The Atlanta Braves put together an excellent season in 2012, tying for the fourth most wins in the majors (94). All that hard work went for naught when the 88-win Cardinals won the first NL wild-card “play-in” game. It was definitely a lukewarm sendoff for future Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones, and with the retired third baseman leading the team in OBP, OPS, OPS+ and other offensive categories, the Braves had plenty of work to do just to maintain their status as playoff hopeful.
And they did just that, signing center fielder B.J. Upton and trading for corner infielder Justin Upton, giving Braves fans a saliva-inducing “Up, Up and a Hey” outfield. The team also strengthened the bullpen by adding former closer Jordan Walden. The host of moves cost the team among others a beloved regular on offense (Martin Prado) and a couple starting pitchers (Tommy Hanson and Randall Delgado). Do the Braves have enough to make the reshuffle a net gain? Or will 2013 be a year of disappointment?
In “30 Teams in 30 Days,” the Fantasy Baseball Cafe will preview each team in Major League Baseball on a daily basis. In addition to projecting starting lineups, rotations and closing situations, the Cafe will identify potential targets for 2013 fantasy baseball drafts.
|C Brian McCann||.230||.300||.399||44||20||67||3||487|
|1B Freddie Freeman||.259||.340||.456||91||23||94||2||620|
|2B Dan Uggla||.220||.348||.384||86||19||78||4||630|
|SS Andrelton Simmons||.289||.335||.416||17||3||19||1||182|
|3B Chris Johnson||.281||.326||.451||48||15||76||5||528||w/2T|
|LF Justin Upton||.280||.335||.430||107||17||67||18||628||w/ARI|
|CF B.J. Upton||.246||.298||.454||79||28||78||31||633||w/TB|
|RF Jason Heyward||.269||.335||.479||93||27||82||21||651|
Unsettled: Third base. The retirement of Chipper Jones was expected to shift Martin Prado to the hot corner once the Braves were able to find a quality left fielder, but it turned out that adding that left fielder cost the team Prado. Fortunately, the trade also netted them Chris Johnson, who should expect to see the bulk of the playing time at third after posting above average numbers in two of his first three full seasons. However, the team does like Juan Francisco and will not hesitate to turn to him if Johnson struggles early. Also, catcher Brian McCann may miss the start of the year, leaving Gerald Laird to pick up April at-bats for the team.
Target: Justin Upton. You should really be fine with any (or all) of the Braves outfielders, but J-Up is the guy coming off a subpar season (for him) that saw him drop from a top-five MVP finish to merely above average offensive numbers. However, Upton may have been the biggest “change-of-scenery” guy in history after the Diamondbacks reportedly had him on the trade block for years and took shots at his playing style on the way out the door. Just 25 years old, Upton could still have his peak ahead of him, and an MVP award may be in his future at some point in Atlanta. While I have all three of the Braves’ OFs in my top-15, I think J-Up’s upside makes him the best pick of the bunch, and he’s firmly in my mixed-league top 10 at the position.
|Tim Hudson (R)||16-7||3.62||1.21||102||48||179.0|
|Kris Medlen (R)||10-1||1.57||0.91||120||23||138.0|
|Mike Minor (L)||11-10||4.12||1.15||145||56||179.1|
|Paul Maholm (L)||13-11||3.67||1.22||140||53||189.0||w/2T|
|Julio Teheran (R)||7-9||5.08||1.44||97||43||131.0||in AAA|
Unsettled: The Braves put all of their eggs into the Julio Teheran basket by trading Tommy Hanson and Randall Delgado to fill other needs. While Teheran completely dominated Triple-A as a 20-year-old in 2011, it all fell apart for him last season. However, he seemed to get better at the end of the year before putting together an encouraging performance in the Dominican Winter League. If he can extend that positive performance into the first half of the season, he could solidify a rotation spot and potentially push Tim Hudson or Paul Maholm to the trade block once Brandon Beachy is healthy enough to rejoin the rotiation. A top-four featuring Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, a healthy Beachy and a resurgent Teheran could compete for one of the best in baseball.
Target: Kris Medlen. After Tommy John surgery knocked Medlen out for the entire 2011 season — disappointing after a solid performance in 2010 — Medlen was initially consigned to the bullpen, where he would remain until the end of July. After a strong four months as a reliever, Medlen was incredible as a starters, going 9-0 in 12 starts while allowing just nine earned runs in 83 innings, good for a 0.97 ERA to go with a 0.80 WHIP and 84/10 K/BB ratio. Was that the result of small sample size? Sure, but there’s definitely some inherent talent behind those numbers. He was a pretty good starter in 2010, going 5-0 in his 14 starts and making him 14-0 over 26 starts between 2010 and 2012 along with quality peripherals. He’s the rare pitcher with a SP2 price tag that has the ability to finish as the No. 1 SP in the game.
The 8th and 9th Innings
|Craig Kimbrel (R)||42||1.01||0.65||116||14||62.2|
|Jordan Walden (R)||1||3.46||1.36||48||18||39.0||w/LAA|
Chasing Saves: Craig Kimbrel is doing things over his first two seasons that no pitcher in the history of the game has ever done, as far as rate statistics go (ERA, K/9, etc.). The most impressive of his stats may be this: last season, he struck out more than 50 percent of the batters he faced. No pitcher who threw 60 innings in a year had ever punched out more than 45 percent of the opposition. I’m an ardent believer of the wait-for-closers strategy, but even I would spend an early-round pick on this guy, especially in roto leagues with IP limits. The Braves paid a steep price for Walden, and he’s shown as recently as 2011 that he can handle closing should the need arise. He’s also impressively struck out 10.8 batters per nine innings in his career.
This season should be an exciting one for Braves fans. Up, Up and a Hey will garner the most press, but the fate of this team is linked to its starting pitching and, more specifically, the fates of young pitchers Medlen, Minor, Teheran and Bruce. Freddie Freeman is poised to produce startable fantasy numbers if he continues his progression, and Chris Johnson could be a minor sleeper at third base. I’m not sure there’s a price that’s too high for Kimbrel, and I’d take him the second I feel the elite players were off the board at each position, which probably comes around pick 35-40.
Check back tomorrow for our look at the Miami Marlins.
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe and contributes to CBSSports.com's MLB Rumors blog. He has previously written for FanHouse, Razzball and FanDuel. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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