Let the hot stove league begin

sports@macon.comNovember 5, 2013 

Now that the World Series is over, it’s time for the hot stove league. That’s the nickname given to the season of rumors, trades, free agent signings and off-the-field news in baseball.

The Atlanta Braves should be busy, or at least players who played in Atlanta should be busy. Catcher Brian McCann will get a multi-year, big-money contract and bolt, probably to Boston, New York or Texas. Tim Hudson will weigh some two-year deals and balance that against staying at home for another year and playing for the Braves.

Atlanta needs a top starter, but will the Braves put a trade package on the table for Tampa Bay’s David Price, Detroit’s Max Scherzer or Boston’s Jon Lester? It would be very expensive, but adding one of those top starters could make Atlanta a top contender again in 2014.

One thing is already troubling, however, and that is the rumor out of Atlanta that the Braves are only going to increase the payroll to around $100 million. It was reportedly near $98 million last season, but the Braves even fell short of that mark.

Major League Baseball just signed a new national television contract that should provide each club with an additional $20 to $25 million per year. There is talk the Braves’ local TV deal has been revamped a bit to provide additional revenue.

Earlier this year we asked Frank Wren, the Braves’ general manager, if the additional TV revenue would mean team owner Liberty Media would allow the Braves’ payroll to increase in 2014 and beyond.

“What they’ve always done is looked at our incoming revenue and given us the ability to increase our payroll as the revenue grows,” Wren said. “I don’t know what the formula will be or what the dollars will be, but that’s always been a constant -- as our revenue grows, our payroll grows. Getting that extra money, I think, will be good for us as far as payroll is concerned and will allow us to continue to grow our roster.”

And don’t forget about the increase in attendance last season. The Braves had just more than 128,000 more people go to games at Turner Field than they had in the 2012 season. If every one of those fans spent at least $50 at the game, that would be an extra $6.4 million of revenue.

So will Liberty Media allow Wren to use all that extra cash on the payroll, or will the ownership group pocket that money to make its bottom line look better?

The Braves’ payroll needs to go up to around $115 million. Why? Well, if the money is there, they should spend it to make this club better. The only concern might be the previous big contracts the Braves have handed out to Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton. Those deals have blown up in Wren’s face so far.

What can he do this offseason to make this club better?

Uggla will be gone. Some team will take him after the Braves eat most of the $26 million left on the contract. The new second baseman probably will be Tommy LaStella, a good hitter who was in Double-A last year and just finished up an impressive stint in the Arizona Fall League. And remember, LaStella will be cheap as a rookie player.

The Braves probably will bring in another veteran to mentor LaStella, but that shouldn’t cost much.

Evan Gattis, a second-year player next season, will replace McCann, and Gattis is equally inexpensive. That’ll save a lot of money (even with eating Uggla’s contract) by having young, inexpensive players take over at second and behind the plate.

So who else in the starting lineup can be changed out? Do the Braves entertain offers for Justin Upton, believing if they traded him his brother B.J. might get back on track? Maybe, but it would be a gamble considering Justin’s talent.

That takes us back to the rotation, and the Braves should have the financial resources to pay a major starting pitcher. The free agent market is thin, but those trade candidates could be the answer.

The Braves had a very good 2013 season, but they must be active in order to be better next season. But if Liberty Media pockets that extra money it, might be easier said than done.

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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