News Now: Key questions for Braves at Winter Meetings….

Key questions for Braves at Winter Meetings.

Atlanta Braves: Here are 4 key Winter Meeting storylines for the Braves

ATLANTA — If you like rumors, then you likely enjoy the constant flow of information created during the Winter Meetings, which will take place from Sunday until Wednesday in Nashville.

The Braves have fortified their bullpen with the offseason signings of Pierce Johnson, Joe Jiménez and Reynaldo López. But they still have some definite needs and seven available spots on their 40-man roster.

So, Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos should draw plenty of attention from agents and the other team executives who attend next week’s event.

Will the Braves attempt to sign a free-agent starting pitcher, even with Aaron Nola (Phillies) and Sonny Gray (Cardinals) off the board? Or might they attempt to strengthen their rotation by trading for Dylan Cease, Corbin Burnes or any of the other three top starters included in this story?

Key events

  • Sunday, Dec. 3: HOF Contemporary Era ballot results released (Cito Gaston, Davey Johnson, Jim Leyland, Ed Montague, Hank Peters, Lou Piniella, Joe West and Bill White)
  • Tuesday, Dec. 5: Draft Lottery
  • Wednesday, Dec. 6: Rule 5 Draft

Club needs
As things stand, the Braves’ rotation would include Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Charlie Morton and Bryce Elder. The fifth spot could be filled by López (who will be given a chance to start), AJ Smith-Shawver, Allan Winans or Hurston Waldrep. Smith-Shawver and Waldrep have bright futures, and there’s a chance Ian Anderson figures into the mix after he makes his full recovery from Tommy John surgery at some point next season.

The Braves also have to plan for the possibility that their 2025 rotation might not include Fried and Morton. Adding a controllable starter would create immediate stability and also help future plans. But next winter’s crop of free-agent starters has more attractive options for the long haul.

With Eddie Rosario out of the picture, the Braves have said they are toying with the idea of having Vaughn Grissom play left field. This is at least a little more believable than last year’s plan to have him play shortstop. But it seems more likely the Braves could attempt to trade for a left fielder or sign a free agent. Jorge Soler’s questionable durability as an everyday outfielder lessens the likelihood of him returning to fill the left-field role.

Potential trade candidates
Getting back to Soler, if the Braves were to trade Marcell Ozuna as he enters the final guaranteed season of his contract, the 2021 World Series MVP could be brought back to Atlanta as a DH.

To get value, you have to give up value. The Braves’ most attractive prospects are Smith-Shawver, Waldrep, Owen Murphy and JR Ritchie, a group of high-upside pitchers. Maybe there is enough depth there to use one of these arms to make a deal. But the possibility that Fried and Morton could be prepping for their final seasons in Atlanta enhances the need to plan for the future.

That’s why the Braves may have to think about including Ozuna or Raisel Iglesias, who is owed $32 million over the next two years. It’s hard to trade a guy coming off a 40-homer season or a closer coming off a 30-save season. But moving one of those two veterans would be far easier than dealing Ozzie Albies, Michael Harris II or any of the other superstars locked up for most of this decade.

Prospect to know
Smith-Shawver made his meteoric rise to the Majors this past summer. Waldrep was taken by the Braves with their first-round Draft pick in July and has just 29 1/3 professional innings under his belt. But the University of Florida product has a chance to reach the big leagues during what would be his first full professional season. His powerful arsenal is highlighted by a splitter that has drawn comparisons to the one John Smoltz threw.

Rule 5 Draft
The Braves likely won’t lose any of their prospects during the MLB phase of this year’s Rule 5 Draft. But if they were to lose anyone, these would be the two most likely to be selected:

  • Luis De Avila, LHP (the Braves’ No. 14 prospect

    , per MLB Pipeline): Taken from the Royals in the Minor League phase of the 2021 Rule 5 Draft, the 22-year-old hurler posted a 3.26 ERA in 26 starts (all but one for Double-A Mississippi) this year. He had a 23.6 percent strikeout rate and a 12 percent walk rate.

  • Jesse Franklin V, OF (No. 21): Staying healthy is the issue for Franklin, who has tremendous power potential. But he’s going to have to show something after homering in just six of his final 201 at-bats at the Double-A level this past summer.

Burning question
Anthopoulos has made it clear the disappointment created by two consecutive premature exits from the postseason will influence how he completes the annual roster reconstruction process. He has already ensured his bullpen will be well stocked with power arms. His offense has the potential to again be one of the greatest baseball has ever seen. While the addition of a left fielder could add value, the focus might be on adding more certainty to the rotation. Will this come via trade or free agency? We’ll see. But Anthopoulos has shown he likes surprises.

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