Braves’ GM faces rotation, outfield decisions

Frank Wren is in the money.

Not Bill Gates kind of money. That’s crazy. The Braves haven’t spent like the Yankees or Red Sox in a while.

But Wren finds himself with the ability and the potential cash to plug the few holes the Braves will need to fill before next season.

Chipper Jones’ retirement erases $13 million and former pitcher Derek Lowe’s contract ($10 million) is done, giving up-front money for Wren to go shopping. And he might have about $7 million more if free agent center fielder Michael Bourn, who was second in the National League with 42 stolen bases, decides to go elsewhere.

The Braves’ 2012 opening day payroll was about $83 million, 16th in the majors.

“I think the Braves need some pieces, but I think Frank will have fun playing with all the money,” Jones told the AP on Saturday, one day after the season ended with a 6-3 loss in the NL Wild Card game.

The Braves are expected to pick up their team options on catcher Brian McCann ($12 million), who could be facing offseason shoulder surgery, and starting pitchers Tim Hudson ($9 million) and Paul Maholm ($6.5 million).

Kris Medlen, Tommy Hanson, Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, Cristhian Martinez and Jason Heyward are arbitration eligible and probably will be enjoying raises. Martin Prado could become a free agent next year, so the Braves might try to lock him up with a long-term deal.

Let’s take a position-by-position look at where the Braves stand entering the offseason:

Starting pitchers

I’ll be back: Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm
Heading out: Ben Sheets, Jair Jurrjens
In limbo: Tommy Hanson, Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran
Outlook: Medlen, Minor, Hudson and Maholm give the Braves a strong starting quartet. The group could be bolstered by a trade or a free-agent addition, but if the Braves don’t add someone from outside the rotation, they could fall back on Hanson, or hope Delgado and Teheran progress well enough to win a spot out of spring training. Hanson, Teheran or Delgado could be traded. Beachy, who had a 2.00 ERA when he was hurt, is on schedule to return from Tommy John surgery by the end of June, so someone will need to fill his spot in the rotation until he comes back. Jurrjens will be set free after his disastrous season and Sheets retired.


I’ll be back: Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, Luis Avilan, Cory Gearrin, Cristhian Martinez
Heading out: Miguel Batista
In limbo: Chad Durbin, Peter Moylan
Outlook: Once again, the strength of the Braves, who were second in the majors with a 2.76 bullpen ERA. Kimbrel is in the running for the NL Cy Young Award after he led the NL with 42 saves and struck out more than half the batters he faced. O’Flaherty (1.73 ERA) allowed one run in the second half, none the final two and a half months. Venters had a 1.71 ERA after the break, despite a stretch on the DL. Avilan, Durbin and Martinez were valuable throughout the season, although Martinez faltered late. Durbin is a free agent, but rebounded well after a rough start and often bridged the gap through the middle innings, saving wear on the back end of the bullpen.


I’ll be back: Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, Andrelton Simmons, Juan Francisco
Heading out: Chipper Jones, Lyle Overbay
In limbo: David Ross, Tyler Pastornicky, Jeff Baker, Paul Janish
Outlook: There were more disappointing seasons from McCann, who battled knee and shoulder issues on his way to a career-worst season, and Uggla, who had career lows in average (.220), home runs (19) and RBIs (78). Freeman battled finger and eye issues, but he just turned 23 and led the Braves with 94 RBIs, an increase of 18 from his rookie season. He said he might have Lasik surgery to improve his eyesight during the offseason. Ross would love to come back and the Braves would love to have him back, so the two sides likely will work out a deal. If Martin Prado doesn’t move to third, the Braves could turn to Francisco, who hit nine home runs in 192 at-bats. Francisco might be a risk at third, but he did his job in 2012 despite a poor final month.


I’ll be back: Martin Prado, Jason Heyward
Heading out: Eric Hinske
In limbo: Michael Bourn, Reed Johnson, Matt Diaz, Jose Constanza

Outlook: Wren either will be looking for a left fielder and a center fielder or no outfielders, if he can keep one of the majors’ best groups intact. Prado led the Braves in hitting (.300), Heyward led in home runs (27), was second in RBIs (82) and second in steals (21), and Bourn logged 42 steals and scored 96 runs despite falling off in the second half. Expect Bourn, who is represented by Scott Boras, to sign with either the Nationals or Phillies, meaning Wren likely will have to find a both a left fielder and center fielder, if Prado moves to third to replace Jones. Hinske likely is gone, but Johnson is a strong fit and can play all three spots, so he could come back. At 34 years old, Diaz is a free agent and is coming back from thumb surgery, so his time with the Braves might be done.