Braves start preparing for 2013 season

ATLANTA — Kris Medlen thought for a second and managed to look ahead.

Even though the Atlanta Braves’ 2012 season had just ended with a 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL wild-card playoff on Friday, Medlen’s never-ending optimism took control.

He stayed healthy all season long after returning from Tommy John surgery and became the darling of the majors with his late-season streak of invincibility.

“This is my first full season being healthy, so on a personal level, I couldn’t be happier on the way things turned out,” Medlen said. “Later, I’ll be able to sit back and say, ‘Wow. What a year.’ “

Medlen, 26, is one of the players the Braves will build around as they prepare for 2013, along with 24-year-old closer Craig Kimbrel, plus right fielder Jason Heyward and first baseman Freddie Freeman, who both just turned 23.

Medlen was 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA for the season, but was 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA a starter. Heyward led the Braves with 27 home runs and Freeman led with 94 RBI.

Kimbrel, a Cy Young Award candidate, had his most dominating season, leading the NL with 42 saves while striking out 116 of the 231 batters he faced.

The Braves will need to replace the retiring Chipper Jones at third base and have plans to will wine and dine Michael Bourn, a free agent they want to return to play center field and bat leadoff.

General manager Frank Wren could potentially have up to $34 million to try to improve a team that finished 94-68 this season and reached the playoffs for just the second time in the past seven years.

“In my opinion, I think you’ve got to judge our team over a 162-game season. I’m so proud of them,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Anybody could have one bad game. Anybody could have one bad call, whatever, and go against you. But you win 94 games after the September we had last year, and you’ve got to tip your hat to this club.”

Wren said he’ll try to sign or trade for established players at both third base and center field instead of spending an exorbitant amount for one and scraping by for the other.

“We’re going to be looking for premium players, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” he told the Braves Radio Network on Saturday.

Martin Prado could be an option at third if the Braves find someone to replace him in left field.

The Braves began planning for 2013 on Saturday, just hours after they were eliminated by the Cardinals. The team revealed that the entire coaching staff will return, which means the Braves will retain their hitting coaches for the first time since re-assigning Terry Pendleton to first base coach in 2010. Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher will return after the Braves finished 11th in the NL with a .247 team average and seventh in runs (700), 76 behind leader St. Louis.

They appear to have plenty of starting pitching options with Medlen, Tim Hudson (led Braves with 16 wins), Paul Maholm and Mike Minor, in addition to youngsters Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran.

Also, Brandon Beachy is on schedule to return from Tommy John surgery by July. Tommy Hanson is under contract until 2016, but could be expendable despite his career-high 13 victories, and Jair Jurrjens likely will not be back.

Kimbrel and bullpen mates Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters are under contract, plus the Braves also hold a team option on catcher Brian McCann, who might have to undergo offseason shoulder surgery.

“I feel like they’re going to do the best job they can to put a good team out there for us next year,” Hudson said.