Previewing busy winter ahead for Braves

Now that free agents have filed and qualifying offers are being extended, the first wave of moves will likely come from the general managers’ meetings to kick-off the winter. Those take place in sunny Arizona this week, and in the recent past have typically led to the first moves of winter for the Atlanta Braves.

A year ago, it was the trade of Andrelton Simmons to the Angels. In 2014 it was Jason Heyward being dealt to the Cardinals. While they do not guarantee a splashy move, the GM meetings can certainly lay the groundwork for bigger deals down the line. Braves general manager John Coppolella has been willing to make moves throughout the winter as the opportunity arises, a trend likely to continue.

Here are some important offseason dates to keep in mind:

  • November 7: Deadline for team to submit qualifying offers
  • November 8: Free agents can begin signing with any club
  • November 8-10: GM Meetings (Scottsdale, AZ)
  • November 14: Deadline for players to accept/reject qualifying offer
  • December 2: Non-tender deadline
  • December 5-8: Winter Meetings (Washington, DC)

The Braves have some definite areas of focus, mentioned by top level executives in the days after the regular season. This winter’s free agent class is not the deepest and, despite a few big names, it lacks the younger star power that will hit the market over the coming years. With that in mind, trades remain an avenue for Atlanta to fill its needs, though the Braves will be looking to add talent to the big league roster moving forward, rather than simply stockpile prospects to rebuild its minor system. That part of the process has been tended to over the past two winters.

Atlanta’s greatest need is starting pitching, with Coppolella in search of at least two arms to strengthen the rotation. Among the veteran free agent starters who could pique the club’s interest and match the profile of what Atlanta is in the market for: RHP Jason Hammel, RHP R.A. Dickey, RHP Ivan Nova, RHP Doug Fister, RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP Andrew Cashner, RHP Edinson Volquez and LHP Derek Holland.

Others, such as LHP Rich Hill and RHP Jeremy Hellickson, will likely price themselves out of Atlanta’s shopping on either length of contract or annual asking price. The Braves have so much young arm talent that over-extending on any free-agent deal seems unlikely to say the least. Hammel, 34, was a 15-game winner for the Cubs last season and joined the free agent market after the team declined his $10 million option. He immediately becomes a sought-after commodity in a market light on starting pitching.

The team is also in need of a catcher to pair with incumbent Tyler Flowers. Rumors of a reunion with Brian McCann persist, but the Yankees’ asking price has thus far been above and beyond what the Braves would be willing to part with. It would not be surprising to see the two teams maintain a dialogue throughout the winter, however. Outside of that, the catching available on the free market offers a litany of retreads and a handful of experienced backstops. Among those, former Astros catcher Jason Castro would seem to be a reasonable option across the board, with excellent pitch-framing and a little pop in his bat, much like Flowers.

The Braves could also look to upgrade at third base, despite the improved play from Adonis Garcia in the second half. Garcia, 31, is still just a fringe average option at the hot corner, batting .273/.311/.406 overall in 2016. A younger, more powerful option would be preferable, but could be cost prohibitive with the club still assembling the pieces in what is likely the middle phase of the rebuilding process. Lefty-hitting Rio Ruiz got a taste of the big leagues last season and could work his way into the picture at third base in 2017.

Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can subscribe to the “Around The Big Leagues” podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. Follow Grant on Twitter.

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