(Updated: 5 p.m.)
It wasn’t my intention to spend another day analyzing the Braves until I actually arrived on site in Florida at Camp Please Don’t Fold This Season. (Pitchers and catchers report Sunday. The balance of the squad and columnists with non-guaranteed contracts report a week from Friday).
But because there is absolutely nothing else worth discussing these days, especially given the depressing local college basketball landscape, here we go.
I’m on the record as believing the Braves did not need to make a significant move this past winter, despite last season’s collapse. Nor did I expect them to. Despite all rumors to the contrary, their two most likely tradeable assets, Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado, both were coming off injuries. General manager Frank Wren no doubt tried to stir the trade market, but we can assume he never got a reasonable offer (or he would’ve made the deal). Not a shock.
As currently constructed, the Braves could/should be a postseason team. That said, there are concerns. Here are the top five:
1. Jason Heyward: This should not be taken as me expressing doubt in Heyward’s ability to come back. We’ve read stories about his offseason workouts, weight loss and his work with new hitting coach Greg Walker. But in sports, when a great rookie has a subpar second season, it’s never certain how he will bounce back in Year 3. Often, it’s the first time he has dealt with some semblance of failure. Because the Braves have so much invested in Heyward, their lineup would take a huge hit if he can’t regain the form of his rookie season.
2. Starting pitching: Sure, it looks great if everybody is upright. But No. 1 starter Tim Hudson (36 years old) had back surgery in November. No. 2 starter Jair Jurrjens struggled in the second half last season and had knee problems (though he appears to be fine now). No. 3 starter Tommy Hanson, a power pitcher, had shoulder problems and has altered his delivery in an attempt to minimize future damage. Bottom line: All may be great — but all enter the spring as question marks.
3. Tyler Pastornicky: When I wrote that the Braves didn’t need to do anything significant in the winter, I probably should’ve added, “But they need a veteran shortstop” as a one-year bridge to Pastornicky. That was the team’s plan, or so we were led to believe. For whatever reason, a trade or signing never happened. Now, you’re going to hear spin that the team planned on Pastornicky all along. But it’s difficult to imagine anybody in the front office (or dugout) is completely comfortable starting a 22-year-old shortstop who never has played a major league game. Can it work out? Sure. But it’s not a comforting.
4. Fredi Gonzalez: A few weeks ago, the Braves’ manager discussed how he was done analyzing the team’s 10-20 slide and was ready to move on. That’s understandable. But the issue is that the slide happened under his watch, and whether we can find glaring mistakes in any of his decisions, folks are going to wonder about him as manager until it DOESN’T happen again.
5. Bench: I see catcher David Ross and outfielder Eric Hinske. Good. But then what? Jose Constanza had a nice stretch filling in for Heyward last season, then fell off (.342 in August, .174 in September). Jack Wilson is a stopgap if Pastornicky fails, nothing more. Matt Diaz was great three years ago, but he has struggled since. There’s not a lot on the bench.
There’s a lot to like about the Braves. But the above concerns will determine if they’re playing in October.
By Jeff Schultz