While the Giants/Phillies and Rangers/Yankees are battling it out for a shot at the Fall Classic, the Braves 2011 season has started. Frank Wren has less than 6 months to set-up a roster that can improve on this year’s NL Wild Card campaign. Yes, there’s plenty of reason to suggest that the Braves could have gone deeper into the playoffs (and possibly even held off the Phillies for the NL East title) if injuries hadn’t devastated the team, especially in the second half of the season. A torn ACL limited Chipper Jones to 95 games, multiple injuries cost Martin Prado a month’s worth of the season, Tommy John surgery allowed Kris Medlen just 14 starts and the list can go on and on.
But while the return of those players should help benefit the club, based on their 2010 production, some moves obviously need to be made to improve the team’s offensive production and consistency. The defense was certainly an area for concern over the last few months, but I think the return of Jones and Prado and the addition of Freddie Freeman (Derrek Lee was great, but Troy Glaus was just tough to watch) will help make sure the defense is no longer a serious liability.
Over the next few days, I’ll take a look at the different options and possibilities for the 2011 Braves' 1) starting pitching, 2) bullpen, 3) starting fielders and 4) bench. Most of the statistic/contract information will come from Baseball-Reference and Cot's Baseball Contracts.
Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson had tremendous years and will make a great 1-2 punch in 2011. Up until late August/early September, it was looking like the Braves would be forced to try and move Derek Lowe again this offseason. But if he can keep up with the adjustments he made over his final 8-10 starts, he will finally be earning his considerable salary.
The team has a number of options for that last spot in the rotation. Kris Medlen would be the preferred candidate, but his surgery should keep him out until at least August/September. Kenshin Kawakami is signed through 2011, but judging how his season finished, I can’t imagine him starting, so he seems to be a likely trade/cut candidate. I don’t think he was necessarily as bad as his recard indicated, but going 1-10 with a 5.15 ERA and $6.7m salary will make him very tough to move while getting anything worthwhile back. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Braves trade him in a cost-cutting move, eating a decent amount of his salary while possibly picking up a mid-level prospect or two. Seattle could be a MLB possibility and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him end up back in Japan.
So the final spot seems to be between 2010 rookies Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy. Minor’s certainly the better prospect and it seems that his troubles over the last few starts were simply due to fatigue. However, the 3 lefties in the ‘pen could allow the Braves to go with another RHP in Beachy (2010 MiLB ERA leader) if he has a strong offseason. Of the known options, my money’s on Mike Minor to join Hudson, Hanson, Lowe and Jurrjens in the 2011 Opening Day rotation.