NL East Tour: Atlanta Braves

Billy Wagner has signed on to play for the Braves during the 2010 season making this his third NL East team. (AP File Photo)

Over the course of this week, we will analyze what the rest of the NL East has done this offseason in an attempt to knock the Phillies off their three-year perch atop the division. The teams have made most of their moves, so we'll take a look at where they stand leading up to spring training. First up, the Atlanta Braves...

2009 record:  (86-76, 3rd place, 7 GB -- 735 runs scored, 641 runs allowed)

Last season in 140 characters or less: Still not the Braves of old, but a 14-win improvement from '08 and a trio of young guns keep Atlanta in the race until October.

In with the new:
RHP Juan Abreu, RF Mitch Jones, RHP Scott Proctor, CF Melky Cabrera, LHP Michael Dunn, RHP Arodys Vizcaino, RF Brent Clevlen, 3B Joe Thurston, C Orlando Mercado, RHP Jesse Chavez, RHP Takashi Saito, LHP Billy Wagner, 1B Troy Glaus

Out with the old:
LF Garrett Anderson, LHP Mike Gonzalez, 1B Adam LaRoche, 1B Greg Norton, LHP Boone Logan, RHP Javier Vazquez, 2B Kelly Johnson, RF Ryan Church, RHP Rafael Soriano

Biggest move: Dec. 22, 2009 -- Traded LHP Boone Logan and RHP Javier Vazquez to New York Yankees for cash, RHP Arodys Vizcaino, CF Melky Cabrera and LHP Michael Dunn.

Atlanta had a glut of starting pitching -- so something had to give. Trade rumors persisted all offseason about Derek Lowe, but it was Javy Vazquez who was moved. Braves GM Frank Wren has taken some flack down South for the package he received in return for Vazquez, who did finish fourth in last year's Cy Young voting. Wren is counting on Melky Cabrera to bring some pop to the Atlanta outfield. He will most likely replace the departed Garrett Anderson in left field. Cabrera's OPS was nearly 50 points better than Anderson's last season, but Cabrera will have to adjust to a bigger ballpark and a new league. Nineteen-year-old Arodys Vizcaino is a big-time prospect but far away from the majors.

Underrated move: Dec. 3, 2009 -- Signed free agent RHP Takashi Saito.


Which NL East team has improved enough to test the Phillies?

Gone are Mike Gonzalez (with his mound dancing) and Rafael Soriano. Replacing them are Billy Wagner (He's three for five in the NL East.) and Saito. Atlanta will go into 2010 thinking Wagner is the closer, but chances are that doesn't last the entire season. So Saito, who was signed a day after Wagner, becomes an important piece. Remember, he saved 81 games in three seasons for Los Angeles before going to Boston last season where he served as a setup man. His walks were way up last season, but a return to the National League may serve Saito well. Even with some control issues, he had a 2.43 ERA for the Red Sox in 56 games.

Riskiest move: Jan. 5 -- Signed free agent 1B Troy Glaus.

Glaus gets the nod over Wagner. The Braves are putting a lot of faith in Glaus, who has played exactly 38 2/3 innings at first base over his 12-year career. The 33-year-old managed just 32 plate appearances last season with St. Louis because of a bad shoulder that kept him out until September. He has played 149 games or more in just three of the last seven seasons. So he came cheap, at $1.75 million (with incentives) but the Braves have little behind Glaus at first base. ”It’s a calculated gamble,” Wren told reporters. The Braves also signed Eric Hinske to a one-year deal. Hinske is primarily a pinch hitter at this point in his career, but he could be used at first.

Projected starters:

C Brian McCann -- The last of those Baby Braves, which were supposed to mark a new generation. He's still one of the game's elite catchers.
1B Troy Glaus -- Can he hold up? Glaus says playing first shouldn't differ too much from third.
2B Martin Prado -- He'll take over full-time for Kelly Johnson. Prado hit .307 in 128 games last season.
3B Chipper Jones -- He's 37 and this could be the last hurrah for Larry, who batted a modest .264 last season and posted his lowest OPS since 1995.
SS Yuniel Escobar -- In a division blessed with great shortstops, Escobar is a very promising player.
LF Melky Cabrera -- Pressure's on the Melk Man, who was the cornerstone of the Vazquez deal.
CF Nate McClouth -- A midseason acquisition who failed to live up to his breakout 2008 with Pittsburgh.
RF Matt Diaz -- With Jordan Schafer and Jason Heyward waiting in the wings, Diaz needs a good spring.

Projected rotation:

RHP Jair Jurrjens --  A breakout season for the 23-year-old, who was unhittable at times with a 2.60 ERA.
RHP Derek Lowe -- He won 15 games in the first year of a four-year contract, but allowed 232 hits in 194 2/3 innings. 
RHP Tommy Hanson -- Hailed as a stud and looked every bit of it by winning 11 out of his first 21 major-league starts.
RHP Tim Hudson -- Started just seven games late in the season after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
RHP Kenshin Kawakami -- Lost 12 games, but limited his walks and finished with a 3.86 ERA.

Key bullpen figures:

LHP Billy Wagner -- Even if he's healthy, how much is left in the tank?
RHP Takashi Saito -- He has closer's experience and the Braves may rely on it.
RHP Peter Moylan -- The Aussie has turned into a legit middle innings guy.
LHP Eric O'Flaherty -- Soon-to-be 25-year-old pitched in 78 games last season as top lefty option.

The Skinny: It's Bobby Cox's final year as manager and he is blessed with perhaps the best rotation in the majors. But scoring could be a problem for this team, especially if the outfielders struggle. Wren made some risky moves during the offseason and it's debatable how much Atlanta actually improved.