Commentary

Braves need starting pitcher and center fielder

Originally Published: November 8, 2007
By Bob Klapisch | Special to ESPN.com

After an unthinkable run of prosperity -- 14 straight trips to the postseason -- the Braves fell short of the playoffs for the second consecutive October. It remains to be seen whether a change in the front office will make a difference, as GM John Schuerholz's resignation ushers in a new era under Frank Wren.

ATLANTA BRAVES
Braves GM: Frank Wren
Manager: Bobby Cox
'07 record: 84-78, 3rd NL East
'07 payroll: $89.5M, 13th MLB
Runs scored: 810, 3rd NL
Runs allowed: 733, 6th NL
OPS: .774, 6th NL
ERA: 4.11, 3rd NL
Fielding percentage: .983, 8th NL

Primary needs

Starting pitching: After John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, the Braves' rotation turned into a black hole. The projected return of Mike Hampton in '08 could change that.

Center field: Andruw Jones' inevitable departure via free agency creates an immediate and obvious need for a replacement.

Closer: The Braves have been looking for ninth-inning stability ever since Smoltz returned to the rotation. One possibility could be Rafael Soriano, who in his final 17 appearances (after Aug. 13) allowed just one run in 19 2/3 innings and was 4-for-4 in save opportunities.

Free agents

CF Andruw Jones, RHP Octavio Dotel, 1B Julio Franco, LHP Ron Mahay, RHP Tanyon Sturtze, INF Chris Woodward

Tom Glavine seems like a safe bet to sign with Atlanta, since the Braves have a need for another starter and the arc of Glavine's Mets career appeared to come to an end on the final day of the regular season, when he allowed the Marlins seven runs in one-third of an inning, costing the Mets a playoff spot.

Mike Cameron is a cheaper investment in center field than Torii Hunter or Aaron Rowand -- although the 25-game suspension he was handed for testing positive for stimulants, effective at the start of the '08 season, will compromise Cameron's bargaining position.

Kelly Johnson

Johnson

Trade bait

The Braves moved quickly to capitalize on their surplus of middle infielders, already moving Edgar Renteria to the Tigers. Second baseman Kelly Johnson is a possibility, too, given the rapid development of Martin Prado at the minor league level.

Farm aid

Prado batted .316 at Triple-A, the International League's second-best batting average, in 2007. Another option is Brent Lillibridge, a 24-year-old shortstop who will try his hand at center field in winter ball, in case the Braves are unable to land a center fielder through free agency.

Outlook

This is a team in transition, clearly going toward younger, less expensive talent. It remains to be seen if the Braves will write a big enough check to keep Mark Teixeira after the '08 season. In the meantime, the likely additions of Glavine and Hampton will keep the Braves competitive next year.

Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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