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September 29, 2011
Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.
Today we look at the Atlanta Braves, a team that managed to miss the playoffs despite holding a 10.5-game wild-card lead in late August.
Projected 2012 Lineup
Signs of disaster: Atlanta's lineup was never a powerhouse, but the Braves completely fell apart at the plate in the midst of losing 20 of their last 30 games, averaging 3.1 runs in support of their arms. Jason Heyward managed only a .253 TAv in what was a disappointing season for the defending rookie of the year runner-up. Given Heyward's prospect pedigree and successful rookie season, his sophomore slump has all the makings of a "sign to ignore," but the outfielder's offensive struggles were accompanied (and perhaps precipitated) by a stint on the disabled list, which is starting to resemble a pattern. Heyward's fragility could keep him from making the most of his physical gifts, which would force the Braves to continue to search for outfield offense that looks even less likely to succeed in light of Martin Prado's metamorphosis from a second baseman who hit like a left fielder to a left fielder who hit like a second baseman.
Signs you can ignore: Not many memorable major leaguers make their debuts at 27 years old, but after getting the call a month before his 28th birthday, Jose Constanza hit .375 AVG/.423 OBP/.500 SLG in his first 20 games with as many homers as he had hit in his four most recent minor league seasons combined (two), prompting Fredi Gonzalez to briefly bench Heyward in Constanza's favor. Over his next 20 games, Constanza went 6-for-36 without a walk or an extra-base hit, which was more the slap-hitting outfielder's speed. Jurrjens became just the 10th pitcher since 1993 to throw at least 150 innings with a sub-3.00 ERA and a strikeout rate below 5.5 per nine innings, which suggests that he'll have trouble repeating the feat. —Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus
Bowden's Bold Move
What the Braves need is a jolt on offense, and shortstop is a good place to start. Alex Gonzalez posted a .270 OBP this year, and the Braves need an upgrade. The Braves hold a team option on him that they should decline, then they should make a push to sign either Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins. Reyes should obviously be their top target because he would completely change the top of their lineup. With Reyes and Michael Bourn at the top followed by a healthy Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman and Heyward, the Braves could have a devastating run-producing lineup in 2012. However, it's likely Reyes will be out of their price range, so Rollins is probably a more realistic option.
Additionally, manager Fredi Gonzalez will have to let the starters go deeper in 2012 and reduce the appearances of all of his good, young bullpen arms so they don't get hurt. The Braves underachieved in 2012 because of injuries, inexperience and youth, but they'll be a team to be reckoned with next year. An athletic shortstop such as Reyes or Rollins would put them over the top. —Jim Bowden
Hopes and Fears
Worst-case scenario: 78-84
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @benlindbergh