2016 season preview: No. 29 Atlanta Braves


No. 30 Phillies | No. 28 Reds | Nos. 30-21


Last Season: 67-95
Projected record: 69-93 (fourth in NL East)
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Braves president John Hart and general manager John Coppolella continued the roster teardown, but the payoff in dealing shortstop Andrelton Simmons and potential ace Shelby Miller was significant. Keith Law ranks the Braves' farm system as the best in baseball, with seven of their prospects among the top 100. Still, most of what's in the farm system isn't MLB-ready. The Braves' lineup has one high-end run producer in Freddie Freeman. There's also a glut of veterans on the downside (Erick Aybar, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn). The starting pitching, beyond Julio Teheran, doesn't match up well with most other National League teams.

When the Braves traded Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the St. Louis Cardinals for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins after the 2014 season, that helped kick-start their future rebuilding plan. After a season in Atlanta, Miller was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Ender Inciarte, Aaron Blair and Dansby Swanson. So the Braves essentially turned Heyward into a season of Miller, plus the futures of Swanson, Inciarte, Blair and Jenkins. -- ESPN.com (graphic by Dan Szymborski)

It's hard to make a case for the Braves to be much of a threat in the NL East, given the gap between them and the Mets and Nationals. But if you want to dream, Freeman could hit .300 with 25 home runs. Ender Inciarte is a great defender who could rack up runs saved in center field. He showed some potency with the bat last season in Arizona. Each of the aforementioned downside veterans could turn back the clock to some past success. Now, if you ask why they could win in 2017, that's a different subject.

The Braves have a lot of weaknesses. They might not have a starting pitcher finish the year with an ERA below 4.00, which makes things tough in baseball's pitching-oriented world. With Simmons gone, the team's defense takes a huge hit. The offense features players whose best days are likely in the past. The Braves may not be as bad as people think, but it will be a challenge for them to be good.

No. 28 Reds | No. 30 Phillies | Nos. 30-21