Braves braced for significant turnover

sports@macon.comFebruary 19, 2013 

It’s always interesting to see the turnover of a roster for a Major League Baseball team. It’s one thing just to look at the difference in a roster from the final game of the previous season to the next year’s opening day. But it’s also important to look at how different the roster is from the previous opening day to the projected roster for the upcoming season.

We all knew this was going to be a year of change for the Atlanta Braves. The Chipper Jones era ended after last year. Plus, the Braves had significant money available with several free agents leaving.

But this could be an unprecedented change in roster turnover for a team that won 94 games last season, particularly when you look at the differences in the opening day rosters from 2012 to 2013.

The biggest difference will be in the rotation, where only Mike Minor will be back from last year’s opening day starting five. Remember, Tim Hudson didn’t make his first start until April 29.

Jair Jurrjens, last year’s opening day starter, was non-tendered and just signed a minor league deal with the Baltimore Orioles. Tommy Hanson was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for reliever Jordan Walden. Randall Delgado was involved in the Justin Upton trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Braves lost Brandon Beachy to an elbow injury last summer. He’s scheduled to return in midseason.

Joining Hudson and Minor this year in the rotation will be Kris Medlen, who started last season in the bullpen and then replaced Jurrjens in the rotation on July 31. Paul Maholm was acquired from the Chicago Cubs the day before Medlen’s return to the rotation. They’ll be joined by Julio Teheran, who is the favorite to win the fifth starter’s job.

Is the group of Hudson, Medlen, Minor, Maholm and Teheran better than last year’s starting five on opening day of Jurrjens, Hanson, Beachy, Minor and Delgado?

Cory Gearrin and Luis Avilan likely will join Walden as new members of this year’s bullpen. They’ll replace Chad Durbin and Livan Hernandez from last year’s opening day bullpen. Medlen made the move to the rotation after making 38 relief appearances last season. Avilan (2.00 ERA in 31 games) and Gearrin (1.80 ERA in 22 games) did well after coming up in midseason last year, which gives them the advantage this spring for the final two bullpen spots.

With Brian McCann likely to start the 2013 season on the disabled list as he rehabs his shoulder, the Braves will have two new catchers on the opening day roster. Gerald Laird was signed to replace David Ross, who went to Boston for a more lucrative deal during the offseason. Mike Pagnozzi, Evan Gattis and Christian Bethancourt are the leading candidates to be on the roster as Laird’s backup until McCann returns.

The infield will have two new starters since last year’s opening day. Andrelton Simmons almost beat out Tyler Pastornicky last March, but the Braves opted to give Simmons a bit more seasoning in the minors. Simmons is now firmly in place as the new starter, while Pastornicky will compete with Ramiro Pena to be an infield reserve.

With Jones retired, the Braves will have Juan Francisco, a holdover from last year’s bench who made 42 starts, battle newcomer Chris Johnson for playing time at the hot corner.

Whoever is not starting at third base will be on the bench. That’ll be the best offensive player on the bench for the infield, as the other two spots could be held down by outstanding defensive players. Paul Janish will be back. He can’t hit a lick, but Janish is great at short and can also play second and third. Again, Pena will have the edge over Pastornicky, but if the Braves think they need more offense on the bench, Pastornicky could win the job.

The outfield will be dramatically different from last year’s opening day roster, with right fielder Jason Heyward being the only holdover. He’ll be joined by the Upton brothers, B.J. and Justin, who are obviously getting the most publicity as the most important new players on the Atlanta roster. Reed Johnson, who was acquired with Maholm on July 30, was re-signed to be the main outfield reserve.

The Braves could go with another outfielder on the bench instead of an extra infielder. Jordan Schafer is back to compete with Jose Constanza for that role.

So here’s the potential turnover in numbers:

• The Braves could have as many as 15 new players on the 2013 opening day roster who were not on the 2012 opening day roster. Assuming Pastornicky and Constanza are not on the 2013 opening day roster, only 10 players who were on last year’s opening day roster will be back on this year’s opening day roster.

• Of those potential 15 new players on the 2013 opening day roster, seven are brand new to the Braves: Both Uptons, Johnson, Pena, Laird, Walden and the backup catcher.

• It’s possible that as many as 12 players on the roster for the wild card game versus St. Louis will not be on Atlanta’s 2013 opening day roster. This includes McCann and again assuming Pastornicky and Constanza don’t make this year’s roster out of spring training.

• The 2013 starting lineup will have only three players who were in last year’s opening day starting lineup: Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla. McCann will be back in April, but that will still make the starting lineup 50 percent new from last year’s main eight position players.

• The 2013 starting rotation will have four new members compared to last year’s opening day rotation.

So this will be a different Atlanta team that will take the field in April, and at least on paper, it looks like the changes could make the Braves even better than last year.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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