Now that it's been proven a postseason can actually be completed without the Braves participating, we're left to simply speculate about what general manager John Schuerholz must do to ensure playoff baseball returns to Atlanta next year.
Officially, we have now entered the Hot Stove season -- a period when both Pirates and Yankees fans can justifiably dream of celebrating October elation in 2007.
Over the next couple of months, there will be a number of transactions that receive a plethora of attention and others that will produce merely a yawn. Last winter, Johnny Damon stole most of the free agent headlines when he joined the Yankees. But in the end, was there a more valuable acquisition than Kenny Rogers by the Tigers?
Now that I've posed my easy question, it's time to answer some of your more challenging ones in this weekly forum. Continue sending your e-mails and I'll attempt to bring a little bit of clarity to the ever important and always unpredictable offseason.
What is Horacio Ramirez's status? Does he still fit in the Braves' future, or are they planning to trade him? -- Ozzie E., Inglewood, Calif.
Remember back in early August when I said that I believe Ramirez has a greater upside than Chuck James? Immediately, many of you indicated that I was crazy to possess such a thought. Truth be told, it actually took me another couple of weeks to gain that same belief.
With all of the depth they possess in their starting rotation, it now looks like it would be in the Braves' best interest to attempt to trade Ramirez. Given that injuries have sidelined him for eight of the past 18 regular-season months that have been played, he may not bring a great return.
But left-handed starters like Ramirez will always draw interest, meaning the Braves would be able to get a decent return.
If the Braves were to trade Ramirez, they'd still have a formidable starting rotation that would consist of John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Mike Hampton, James and possibly Kyle Davies. They'd also have an extra $3 million to spend on some of their other needs.
With Ramirez set to make approximately $3 million, the 27-year-old hurler has reached a point where he's become expendable. James, 25, will cost the Braves somewhere in the neighborhood of $400,000 and quite possibly prove to be the more effective left-handed starter.
James was simply sensational during the season's final two months, and there comes a point in time when somebody like me has to realize his spectacular Minor League success may not have just been a fluke. The kid can pitch and more importantly, both he and Davies can do so much cheaper than Ramirez.
As Schuerholz attempts to build a championship-caliber roster that possesses seven players who account for about 75 percent of the $80 million payroll, he must look at ways to cut costs. Thus, it's my belief that Ramirez will be traded some time in the next six weeks.
Will Marcus Giles be returning to Atlanta next season? -- Stan K., Cincinnati
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Since early June, it's probably been obvious that I don't believe Giles will be back in Atlanta next year. Like Ramirez, he's reached a point where his salary doesn't exactly match his production level.
Giles would cost the Braves approximately $6 million next year. If he was still producing like he did in his 2003 breakout season, this wouldn't be a problem. But with his power numbers dwindling each of the past three seasons, it's one that can be fixed via a trade.
Both defensively and offensively, Willy Aybar and Martin Prado would be downgrades in comparison to Giles. But if they were to serve as his replacement at second base next year, the roster would be constructed in a manner to compensate. In other words, Schuerholz would likely find a leadoff hitter capable of playing left field.
The Braves gave up one of their best pitching prospects, Adam Wainwright, for J.D. Drew, a rental outfielder for one year. Do you believe this will make the Braves less likely to trade pitching prospects? -- Greg S., Brunswick, Ga.
During a 12-month stretch from December 2004 to December 2005, the Braves traded Wainwright, Bubba Nelson and Jose Capellan -- each of whom was considered a top pitching prospect. In return they received Drew, Chris Reitsma and Dan Kolb.
While Nelson has done nothing but struggle in Cincinnati, Reitsma at least proved to be a valuable innings-eater. The Kolb experiment proved disastrous. But the .328 on-base percentage that opponents netted off Capellan this year in Milwaukee further proves the hard-throwing right-hander still has definite control problems.
If there's one of these trades that at times bothers Schuerholz, it's definitely the one that sent Wainwright to St. Louis for Drew. But as long as a majority believe a team must win every single season, then I just don't believe this was a bad trade.
True, Drew was in Atlanta for just one season. But without that career season he gave the Braves, the streak of consecutive division titles would have ended before this year.
Wainwright proved to be a dominant postseason closer and may prove to be a very effective starting pitcher next year. That remains to be seen. But it's not as if the Braves are hurting in the starting pitching department right now.
So before rushing to judgment on this one, let's first see how good Wainwright proves to be in the next few seasons.
Right now, the only reason the Braves won't continue dealing young pitching prospects comes from the fact that they no longer have the necessary depth to comfortably do so.
I just read an article that the Mets will win the World Series next year. Is there any validity to this? I mean are we automatically counting the Braves out for next season? -- Stephen M., Scotts Valley, Calif.
Only if the article was written by somebody who predicted the Tigers would go to the World Series this year. If it was, you may want to get the author's e-mail address and seek some consultation before filling out any of your office pools.
If it proves beneficial, please feel free to forward any and all of these corresponding e-mails to me.
Have you ever considered adding a Where Are they Now? section to the mailbag? It would be nice to know what some former Braves are doing since they left the game. -- Terry W., Ocean Springs, Miss.
Yes, this sounds like a good weekly inclusion to the mailbag. So along with sending your offseason questions, all should feel free to ask me about the whereabouts of some your favorite former Braves. I'll answer one of those questions every week until the start of the regular season.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.