With the Braves recent elimination from the 2010 MLB playoffs at the hands of
the San Francisco Giants, the Bravos have now been left in search of answers.
Who will manage the team? Will Chipper Jones rebound from a torn ACL and return as the old Chipper Jones who won the MVP in 1999. Will Billy Wagner change his mind and return? Will the Braves acquire a power hitter which their lineup desperately needs? Will Brooks Conrad go down in history with the likes of Mark Wohlers and Lonnie Smith for their postseason difficulties?
The most important thing about the 2011 Atlanta Braves is the manager. With
Bobby Cox's retirement, the former 4 time manager of the year and holder of a
.557 winning percentage in Atlanta, leaves a large hole in the structure of the
organization. Having managed the team since 1990 the Braves have experienced stability at the position in an otherwise unstable role. With talks of Cox’s replacement being either former backup catcher Eddie Perez, or former Braves third base coach and Florida Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez, could either of them lead this team in the same way as Bobby, or will they search for their own identity as manager?
Whoever takes over this team will need to address the Braves struggles in
October. In the last 20 years, the Braves have compiled a 64-65 record in postseason play under Cox. Winning their division every year for 14 seasons didn't mean success for Atlanta in October, having won the World Series only once.
In review of the 2010 team, many bright spots arose for this young ballclub.
Rookie phenom Jason Heyward broke into the baseball scene by hitting a homerun out of Turner Field in Atlanta on his first swing. Fellow rookies Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel and Conrad helped revitalize the club. Before October, Conrad’s rookie season would be remembered for hitting 2 pinch hit grand slams, but his defensive struggles in the NLDS committing 3 errors in game 3, including the go ahead run scoring error in the ninth. Brian McCann proved all season why he is one the best catchers in baseball for his offense, and his anything goes style of being the backstop.
Things may have been different for Atlanta had it not been for Kris Medlen going down mid season with an elbow injury, and if Jair Jurrjens had played even remotely close to the level he played in 2009. Injuries are a part of the game, but losing All Stars Jones, and Martin Prado put a deep strain on the already poor defense of the Braves.
General manager Frank Wrenn has a lot of work to do this offseason. Derrek Lee, Troy Glaus, and Eric Hinkse will all be free agents. Takashi Saito, Melky Cabrera, Peter Moylan, Prado, Eric O'Flaherty, and Jurrjens are arbitration eligible. Throw in Wagner's impending retirement and the Braves could have a situation. Tommy Hanson and Medlen are also due to cash in on their success in the near future. The bullpen should be fine even with the loss of All Star Wagner. Kimbrel or Venters could both step into that role next season with their incredible stuff. Minor Leaguers Arodys Vizcaino or Julio Tehran may be ready to take over the middle relief role that one of these potential closers leaves behind. Derek Lowe will be in his third year of a four year contract after a season in which he had hot and cold streaks. There was not a better pitcher in September than Lowe, and that's just when the Braves needed him. 2010 NL Comeback player of the Year Tim Hudson was back in rare form 2 years removed from Tommy John Surgery.
2010 was a great year for baseball. The steroid era is over, and it's all about
pitching and defense. The Braves pitching should be great again in 2011, but their defense is something that needs some looking at. Alex Gonzalez will help lock down the infield, but healthy Prado and Jones are key parts of the equation. Rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman should be ready to make the jump to the big leagues to help the D.
With the rest of October still ahead of us, I am eager to see the season end, and the new era in Atlanta start.