Baseball's shopping season truly kicks into another gear at MLB's Winter Meetings -- which open Sunday in Orlando -- and for general managers, the goal is simple: filling needs.
The Braves have the added wrinkle of a new GM in Alex Anthopoulos, who has been on the job for less than a month, and is still gaining a feel for what he's inherited from John Coppolella.
Are his goals the same as those believed to be the focus of the previous regime? Will the new GM, who has a history of making splashes, do the same to signal the start of a new era for Atlanta?
Let's dive into the Braves' perceived needs and how they might fill them this winter.
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A Taker For One (Or Both) Of The Corner Outfielders
This is unquestionably priority No. 1. Atlanta has the game's top prospect in Ronald Acuna and needs to clear a starting spot for him with aging Nick Markakis in right field and Matt Kemp in left.
Markakis is due $11 million on the last year on his deal and Kemp is under contract through 2019 with $43 million remaining ($7 of which is paid by the Dodgers, while the Padres are picking up $5 million) and if there's a preference, Markakis, would appear to be one of the two Atlanta would rather hold on to.
The 34-year-old was below a league-average hitter with a 96 OPS+ in slashing .275/.354/.384 with eight home runs and 39 doubles, but he did play in a team-high 160 games. Meanwhile, staying on the field was an issue for Kemp. While he hit 19 homers at league-average production of a 100 wRC+, the 33-year-old also missed 47 games in dealing with a hamstring issue that plagued him for much of the season.
Markakis is likely more movable, which means he's probably more likely to be moved, that is unless the Braves are willing to eat a portion of Kemp's remaining money owed. That could be the route to getting him to the American League, where his defense (minus-13.9 WAR and no better than minus-15.3 since 2013) wouldn't prove the same liability.
Should Anthopoulos deal one, or potentially both of the 30-something outfielders, don't expect that be a signal that Acuna breaks spring training with the team. As little as a few weeks in the minors could give the Braves another year of control, meaning it's likely last season's super-sub, Lane Adams (107 wRC+ off the bench), could be of extreme benefit early on.
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Another Starting Pitcher
The Braves -- like every other team in baseball -- had been vocal about seeking a young, controllable starting pitcher under the previous leadership.
That's not likely to change with the understanding that Julio Teheran is solid, but not an ace with one season of more than a 95 ERA+ in the last three, that Mike Foltynewicz (career-high 3.45 BB/9 in 2017) is still seeking consistency and there's still a wait-and-see approach with the likes of Luiz Gohara (2.75 FIP), Sean Newcomb (9.72 K/9 and 5.13 BB/9) and a long list of the other highly-ranked young arms.
Adding the likes of the Rays' Chris Archer, who is 29 and under club control for the next two years with club options in 2020 and 2021, would be pie-in-the-sky thinking and the kind of move a new GM still getting a feel for his new toys may not be willing to make just yet. Plus, the Braves are unlikely to enter the bidding for top 30-and-under arms like Alex Cobb ($18.2 expected average annual salary) or Lane Lynn ($16.9).
So where does that leave Atlanta? Going down a familiar path.
Declining the option on 43-year-old R.A. Dickey who was hinting at retirement, but has yet to officially make any announcement, left the team without a veteran piece, and as much as they might like to swing a deal for a young arm, at this stage, a short-term deal with another veteran may make more sense.
That makes the likes of Anibal Sanchez who struggled in his age 32 season with a 6.41 ERA and 5.33 FIP, and his lowest WAR (0.5) in seven years, more the Braves speed, especially if the ways of the past figure into current thinking.
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Third Baseman/Utility Infielder
It came as a surprise when ESPN's Buster Olney reported that the Braves have checked on shortstops, potentially to help in the development of Dansby Swanson.
After his return from Triple-A, the former No. 1 pick hit .268/.360/.348 in 49 games and had a 127 wRC+ in August and 77 in the second half of the season overall. But this is likely about more than Swanson, when you consider utility men Jace Peterson and Danny Santana are gone and that Johan Camargo could open the year at third base alongside Swanson and Ozzie Albies at second.
Don't expect the Braves to be entering the Zack Cozart fray, with the 32-year-old shortstop free agent expected -- per Spotrac.com -- to fetch an annual salary of $13 million, or for them to trade for the likes of Maikel Franco. The Phillies are said to be growing impatient with the 25-year-old third baseman.
Those level of deals just don't make sense with Riley -- who turns 21 next season and .315/.398/.511 with 18 extra-base hits (including eight homers) in 48 games to end the season in Double-A -- on the cusp.
If the goal is to supplement the youth and not block Riley, the Braves could be better suited to allow Camargo to slide back into the utility role he filled so well last season with 43 games at third, 26 at shortstop and nine at second, and add a veteran third baseman.
It's no secret the Marlins are looking to shed payroll and they're due $28.5 million to Martin Prado over the next two seasons. The former Brave, 34, is coming off a year with a career-worst 70 OPS+ and went on the disabled list three times, but if Miami is willing to eat a portion of the contract, Prado could be a stopgap option. However, he wouldn't exactly meet the need for power with his last double-digit homer season coming in 2014.
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Is this still the need it once appeared to be? The Braves got themselves out from under the albatross of Jim Johnson's contract after his late season slide (9.88 ERA from August-on) and added a long-relief option in picking up Chase Whitley from the Rays.
As presently constituted, Atlanta could roll out a bullpen of Arodys Vizcaino (14 saves), A.J. Minter (team-best 15.6 K/9), Jose Ramirez (Braves-leading 62 innings pitched), Sam Freeman (stranded 80 percent of runners over his 60 IP), Dan Winkler (2.81 FIP and 11.3 K/9) and Whitley (57 1/3 IP).
There's also another long option in Luke Jackson (50 2/3 IP), Akeel Morris (11/05 K/9), the recently-signed Rex Brothers (12.5 K/9), former first-round draft pick Jason Hursh, and not to mention whichever of the heralded starters that don't make the rotation that could be used in bullpen roles.
The point being, the Braves bullpen ranked 11th over the last 30 days of the season with a collective 1.1 WAR and there are building blocks there. If anything, a veteran stabilizer could be of use and there are plenty on the open market.
Righty Anthony Swarzak (32), who had a 187 ERA+ in 70 combined innings with the White Sox and Brewers is expected to fetch north of $6.7 million per Spotrac.com is an option, and Anthopoulos has ties to Brandon Morrow in both Toronto and with the Dodgers. The 33-year-old righty is expected to get in the $6.3 million range.
There's also the potential that Anthopoulos could see fit to spend some of the team's prospect capital to get help here. A major unknown is how the new GM values the pieces acquired by Coppolella and Co.