Spring training officially opened this week, and that always means two things: 1) Hope; 2) Questions.
I’ll be heading down to Orlando in less than two weeks to examine a few issues but I figured this blog would be more appropriate today. Some national media outlets, like FoxSports.com, are locking onto the loss of closer Billy Wagner as the No. 1 issue facing the Braves. It’s a worthy topic. But I figured I would let fans weigh in.
Here are a few areas I believe most folks are looking at, along with my view. Let me know what you think and vote in the accompanying poll. That way we can come to some highly scientific conclusion, which I’ll pass along to general manager Frank Wren, who’ll quickly move to resolve the matter. (Slight sarcasm.)
What is the biggest issue in your view?
– 1. Billy Wagner’s retirement: It takes a special mindset to be a closer but I believe Craig Kimbrel and/or Jonny Venters can get it done. Being able to work with Wagner for a season should have helped.
– 2. Chipper Jones’ comeback: I’m not as confident here. Jones was starting to hit the ball well when he was injured last season, and there’s zero reason to question his determination. But asking a player to come back from a torn ACL at the age of 39 (come April 24) is an iffy proposition.
– 3. Black hole in center field: Nate McLouth is back, but it’s not because the Braves are oozing with confidence in him. It’s because they’re obligated to pay him $6.5 million. (McLouth also will receive a $1.25 million buyout after the season, assuming the Braves don’t exercise a $10.65 million team option.) Jordan Schafer still has potential but he’s regarded less of a prospect now than he was two years ago, given injuries and confidence issues. Help is needed.
– 4. Defense: The signing of second baseman Dan Uggla should significantly improve the lineup. But Uggla has his deficiencies in the field — his 18 errors placed second among major league second basemen — and the Braves were tied for third in the majors with 126 errors. Some of the team’s problems, however, can be attributed to injuries and backups (like Brooks Conrad) playing too many innings.
– 5. Freddie Freeman: First base has long been a Braves’ problem area. But Freeman is just keeping the spot warm for Albert Pujols. (Hey, a guy can dream, right?) Seriously, Freeman could be the real deal after crushing Triple-A, but it’s dangerous to just assume he’ll be a smashing success. Jason Heyward seemed a safer bet, in that regard.
OK, now it’s your turn.
By Jeff Schultz