As Braves look to contend, priorities mount

As Braves look to contend, priorities mount

ATLANTA -- As the Braves enter the offseason and attempt to take another step toward re-establishing themselves as legitimate postseason contenders, they have an obvious need to make room for top prospect Ronald Acuna and a definite desire to upgrade their bullpen.

Recognizing the possibility Acuna could be ready to make his Major League debut on Opening Day, the Braves will place much of their early focus on trying to trade one of their corner outfielders -- Matt Kemp or Nick Markakis. There is certainly a desire to part ways with Kemp, but the two years remaining on his contract became more of an albatross as his conditioning once again became a concern during this year's injury-plagued season.

Fresh faces, new home highlight 2017

Markakis stands as a highly respected clubhouse leader, but there is a strong possibility the remainder of his contract (one year, $11 million) will be moved to make room for Acuna, who could be the most talented prospect to reach Atlanta since Andruw Jones.

Acuna named top hitting prospect

Here is a look at some of the other moves the Braves could make during the offseason:

BIGGEST NEEDS

Bullpen
The Braves have money to spend and the desire to fortify their relief corps with some proven veterans who are capable of serving as either a closer or primary setup man. Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter are potential closers and Jose Ramirez showed signs of encouragement before fatiguing down the stretch. But while the club is hopeful Jim Johnson will turn things around, steps must be taken to stabilize the back end of the bullpen.

Wade Davis and Greg Holland (who will not become a free agent if the Rockies exercise his $15 million option) were far from invincible during the second half and both will carry a high cost. Both veteran relievers should be viewed as unlikely fits for Atlanta, but they could at least draw interest as the Braves are serious about upgrading their bullpen.

Possible FA fits: Davis, Holland, Matt Belisle, Addison Reed.

Third base
Johan Camargo is more than capable of handling each of the infield spots on a consistent basis and could open 2018 as Atlanta's starting third baseman. But he could also prove valuable as a utility player if the Braves find a significant upgrade at the hot corner. Finding a power bat will stand as the focus within this pursuit that will include evaluations of both the free-agent and trade markets.

Possible FA fits: Todd Frazier, Mike Moustakas.

Camargo's barehanded play

GRAY AREAS

Starting pitcher
This isn't as much of a need as it is a want that could develop if the Braves stumble on a trade possibility that could net them a controllable front-line starting pitcher. There is some desire to add experience and stability to a rotation that will likely include Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Luiz Gohara and Sean Newcomb. But with Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, Max Fried and Lucas Sims waiting in the wings, the club will not make a multiyear commitment to a starter unless there is the utmost confidence he could serve as a legit ace or No. 2 starter for at least a few seasons.

Accounting for the projected rise of their next wave of pitching prospects, instead of trying to find a short-term bridge via free agency, the Braves would likely be more comfortable exercising the $8 million option on R.A. Dickey's contract. But there is a chance Dickey will opt to retire.

Bench
The Braves went from having an embarrassing bench to a very productive one over the course of this past season. Matt Adams and Camargo influenced the bench's second-half success. But there's a possibility Adams will be traded this offseason (likely to an American League club) and Camargo might be utilized in the starting lineup. So the Braves will likely look at potential bench fits.

X-FACTOR

Is this the right time?
The Braves will have financial flexibility, and if their young starting pitchers make significant progress, there is a chance a postseason run could become a possibility in 2018. But at this stage of the rebuild, it might be prudent to remain patient and recognize it might be more realistic to project a playoff berth in 2019. There's also reason to preserve financial flexibility for the hyped free-agent market of next offseason.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.