Posted: 9:40 am Thursday, February 13th, 2014
By Jeff Schultz
Good morning. I am not on the road to spring training quite yet.
Pitchers, catchers and some columnists are scheduled to report to Braves’ camp today and begin workouts on Friday at Camp Disney. My arrival may be a little late, given that just getting my car down the driveway and up a hill and out of the subdivision is going to take some time. This probably blows any chance I have for a fifth starter role.
Any way, I just wanted to remind all that if you subscribe to the newspaper and didn’t get one this morning — and even if you don’t subscribe, although I’m SURE that’s almost NOBODY — all content on MyAJC.com is free on these Snowmageddon Days. We’ve had folks working around the clock in the last few days doing a great job providing content, and I’m so happy to tell you that I’m not one of them.
I’ve attached my last several columns and blogs at the end of this blog if you want to catch up on your reading.
Until I make it to Florida, here are some thoughts that have been bouncing around my head about these Braves.
1. Overall doubts. I understand the Braves won 96 games and won the National League East last season. They’ve retained a talented young core, including the starting rotation. That’s the good. But they’ve lost catcher Brian McCann, starter Tim Hudson and reliever Eric O’Flaherty, while adding nobody. It’s also reasonable to assume that the Washington Nationals are not going to be four games under .500 at the end of July again. So this team has something to prove, and it all begins with the emergence of a clear No. 1 starter.
2. Jason Heyward: General manager Frank Wren’s decision to not make a trade means that Heyward goes into spring as the likely leadoff hitter again. He was strong in that role last season and there’s no reason to believe he can’t replicate that. But by keeping him at the top of the order, the Braves are limiting the impact of one of their potentially best RBI men. Ideally he would be hitting from third to sixth.
3. Evan Gattis: He was everybody’s favorite story last year: from vagabond and sleeping in his truck to 21 homers and 65 RBIs. With McCann gone, Gattis is now the starting catcher. It will be an interesting transition to watch. The Braves are taking a little bit of a risk in this area but part of it was prompted by economics because it was clear early that they weren’t going to re-sign McCann (who’s now with the New York Yankees).
4. Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton: They seem to be a coupled entry in most stories about the Braves because of their inflated salaries and anemic batting averages. But Uggla’s return is the real surprise. Wren presumably tried to trade him and was willing to pick up a significant remainder of the two years and $26 million left on the second baseman’s contract, but he had no takers. Uggla is a good guy, works hard and cares. He’s popular in the clubhouse. But this is an awkward situation, especially given he was left off the playoff roster.
Those are some early thoughts. What’s your confidence level that the Braves can win another division title and go deep into the playoffs?