Spring training questions: Atlanta Braves

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Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be looking at a few of the questions facing each team this spring.
1. Will Jair Jurrjens be OK for the start of the season after showing up to camp with a bum shoulder?
Jurrjens, who finished third in the NL with a 2.60 ERA last season, reported soreness immediately after reporting to spring training. An MRI turned up no structural damage, and the Braves are currently cautiously optimistic that he’ll be ready on time. Whether the story ends there will be determined over the next several weeks. Jurrjens has a clean delivery, but he’s thrown a lot of pitches for someone who just turned 24 last month. With their lack of starting pitching depth, the Braves would be hard-pressed if they lost him for any length of time.
2. Is Jason Heyward ready to take over as the everyday right fielder?
The games haven’t even started, yet the hype machine is working overtime already. Some thought that Heyward, baseball’s best position prospect, should have been given a callup in the second half of last year. He ended up hitting .323/.408/.555 in a season spent mostly at Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi. The now 20-year-old Heyward bulked up over the winter and has reportedly been crushing the ball in batting practice. He’s advanced enough as a hitter that few doubt he’d be able to hold his own in the majors right away. Whether he’s really enough of an upgrade over Melky Cabrera to make it worth carrying him on Opening Day is another question, particularly once the financial ramifications are taking into account (by keeping him in the minors for another two months, the Braves could delay his arbitration and free agency eligibility by a year).
So, yeah, I think Heyward is probably ready to be an average or maybe an above average regular for the Braves. But given that Cabrera is a pretty average regular himself, the team may want to give Heyward the Tommy Hanson treatment anyway. Hanson was kept in the minors last year just long enough to ensure that he wouldn’t be super-two eligible after 2011.
3. Will the Braves have to go get themselves one more pitcher?
This really goes along with the first two questions. As is, the Braves rotation fallbacks are disappointing left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes and right-hander Kris Medlen, who should be a key cog in the bullpen. Unlike most seasons, there aren’t any quality prospects ready to step in, though I think Medlen would do just fine if needed. Also complicating the matter is that Reyes is out of options and might be picked up by another team unless the Braves opt to carry him as a reliever.
In a perfect world, the Braves would have one more rotation option behind Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Hanson and Kenshin Kawakami. And they have a seemingly ideal trade candidate in Cabrera if they opt to make Heyward their right fielder. Should the right situation arise next month, the Braves may well use Cabrera to improve their depth elsewhere. Or it’s something they could try to do in June, though Cabrera’s value would take a hit if he plays behind Heyward.

The Orioles are “moving aggressively” to trade Manny Machado

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Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the Orioles “are moving aggressively on Manny Machado trade talks and now believe they can trade him by the end of the week.” There are reportedly “strong offers” for Machado from both the White Sox, per Ken Rosenthal, and the Cardinals, per Nightengale. The Giants, Red Sox, Phillies, and Yankees are also reportedly involved in talks, though it does seem unlikely that the O’s would trade Machado to a division rival.

Machado, 25, is a guy around which a team could build a franchise. The Orioles, however, seem resigned to the notion that they will not be able to sign him to a long term contract once he hits free agency a year from now. If they do deal him, it would not be terribly shocking to see the O’s just go all-in with a full rebuild, putting relievers Brad Brach and Zach Britton and outfielder Adam Jones on the market, given that they too can become free agents following the 2018 season.

Machado had a down 2017, hitting .259/.310/.471, but still hit 33 homers and drove in 95 runs. In the two years prior he posted OPSs of .876 and .861. As such, the price for a team to acquire him will be high, even if he’s entering his walk year.