Schlossberg's Off-Season Report: Braves back up the truck • Latino Sports


Schlossberg’s Off-Season Report: Braves back up the truck


The Atlanta Braves team that won the National League East by 10 games in 2013 will be a distant memory by the time the 2015 team reports to spring training.

After hiring John Hart to succeed Frank Wren as their chief trade-maker, the Braves plunged headlong into the off-season, dumping two of their regulars on consecutive days this week.

Jason Heyward's dynamic defense will be missed in Atlanta

Jason Heyward’s dynamic defense will be missed in Atlanta

Since the trades of New Jersey natives Tommy La Stella and Jason Heyward leave Freddie Freeman as the club’s lone lefthanded bat, there’s little doubt more deals are coming.

In fact, it appears that the new Braves management may do more damage to Atlanta than General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Adding 24-year-old Shelby Miller bolsters a rotation headed by Julio Teheran and Alex Wood but can Mike Minor, David Hale, and the rehabbing Kris Medlen fill the final two spots?

Shelby Miller will be under Atlanta's control for four years

Shelby Miller will be under Atlanta’s control for four years

And now that La Stella has followed strikeout-prone Dan Uggla out the door, second base has a void bigger than the Grand Canyon.

Replacing Heyward, a likely free agent after 2015, is even more difficult. The league’s best defensive player last summer, he’s capable in both right field and center. He’s also a proven base-stealer and an improving top-of-the-lineup hitter. His power potential remains an issue, however, with his personal peak of 27 homers declining to just 11 last season.

Immediate plans call for Justin Upton, another free agent after 2015, to move from left to right, where he won a Gold Glove with Arizona. Evan Gattis, a catcher displaced by defensive whiz Christian Bethancourt, will man left field, allowing him to play more often, with B.J. Upton still in the middle despite two dismal years (.197 combined) since signing for five.

Like a chess master honing his skills, Hart will have to find a veteran to play second for a year or two before Jose Peraza, a speedster in the Jose Reyes class, is ready. He also may have to find at least one or two outfielders, depending on his ability to dump the Uptons before they dump on him.

In fairness, Justin Upton is coming off his first 100-rbi season. He and Gattis

Evan Gattis is projected as Atlanta's right man in left field

Evan Gattis is projected as Atlanta’s right man in left field

were also the only Braves with at least 20 homers last year. But neither has shown much defensive prowess during their two-year Atlanta tenures.

The Braves know that good defense couples with good pitching wins pennants — and that is their aim as they look toward the opening of their new ballpark in 2017. But are they willing to throw in the towel on the next two seasons before they even start?

We should know by the time the baseball winter meetings begin in San Diego on December 7. Maybe we’ll even know if Pearl Harbor day hit Atlanta early.

There are rumors, to be sure, that the Braves are talking to Georgia resident Jon Lester, a free agent lefthander who would instantly become the ace of the staff, and would love to trade for Phillies ace Cole Hamels, another high-priced southpaw.

But they’ll need to fill the hole at second and decide how to repair the deficit in their outfield. If Hart were smart — and his resume shows he is — he would keep hands off first baseman Freddie Freeman, shortstop Andrelton Simmons, and closer Craig Kimbrel.

Teheran, Wood, and Miller would also be considered untouchables. After that, however, it seems anyone is fair game.

It’s going to make for a most interesting winter at 755 Hank Aaron Drive.

Elsewhere around the majors:

MVP runner-up Giancarlo Stanton made big money in Miami

MVP runner-up Giancarlo Stanton made big money in Miami

One of the reasons Atlanta felt it couldn’t sign the 25-year-old Heyward is the contract Miami lavished on Giancarlo Stanton — 10 years and $325 million. That extravagance, which the low-budget Marlins will surely regret, has upped the ante for every other position player in the majors . . .

The Arizona Diamondbacks pulled a coup by landing starter Mark Hellickson from the Tampa Bay Rays, another cost-conscious club, in exchange for two minor-leaguers . . .

At the other extreme, the Toronto Blue Jays hope catcher Russell Martin lives up to his five-year, $82 million deal after they outbid the Cubs, Dodgers, and Pirates for his services . . .

Russell Martin makes a surprise return to the AL with the Jays

Russell Martin makes a surprise return to the AL with the Jays

Considering the age of fragility of their team, it’s hard to believe the New York Yankees will not be an active player in the bidding for free-agent starters Max Scherzer, Jake Peavy, and Lester . . .

The Boston Red Sox, who have gone from last to first and back to last again, hope to bounce back in the AL East by landing third baseman Pablo Sandoval from San Francisco and moving incumbent Will Middlebrooks.


About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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