2013 Record: 96-66 (Pythagorean 98-64)
2013 Runs Scored: 688
2013 Runs Allowed: 548
The Braves offseason was a fairly quiet one from a free agent standpoint. They spent most of it signing their young core to extentions, buying out arbitration and free agent years for Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, and Andrelton Simmons. They lost Brian McCann and Tim Hudson, two long tenured team veterans, to free agency, and filling those void was possibly the team’s biggest story until spring training.
To fill the void left by McCann, the Braves traded a pitching prospect to the Twins for Ryan Doumit, essentially replacing the McCann/Gattis mixture from 2013 with Gattis/Doumit instead. If Gattis can keep his 2013 production while handling primary catching duties, this will pretty much be a wash. As for the rest of the offense, Chris Johnson is likely due for a small regression after his career year, but Andrelton Simmons should improve as well.
The big question marks are Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton. Uggla was having a typical season until August, and had a dismal final two months; so bad he was left off the playoff roster. Upton just fell off a cliff, going from slightly above average offensively to absolutely terrible, posting a wRC+ of 56 for the season (100 is average). If those players can have bounce back seasons, the Braves should be in line to score even more than they did last season. If Uggla and/or Upton struggle, the team may call up promising prospect Tommy La Stella to take over second base and shuffle their outfield (think Doumit/Justin Upton/Heyward) and maintain the same level of offense this season.
As for the pitching, Tim Hudson had a gruesome ankle injury in late July, which required the younger pitchers on the staff to take a step up in their rotation spots; so he’s essentially been gone from the team for two extra months. The rotation performed admirably in August and September, so coming into this season, it looked like the staff would at least maintain, if not improve upon, their 2013 numbers. Gavin Floyd was signed for depth and, statistically speaking, is an upgrade over Freddy Garcia who was the 6th/7th starter last season. Floyd is also coming off of Tommy John surgery and he isn’t expected to be ready for the rotation until May.
Floyd’s recovery lasting into the season wasn’t an issue until Spring Training began. Projected #2 starter Mike Minor came into camp with shoulder soreness, due to time off for an unrelated procedure; he is expected to be back in the rotation a couple of weeks into the regular season. Then, on March 9th, #1 starter Kris Medlen left his start with forearm soreness and, while nothing has been announced, is expected to need a second Tommy John surgery. The next day, Brandon Beachy, expected to fill out the rotation with Julio Teheran and Alex Wood, was removed from HIS start with biceps pain.
Beachy is on the recovery trail after having elbow surgery himself, and it has yet to be determined how long he will be out. Beachy will miss the entire season.
These significant and devastating injuries left the Braves with the following starters having major league experience: Teheran, who completed his first full MLB season in 2013; Wood, who was a June call-up and expected to fight for a rotation spot; Freddy Garcia, who managed to scratch out a decent 2013 after a horrible start with the Orioles; and the pride of @ouij and National fans everywhere, Yunesky Maya. This incredible thinness lead the Braves to go out and get Ervin Santana in the freezer section of the local grocery sign Ervin Santana to essentially his qualifying offer from the Royals and to become the new #2/#3 starter.
Coming in to February, the Braves looked poised to repeat as NL East champs. The team was mostly the same; no one irreplaceable had been lost to free agency. The injuries to the starting rotation have cast a big shadow on that outlook. April and early May are huge question marks now, and that could be enough of a window for the other teams in the division to build leads and make the Braves play catch up when they are finally healthy.
Prognosis: Still contenders, but less of a lock to repeat winning the Division