 20, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
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Despite having a solid amount of their roster already assembled for the 2012 season, the Braves will be on the hunt for a shortstop in the offseason.

While no one is quite sure if Frank Wren will elect to sign a free agent, make a trade, or use an in-house candidate, finding a capable shortstop will be one of the main priorities for Atlanta in the next few months.

There are certainly a lot of candidates for the job. Let's take a look at a few of the more likely ones, the ones out of the budget, and a few wild card options as well.

Free Agents To Forget About: Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins

Would it be nice to sign Reyes or Rollins to man shortstop for the next five or so seasons? You bet. They are both proven players both at the plate and with the glove and either one would be a great addition to our ball club. This being said, they aren't coming to Atlanta.

For one, short of Liberty Media selling the team, the Braves do not have the money to sign these guys. The budget for next season will be around $90 million dollars and approximately $70 million is already committed to players in the organization.

Secondly, the team would likely want to avoid a five or six-year deal, which is what both players are reportedly seeking. As much fun as it would be to see Reyes (29) or Rollins (33) for a few seasons, no one wants to see either player at the wrong side of 35-years old.

Dream about either player in a Braves uniform, but it isn't happening.

The Other Free Agents:

After Reyes and Rollins, the free agent market is pretty much nothing. Rafael Furcal is the third-best option and he and the Braves do not exactly have the best relationship after the fiasco in 2009. A player such as Marco Scutaro could be an option, but the veteran shortstop has an option of his own with the Red Sox and it will likely be picked up as well.

Other than these two players, the availability of starting shortstops is pretty much nonexistent. Most of these guys are utility men and pinch-hitters, not the ones you run out for 150 games in a season.

Trade Candidates:

Are there shortstops currently with other teams that would be a great fit in Atlanta? Yes. A lot of them, to be honest. Will those players get dealt? Probably not.

Proven players such as Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, Jhonny Peralta, Alexei Ramirez and J.J. Hardy can probably be forgotten. Up-and-comers such as (former-Brave) Elvis Andrus, (former-Brave) Yunel Escobar, Starlin Castro and Erick Aybar also aren't going anywhere.

A player who is a personal favorite of mine is Stephen Drew of the Arizona Diamondbacks, but his horrific injury in July and the whole DBacks-are-actually-kind-of-good-this-year thing probably means he won't go anywhere. Drew will be a free agent after the 2012 season, though, so he may be a fit down the road.

This all being said, short of Frank Wren working a miracle -- and he has worked a few miracles in recent years -- it is tough to imagine the Braves bringing in a shortstop via trade.

In-house Candidates:

There are basically two: Brandon Hicks and Tyler Pastornicky.

Hicks has seemingly been with the franchise forever, and despite being frequently overlooked by guys such as Diory Hernandez and Pastornicky, Hicks actually had a pretty solid season at Triple-A. A player widely-regarded to already have the defensive capabilities for the Major League level, Hicks hit 18 home runs, batted .252 and finished the year with an OPS of .779.

While that isn't anything to be blown away by, he could be a dark horse candidate if the Braves look to use their limited funds to add a big-name player that plays a position other than shortstop.

The other option is Pastornicky, who came to the organization in the Alex Gonzalez-Yunel Escobar nightmare deal from two summers ago. As a 21-year old in Mississippi, the shortstop hit .299/.345/.414.

Those are solid numbers in their own right, but what caught the eyes of many was Pastornicky's performance once he moved up to Gwinnett; before his season was cut short with an ankle injury, TP had a .365 batting average through 27 games and combined that with an OPS of .821.

Pretty impressive for a 21-year old.

While the obvious solution would be to insert Pastornicky as the Opening Day shortstop for Fredi Gonzalez's club, one must remember he has accumulated just 104 at-bats at the Triple-A level and could use some more seasoning both at the plate and in the field. That leads us to what makes the most sense for the Braves...

Solution:

Re-sign Alex Gonzalez for one more season. While his production at the plate is essentially nothing, Gonzalez still ranked near the top of the league in Defensive Runs Saved and has historically been well regarded in terms of UZR ratings.

Bringing the veteran back to Atlanta would not cost more than a few million dollars and it gives the team a steady veteran presence at one of the most crucial defensive positions on the field. Pastornicky -- who I believe will end up being the starting shortstop at one point or another in 2012, anyway -- will continue to gain experience at the highest level in the Minor Leagues and is ready to replace Gonzalez should injury or a decline in production arise.

This is a post in a series that will preview the Atlanta Braves offseason. Be sure to check out the first installment, which took a look at what the team will do with their collection of capable starting pitchers.

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