12/20/2013 4:16 P.M. ET
Inbox: Who will emerge as clubhouse leaders?
Beat reporter Mark Bowman fields offseason questions from Braves fans
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
How will the clubhouse be without Brian McCann and Tim Hudson?
-- Ken H. Portland, OR
Despite the fact that there will be a number of familiar faces still present, the Braves clubhouse will certainly have a different feel during the early days of Spring Training. Over the course of the past year, the Braves have bid adieu to their three longest-tenured players -- Chipper Jones, Hudson and McCann -- and three of their strongest and most respected personalities -- Martin Prado, David Ross and Eric Hinske.
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Some of you might discount the value of the kind of chemistry these six aforementioned players helped create in the Braves clubhouse over the past few years. But in the baseball world, where players essentially spend eight months together on a daily basis, a cohesive atmosphere can certainly prove beneficial.
Given that he is still 24 years old and has experienced just four Major League seasons, it might not be fair to ask Jason Heyward to become the new team leader. But as last year progressed, Heyward provided every indication he was more than willing to assume a more significant leadership role.
While he might display a calm and cool presence on the field, Heyward possesses a fiery demeanor that he has occasionally displayed away from the television cameras when given reason to attempt to motivate a teammate.
At the same time, Heyward has also shown he is capable of providing the "lead by example" approach that Jones used after having the opportunity to spend many years learning from the likes of Terry Pendleton, David Justice, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
Courtesy of his personality and the respect he has drawn from his teammates, Dan Uggla is also capable of assuming more of a leadership role this year. But time will tell how much his attitude has been affected since being left off this year's National League Division Series roster.
So as the Braves look toward the future, it seems more likely that Heyward, Gerald Laird, Chris Johnson, Kris Medlen and Freddie Freeman stand as the most likely candidates to provide the kind of leadership that has been lost courtesy of the exits of Ross, Hinske, Prado, Jones, Hudson and McCann.
What will the front office do to make the team different this year and not just settle for a playoff berth?
-- Nesanel S. Lakewood, NJ
After the Braves matched up against Clayton Kershaw twice during the National League Division Series, it became more apparent that they could benefit from the presence of an ace. But these rare creatures are hard to find and this certainly was not the year to be in search of one.
In fact, David Price was the only one available. To acquire him from the Rays, the Braves would have likely had to give up Alex Wood, Christian Bethancourt and two other top prospects, one of which would have likely been Lucas Sims, who has the potential to one day earn the rare distinction of being a legitimate ace.
Instead of mortgaging his club's future, Braves general manager Frank Wren essentially opted to stick with what he had with the hope that the young members of his starting rotation will prove even more valuable now that they have gained another year of experience.
While the Braves do not currently possess a legitimate ace, they do have a solid collection of starters who would serve as twos and threes in many rotations. Dating back to the 2012 All-Star break, Kris Medlen ranks third in the National League in ERA and Mike Minor ranks seventh. If Brandon Beachy rebounds from last year's elbow woes, he'll have a chance to regain the successful form that enabled him to lead the Majors with a 2.00 ERA before he underwent Tommy John surgery midway through the 2012 season.
The Braves are also looking forward to seeing Julio Teheran build upon the success he had while producing a 3.20 ERA in the 30 starts he made as a rookie this year. After spending a portion of last winter pitching in the Dominican Republic, Teheran went through this season without the benefit of the above-average fastball he showed during his early Minor League days.
If the 22-year-old right-hander regains some of that velocity, he still has the ability to gain the ace status that was envisioned when he was one of the game's top overall prospects.
Do you feel that our inability to keep core guys will one day be our downfall?
-- Greg F. Moultrie, GA
As he has evaluated his options this winter, Wren has had his eyes set on a future that he hopes will include many of his young core players beyond their arbitration-eligible seasons. There was never any reason for him to think about giving the kind of five-year deal Brian McCann was going to get from an American League club that can utilize him as both a catcher and designated hitter.
In his search to add depth to his starting rotation, Wren was primarily looking for one-year fixes that would bridge the gap between now and the time when Sims and Jason Hursh could be ready to join Atlanta's rotation.
Your question will be best be answered as Heyward and Freeman move closer toward being eligible for free agency. As things currently stand, there does not seem to be much reason to believe either of these players will sign a multi-year deal before first testing the free-agent market.
But with the plan to move into their new stadium at the start of the 2017, the Braves will have even more reason to make every effort to attempt to keep Heyward and Freeman around.
Mat Gamel reminds me a lot of Russell Branyan with his power potential and defensive abilities. Is this a good comparison? Can we expect that type of production if he is healthy?
-- Dillon C. Cumming, GA
Gamel might not have the same power potential Branyan displayed during his Minor League days. But at the same time, he has provided more consistent production at the plate.
It is hard to predict exactly what kind of production should be expected from Gamel as he attempts to return after having torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in each of the past two years. All indications are that he'll begin the season with Triple-A Gwinnett. But if he proves he's healthy, he could eventually prove to be a valuable backup in Atlanta.