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Inbox: Are the Braves still a threat?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers questions from fans

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Inbox: Are the Braves still a threat? play video for Inbox: Are the Braves still a threat?

The Braves have had a quiet offseason in relation to free agency and trades. Will they be as strong a threat next year with the same roster?
-- Zach N., Richmond, Va.

As you mentioned, the Braves will have a roster that looks much like the one they used to notch 96 wins and cruise toward the National League East title last season. The offseason departures of the club's two longest-tenured players -- Brian McCann and Tim Hudson -- will certainly create a different clubhouse feel during the early days of Spring Training.

But as the final two months of the 2013 season progressed, this group provided indication that it can win without Hudson and McCann.

The Braves produced a Major League-best 39-21 record after July 25, the day after Hudson sustained his season-ending ankle injury. During this 60-game span, McCann hit .217, with seven home runs and a .661 OPS. The club was also six outs from forcing a Game 5 against the Dodgers despite the fact that McCann went hitless and struck out in six of his 13 at-bats during the NL Division Series.

After Hudson was injured, Atlanta's starting pitchers produced the game's third-best ERA (3.14), trailing only the Dodgers and Tigers. If Julio Teheran takes a step forward in his maturation process and Brandon Beachy proves healthy, the rotation could once again be one of the NL's best.

Over the past few weeks and months, many have said that Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton can't be any worse than they were last season. Well, the Nationals are saying something similar about their talent-laden club, which was the game's most disappointing in 2013.

Concerns about the limited activity on the signing front intensified when Washington upgraded its already-strong rotation with the acquisition of Doug Fister. MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince is among those who believe that the Nats now have baseball's top rotation. (He ranks the Braves' starting five as the eighth best.)

Whether or not they have the game's best rotation, the Nationals should indeed be better than they were last season. At the same time, the rapidly improving Marlins have the capability to add to the parity and intrigue surrounding the NL East race.

On the way to winning the division by 10 games last season, Atlanta gained more reason to feel good about what the next couple of years could bring. Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor, Luis Avilan and Teheran were among the key contributors who were 25 or younger for most or all of the 2013 campaign.

If another year's worth of experience is indeed valuable, the Braves might prove why general manager Frank Wren chose not to mess with what has already shown to be a good thing.

If the Braves were in the market for a solid veteran for the rotation, why did they not go after Bronson Arroyo instead of signing Gavin Floyd and Freddy Garcia?
-- Taylor F., Kennesaw, Ga.

Each of the pitchers -- Kris Medlen, Minor, Teheran, Beachy and Alex Wood -- projected to be in the Opening Day rotation is under control for the next two seasons. Medlen is the only member of this group who will be eligible for free agency after 2015.

At the same time, the Braves have a handful of intriguing prospects -- Lucas Sims, Jason Hursh, Mauricio Cabrera, David Hale and J.R. Graham, if he has not yet been converted to a relief role -- who could be vying for a spot in the rotation at some point within the next two seasons.

As Wren began looking to add depth and insurance to this season's rotation, he was not interested in providing a multiyear contract to a pitcher who could end up blocking the path of some of these prospects.

Although Arroyo might not end up getting the three-year deal he has sought, he was also not going to be interested in signing a one-year deal with the Braves.

Are you surprised (and worried) that the Braves have only two prospects on MLB.com's Top 100 list and none in the top 50?
-- Phil B., Ashland, Ore.

Given the abundance of Major League-proven young talent that already exists in Atlanta, I don't think the fact that just two Braves -- Sims and Christian Bethancourt -- appeared on this list should be viewed as a concern. If Wood hadn't been fast-tracked and Graham hadn't sustained his season-ending shoulder injury last year, there is a good chance both would have been there.

Right-handers Cabrera and Hursh might not be widely considered elite prospects, but their presence has helped fortify the organization's pitching depth, which remains deep, despite recent trades that included Zeke Spruill and Arodys Vizcaino.

I was very surprised to hear that Greg Maddux will enter the Hall of Fame without a logo on his cap. Too bad he couldn't have both the Braves' and Cubs' logos!
-- Ken G., McDonough, Ga.

In a recent Inbox, I said that I would be shocked if Maddux did not go into the Hall with a Braves logo. My mistake was not accounting for the possibility that he would lobby to go in without one.

If Maddux had lobbied to have a Cubs cap adorn his Hall of Fame plaque, then Braves fans would certainly have had reason to feel disrespected. But I really don't have any problem with his wish to respect both the Braves and Cubs by going in logo-less.

Yes, Maddux notched a majority of his wins and three of his four NL Cy Young Awards during his 11-season stint with the Braves. And if statistics were the only determining factor, there would have been no reason to wonder which logo he would have chosen for Cooperstown.

But these numbers don't account for the bond Maddux developed with the Cubs organization, which molded him, brought him back after he completed his time in Atlanta and gave him a front-office job when he was done pitching.

When Maddux delivers his induction speech on July 27, Braves and Cubs fans will all have a chance to recognize him as one of their own. Is there really anything wrong with this? One of my Twitter followers, @motinsley, said it best: "To me, the fact that he chose a Braves logo in 1993 is far more important in the history of the franchise."

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

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