Wren, Braves plan for future without Chipper

Wren, Braves plan for future without Chipper

Wren, Braves plan for future without Chipper
ATLANTA -- Braves general manager Frank Wren's primary objectives over the next few months will focus on finding a center fielder and determining how to best replace the void created by Chipper Jones' exit.

"I feel like this is a more focused offseason," Wren said. "I'm looking forward to it because I feel like there is a narrower focus of what we need.

"We've got a lot of good young players in place. We've got to determine what we do in center field. That couples with what we do with the leadoff [hitter]. And then how we replace Chipper. Other than that, our club is pretty solid."

While the Braves will evaluate the possibility of bringing Michael Bourn back to play center field and serve as their leadoff hitter, they are not likely to get in a bidding war with the Nationals and Phillies, who are also expected to make a run at Bourn.

The Braves will have approximately $25-30 million to spend this winter. While this puts them in the market to afford top free agents such as Josh Hamilton or Bourn, they may look at other options via trade or free agency.

2012 season wraps
2013 outlooks

With some financial flexibility, the Braves will likely be linked to Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, Chase Headley and any of the other top outfielders or third basemen who might be made available via trades this winter.

"We're going to be looking for premium players," Wren said. "I don't think there is any doubt about that. But there [are] a couple things we're always mindful of. We're putting a team together. We're not trying to put a player on this team. That's overriding philosophy -- to put a team together. If we think we can add two players that give us more than one player, then we're going to do that."

If the Braves choose to reconstruct their roster via the trade market, they will have the option to take advantage of their depth in the starting pitching department. Tim Hudson is expected to return to a rotation that will also include Kris Medlen, Paul Maholm and Mike Minor. The fifth spot will be manned by either Tommy Hanson, Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado.

With the understanding that Brandon Beachy should return from elbow reconstruction surgery by July, the Braves may be more apt to move some of their top young pitching talent this year. Despite the decline he has experienced since the 2011 All-Star break, Hanson will gain a decent raise as a first-year arbitration-eligible player.

But unlike right-hander Jair Jurrjens, Hanson is not viewed as a potential non-tender candidate.

As long as catcher Brian McCann is not forced to undergo a surgical process that forces him to miss a significant portion of the 2013 season, the Braves are expected to exercise his $12 million option. If healthy, McCann still has the potential to be one of the game's top offensive threats at the position.

CONTRACT ISSUES

Free agents: Michael Bourn, CF; Eric Hinske, OF/1B; Lyle Overbay, 1B; Jeff Baker, INF; David Ross, C; Matt Diaz, OF; Reed Johnson, OF; Miguel Batista, RHP; Chad Durbin, RHP; Peter Moylan, RHP; Ben Sheets, RHP

Eligible for arbitration: Jurrjens, RHP; Prado, LF/3B; Eric O'Flaherty, LHP; Hanson, RHP; Paul Janish, SS; Jason Heyward, OF; Jonny Venters, LHP; Medlen, RHP

Club options: McCann, C -- $12 million ($500,000 buyout); Hudson, RHP -- $9 million ($1 million buyout); Maholm, LHP -- $6.5 million ($500,000 buyout)

Non-tender possibilities: Jurrjens

Position-by-position look at where the 2012 roster stands going into 2013:

Catcher: The Braves are expected to exercise McCann's option and re-sign Ross, who remains one of the game's top offensive catchers and a solid clubhouse influence. McCann's offensive struggles date back to his early return from an oblique strain in Aug. 2011. He should be motivated to enjoy a productive turnaround season before hitting the free agent market next winter.

First Base: Freddie Freeman experienced an odd sophomore season that was filled with both great promise and injury-related frustration. He was named the National League's Player of the Week in two of the season's first four weeks, but some vision problems and an injured right index finger halted his ascent toward a monstrous season. Still, the 23-year-old first baseman gave the Braves reason to believe he will be a force in the middle of their lineup for years. With Hinske's days in Atlanta likely done, the Braves will be looking for a backup for Freeman.

Second Base: With three years remaining on his five-year, $62 million contract, Dan Uggla still has some time to live up to the expectations the Braves had when they gave him this deal. He struggled through the first three months of the 2011 season and then caught fire during the early stages of a productive second half. This year, Uggla was consistent for the season's first two months, and then hit below .200 for the season's final four months. The Braves would like to see him get back to the days when he could be counted on to hit .240-.250 with 30 home runs.

Shortstop: The Braves found their shortstop of the future in Andrelton Simmons, who proved to be the game's best defensive shortstop during his first month at the Major League level. A broken finger forced Simmons to miss two months this year, but the Curacao product should be at full strength and ready to build on his rookie success next year. The sure-handed Janish stands as a potential backup infielder. The other option would be Tyler Pastornicky, who is capable with the bat and suspect with the glove.

Third Base: The Braves could go a couple of different directions as they look for Jones' replacement. If they do not find a third baseman via trade or free agency, Prado could serve as the starting third baseman. But this might require the club to find two outfielders this winter. They could also use Juan Francisco as their third baseman in games against right-handed starters. When facing a left-handed pitcher, Prado could vacate his left field position to play third base.

Outfield: The Braves know that they will have Heyward starting in right field at the start of the 2013 season. If Prado is not positioned at third base, he will once again start in left field. The starting center fielder will be found either via trade or free agency. The odds of Bourn returning to Atlanta next year decreased as he hit .225 in the second half and totaled 155 strikeouts as a leadoff hitter.

Rotation: Medlen's dominance during the season's second half, combined with Minor's impressive second-half turnaround, essentially negated the need for the Braves to enter this winter bidding for Zack Greinke or any other potential starting pitchers. The most pressing question entering the 2013 season will center around who will serve as the fifth starter.

Bullpen: Craig Kimbrel will return with the hope of building off of one of the most dominant seasons ever completed by a closer. His primary setup men will once again be O'Flaherty and Venters, who seemed to right himself after struggling during the early months. Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin seemed to show enough this past year to position themselves to begin the 2013 season in Atlanta's bullpen.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.