3. What are the big needs for 2010?
1. Settle first base
The Braves must decide whether to offer an extension to first baseman Adam LaRoche. They know Freddie Freeman is not that far away, but they do believe the 20-year-old future first baseman could use more time developing in the minor leagues. So if LaRoche will accept a two-year contract, he could be the bridge until Freeman is ready to take over. But if LaRoche gets a better offer, like from the New York Mets, the Braves may have to offer a third year or risk losing LaRoche to another team. If LaRoche leaves, the Braves will have to search for another first baseman, and with Freeman not too far away, it's just going to be easy to try to keep LaRoche than to go get an entirely different player.
2. Find a right-handed power hitter
Yes, the Braves need a power hitter, but they really need a right-handed power hitter. The potential starting lineup for 2010 with the returning players has three lefty hitters and one switch-hitter. The returning right-handed hitters (Martin Prado, Yunel Escobar, and Matt Diaz) are not really power hitters. So the Braves need some help on that side of the plate. Left field might be the perfect spot for a right-handed hitter.
3. Find a more permanent replacement for left field
Left field has been a revolving door for the Braves for over a decade. The Braves need some stability there. This is the position where the Braves could easily acquire a right-handed bat for the lineup. There are a free agents who might be targets (Matt Holliday, Jason Bay, Jermaine Dye) and others that may be available through a trade.
4. Decide Tim Hudson's future
The Braves must make a decision on the future of right-hander Tim Hudson. All accounts point to him wanting a long-term extension. The only way the Braves can take advantage of its starting pitching depth is for Hudson to return. If he doesn't, they just won't have the trade material possibly needed to help the lineup. So it's unlikely the Braves will want Hudson to walk away. He's great in the clubhouse. He's been outstanding in the community. And he showed in his seven starts after his return that he is, in fact, back and healthy. So do the Braves just pick up his option, or do they extend his deal? It would be silly to not take advantage of their depth, but that's only possible if Hudson returns. So he's got to come back.
5. Rework the bullpen
Chances are Rafael Soriano will leave and close elsewhere. So do the Braves look at replace Soriano by bringing Mike Gonzalez back? Or do they simply go sign another closer (Billy Wagner)? Or do they go trade for another closer (Bobby Jenks)? Either way, they'll need a new closer. They'll also need to compliment Peter Moylan, Eric O'Flaherty, and Kris Medlen with additional talent. They might sign a Bobby Howry-type veteran, or trade a position player for a veteran reliever available in a deal. With the rotation expected to be the best in the league, the bullpen needs to be reinforced.
6. Improve the bench
The Braves will have David Ross and Omar Infante back next season, and there's little doubt those are two outstanding reserves. But the team needs to compliment those two with solid talent. With Martin Prado now a starter, the Braves need another infielder who can play multiple positions. They will scour the free agent market to bring in another Infante-type player. It might also help to find someone who could start 30-50 games at third base. Also, a power threat off the bench that could possibly be an occasional platoon player with Jason Heyward in right field could be beneficial. Matt Diaz might fit that bill, but they may want someone with more power.
7. Send Bobby Cox out a winner!
To do this, general manager Frank Wren must construct a very solid and deep roster. Liberty Media must give him the financial flexibility to have the deepest 25-man roster this franchise has had in a while. That makes this offseason very critical.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
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