35. What are the other long-term questions?

With all the Braves' depth, there are other long-term questions the team must examine and possibly answer as they prepare for the future this winter. Bill Shanks wraps up his 35-part series on the top issues facing the Braves this winter.

So we've gone through the top 34 questions facing the Braves this winter, but there are a few others that the organization must consider or even just think about when planning the future. These issues may not even be that pressing, but simply things General Manager John Schuerholz must think about when making his decisions.

The depth that Scouting Director Roy Clark and Assistant General Manager Dayton Moore have accumulated is the main reason Schuerholz must consider the future very carefully when making his short-term decisions. The goal of any major league team is to put its best talent on the field, and the Braves are in a position where several players in their farm system may potentially be better than the talent they currently have on the 25-man roster.

Now that we know Chipper Jones will definitely be around for the next three seasons, we know the answer to one of the questions. Chipper will be apart of this team, and most likely it'll be at third base. Outfield is out of the question, and the only other option may be first base. Therefore, we can make a few assumptions.

If the Braves plan to keep Jones at third, then it's going to be difficult to keep Andy Marte waiting until 2009. He'll be 25 years old by then, and you just can't wait that long to hand a player a position when he'll be ready much earlier than that. So does Marte instantly become trade bait? Do you give him another shot at the outfield, where the team could use another right-handed hitter to balance out Ryan Langerhans and Kelly Johnson? Or do you try Marte out at first base, hoping he could possibly get more at bats when a lefty forces Adam LaRoche to the bench?

The perfect scenario would be for Marte to learn how to play the outfield. The Braves already have Scott Thorman waiting behind LaRoche, and then there's the chance that Jarrod Saltalamacchia could be moved to first base since he's stuck behind Brian McCann at catcher. So with first base really, really crowded, the best option for Marte would be in the outfield.

If they feel he can't make that switch, and that there's no reason to make him wait, then it's possible Marte could be used in a major deal this winter. But the Braves must be careful. Marte is a top prospect, and due to our depth, teams might want to downplay his potential with the Braves almost needing to get something for him. Marte is still a player that might develop into a 30-home run, 100-RBI player, so the Braves really need to get something good for him if he is dealt.

Even though three years is not that long of a period, the scary thing about potentially replacing Jones in 2009 (or 2010 if his vesting option kicks in) is that the Braves have several long-term options. Van Pope and Eric Campbell will both take several more years of development, and by the time they're ready, Jones could be near the end of his contract. That insurance right there gives the Braves even more of a reason to possibly deal Marte away. If Marte were dealt, and something were to happen to Jones in the short-term, then the Braves would have to make adjustments. But Pope could be ready in two years and Campbell could be ready in 2009, so the options are there.

Now back to first base. As of now, LaRoche is the man. However, with Thorman and now James Jurries breathing down his neck, and the possibility of Saltalamacchia moving there in the future, the situation is already crowded. It's not a pressing issue, however, since Thorman could use a little more time in Triple-A and since there's no rush to make a decision on Salty right now. But you have to wonder what the Braves are thinking about who might play first for the long-term. It could be even more complicated if LaRoche gets more consistent playing time and proves that he can be an everyday player, and many in the organization believe if he does get those extra at bats, he'll prove just that. Then would that make Thorman available? Or could Thorman be moved to the outfield? Would that make the team move Salty to the outfield instead?

With the Rafael Furcal decision still pending, it's difficult to know what's going to happen there. But if he re-signs, and with Chipper Jones giving back some money it now looks more possible that Furcal could return, what will the team do with Wilson Betemit? With Yunel Escobar perhaps a year away and Elvis Andrus an obvious long-term possibility, does that make Betemit a prime trade option? Or will the team simply use Betemit as the back-up until someone comes along to replace him? Betemit has value, and he can be a starter on many teams, so the team would be wise to take advantage of that value if Furcal is going to be the starter at shortstop for the next four seasons.

Then you have to wonder about second base if Furcal is re-sign. With Marcus Giles a year away from free agency himself, would the re-signing of Furcal spell the end of Giles? Would the team feel that they could perhaps move Furcal to second base as he gets older, particularly with more options at shortstop in the system than at second base? You have to wonder whether or not the potential re-signing of Furcal would mean the end of Marcus Giles.

There are less questions when it comes to the outfield, since we know that Jeff Francoeur and Andruw Jones are going to be two-thirds of the outfield for a long time. Yeah, Jones' contract is up after two more seasons, but he's never leaving Atlanta. If he did what he did with his own contract several years ago, there's no way he's ever going to leave. He'll probably extend his own deal sometime in the next year so that he's paid a respectable ($12.5 million?) amount and at the same time not tie the Braves up with a huge salary. Jones has already made a ton of money, and his happiness seems to be important to him. So there's no reason to think he won't be a Brave for the next six or seven seasons.

The only other long-term questions the team may need to answer regarding its pitching staff is what will happen when John Smoltz is finished. He has two years remaining on his contract (as long as the Braves pick up his 2007 $8 million dollar option), so the team has to wonder who is their future ace. Is it Tim Hudson? Do the Braves have an internal candidate? Or does the team need to go acquire one? There is no doubt about the quantity of starters, but out of those numbers, is there an ace?

Believe it or not, the bullpen, usually the biggest worry, is not one for the long-term. Last year's emphasis on relievers in the draft was a stroke of genius. Joey Devine will probably be on the team next season, and it's only a matter of time before we start wondering when guys like Michael Nix, Will Startup, and Rudy Quinonez are being mentioned as potential callups. Plus, the team has several other relief candidates in Jose Ascanio, Kevin Barry, and Glenn Tucker that might be able to be apart of the future bullpens.

The Braves are simply loaded. It's not a perfect scenario, but pretty darn close. When you have options at every single position for the short-term and long-term, it's almost makes it complicated. These are good problems to have, and it's also good that the Braves know more than anyone how to self-scout their own talent. Folks lose sight of the fact that the ability to scout your own talent is vitally important. It's important to know which players to hold onto and which players possibly trade away, and the Braves have proven the last few years that it's yet another part of scouting they know exactly how to do.

The one good thing about all of the questions we have raised is that we know the Braves have the best people in place to make these decisions. We all enjoy playing GM, but there are so many questions with this organization that even some of us may be glad we're not the ones making these important calls. It's not going to be easy for the brain trust to decide on some of these players, since it's inevitable that some we deal away could become All-Stars. But with John Schuerholz, Frank Wren, and especially now with Dayton Moore in the mix, this organization is in excellent hands.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional front office philosophies. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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