Braves have tough choices to make

sports@macon.comJanuary 28, 2014 

Since it has been established the Atlanta Braves are obviously still under payroll restrictions from team owner Liberty Media, despite an additional $25 million in annual revenue coming their way from the new major league national television deal, the team is facing some very crucial long-term decisions.

If the payroll is to remain near the $100 million mark, it will be difficult for the Braves to keep all of their young players who are going to get paid handsomely in the next three years. So let the debate begin on which players should be invested in and which players should possibly be traded.

As we learned from watching Brian McCann walk away and sign with the New York Yankees this offseason, perhaps it’s better to either find out if the player wants to stick around or deal him before it’s too late.

The main three at the top of the list are closer Craig Kimbrel, first baseman Freddie Freeman and right fielder Jason Heyward.

Kimbrel is the best closer in the game, but do the Braves invest in someone who is going to pitch about 70 innings per season? I say yes, since he’s the best in the game. It’s hard to give away someone who is the absolute best at his position, and there is little debate Kimbrel deserves that title right now.

He probably could fetch more in return than the other two, but you better be certain Kimbrel is not going to sign a new deal before you give up on a player who could be Hall of Fame-bound if he stays relatively healthy.

Freeman is being mentioned as a potential MVP candidate this season after finishing fifth in the voting last season. Freeman is three years away from free agency, and if his statistical trend continues, he’ll expect to be one of the highest paid players at his position very soon.

Heyward is the difficult case. There is no doubt the talent is there, but he has averaged only 133 games per season in his first four years in the big leagues. Also, while Heyward flourished as the leadoff man last season, we need to remember that as late as June 23 last season, he was hitting only .211 and had an on base percentage of .312.

Those numbers improved when he moved to the top spot, but not many believe that’s where Heyward should be moving forward. He’ll start the season at the top of the order again, but it’s more due to the fact the Braves don’t have anyone better to put there.

The Braves have talked to Freeman and Heyward about long-term contracts, and reportedly there is not much interest on their part in giving any hometown discount.

Can you blame them? How can Freeman and Heyward see players around them getting unbelievable contracts and not want to cash in themselves? But that’s why the Braves might have to pick one to keep and trade the other one.

Since Heyward’s deal is up sooner, the question should simply be posed to him: Are you seriously interested in signing for the long-term with the Braves? If there is a hedge, then he should be traded immediately. That’s tough because he’s such a good player, but those tough decisions have to be made some times.

Don’t let another player walk away without getting something in return. If Heyward’s demands are outrageous, at least for a financially strapped team like Atlanta, then he should be dealt away as soon as possible.

The Braves’ farm system is not particularly strong right now. Experts have ranked Atlanta’s minor league talent in the bottom third of baseball. So the potential replacements for players who might not stick around for the long-term are not necessarily in the organization.

Therefore, trades might be needed to find more talent. They’re necessary due to financial constraints, but they also might be necessary to simply get more players in the pipeline to eventually make it to Turner Field.

These aren’t the only three players who will want to get paid. In the next two to three years, Mike Minor, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy will have to be paid or traded away.

And if the Braves can only afford to keep a few, then expect major trades in the next few years with some of the favorite players being shipped off to other teams.

This can work. It has worked in Tampa Bay for years as the cash-strapped Rays have been consistent contenders. But it makes decisions made by general manager Frank Wren very important to the future of the organization.

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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