Guerry Clegg commentary: Braves' offseason not going great

December 17, 2013 

If baseball teams’ offseasons were measured in public sentiment alone, the Atlanta Braves’ winter would be among the worst in recent memory.

So far the Braves:

• Angered thousands of fans by announcing plans to move from Turner Field to Cobb County.

• Lost two of their most popular players, catcher Brian McCann and pitcher Tim Hudson, to free agency.

• Remain stuck paying $26 million in 2014 -- that's 25-30 percent of next season's payroll -- on two players who were benched for much of September and the playoffs, second baseman Dan Uggla and center fielder B.J. Upton. Even a report that the Braves planned to "fix" Uggla and Upton's swings was met with much skepticism.

Then came the winter meetings last week in Orlando. While the St. Louis Cardinals picked up shortstop Jhonny Peralta and second baseman Mark Ellis, the Los Angeles Dodgers were angling to trade for another front-line pitcher, possibly David Price. Let's look on the bright side. At least they came away with a merchandising opportunity. They could sell T-shirts that read: "Our competitors went to Disney World for the winter meetings. All we got was this lousy T-shirt."

Oh, and a starting pitcher, Gavin Floyd, who is seven months removed from Tommy John elbow surgery and might not be at full strength until after the All-Star break.

Collectively, the moves to date are not exactly going to create a surge in offseason ticket sales. But just remember. Offseason perception can be very misleading. There's still plenty of reasons to believe the Braves are at least as strong as anyone in the National League East. Sure, it would be nice to have a true ace in the starting rotation and production at second base and center field.

But they are still loaded with young talent. Aside from closer Craig Kimbrel, who's simply the best in the business, every key player probably still has his best seasons ahead of him. That includes Freddie Freeman, who finished fifth in the National League MVP voting.

They won 96 games without any player other than Freeman driving in more than 70 runs. Justin Upton drove in exactly 70, second best on the team. They finished 30 games over .500 despite having one 15-game winner. That was Kris Medlen, who had to finish 8-2 in August and September to reach 15 wins.

Jason Heyward could have a breakthrough season. Evan Gattis could hit 30 home runs playing four out of five days behind the plate. Andrelton Simmons, already the best defensive shortstop in baseball, should improve as a hitter with maturity.

And what are the odds that Uggla and B.J. Upton will combine to hit .181? Again, the starting rotation has no confirmed ace. But Medlen has the mental makeup. Julio Teheran and Mike Minor have the stuff. If Brandon Beachy is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, he would give the Braves a huge lift. Alex Wood and David Hale are kids who proved they aren't afraid to pitch in the big leagues. As for Floyd, he's an insurance policy for the second half. Whatever they get out of him will be a bonus.

The Braves had the best bullpen in baseball, and that was with Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty on the disabled list. Assuming they don't lose O'Flaherty to free agency, having those arms back would make the best bullpen even better.

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