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The Braves' new face is Uggla

Steve Henson
Yahoo Sports
The Braves' new face is Uggla
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Much of Atlanta's fortunes depend on how well Chipper Jones comes back from a knee injury

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Atlanta Braves.

2010 record: 91-71
Finish: Second place, NL East
2010 final payroll: $89.2 million
Estimated 2011 opening day payroll: $88 million

Offseason action

The Braves' major offseason moves came swiftly and decisively. Fredi Gonzalez was hired to replace the retired Bobby Cox as manager the day after Atlanta was eliminated from the playoffs by the San Francisco Giants. And Dan Uggla(notes), the right-handed power bat the Braves so sorely needed, was acquired in a trade with the Florida Marlins a month later. Well before Thanksgiving turkeys were carved, Atlanta had set its table.

More than two months later, a few chairs have been rearranged and Uggla has signed a five-year, $62 million extension, the highest annual salary for a second baseman in baseball history. The deal brought mixed reviews: Securing the National League right-handed hitter with more home runs than anyone besides Albert Pujols(notes) the last five years is all good, yet by the end of the deal Uggla could be so defensively challenged at second he'd make Jeff Kent (the later years) look like Roberto Alomar.

The Braves gave closer Billy Wagner(notes) every opportunity to reconsider his retirement by keeping him on the 40-man roster through the offseason, but apparently he's done and 97-mph-throwing Craig Kimbrel(notes), 22, will be handed the ball in the ninth inning. Newcomers Scott Linebrink(notes) from the right side and George Sherrill(notes) from the left could help the bullpen, although Sherrill is extremely iffy.

Loose ends before the season begins include obtaining insurance in center field in case Nate McLouth(notes) is again as bad as he performed last season and dumping pitcher Kenshin Kawakami(notes) and as much of the $6.8 million he's owed as possible.

The excitement generated by Jason Heyward(notes) last spring could be repeated by Freddie Freeman(notes) and Julio Teheran, a Pedro Martinez(notes) clone who turned 20 last week and could burst into the big leagues by July. The Columbian right-hander advanced three levels last season, posting a 2.59 ERA and striking out 159 while walking only 40.

Reality check

Reality, thy name is Cliff Lee(notes). The Philadelphia Phillies are again a better team than the Braves, and by a greater margin. Atlanta will be fighting for another wild-card berth, checking the standings in September against the likes of the Rockies and Reds, the Cardinals and Dodgers, maybe even those pesky Marlins.

All the talk of Chipper Jones(notes) retiring along with the only manager he'd played for has dissolved into chatter about how well Jones is swinging the bat in offseason workouts. If his knee holds up, he'll reach base at close to a .400 clip but probably without the power needed in the three-hole. Look for second-year phenom Heyward to ascend from batting sixth to third at some point.

Other questions linger. Freeman, a power-hitting rookie, is being handed the job at first base and shortstop Alex Gonzalez(notes) will be 33 when spring training begins. While Gonzalez might hit 20 home runs, his on-base percentage will be under .300. A bounceback by McLouth is perhaps the most important ingredient.

Martin Prado(notes) will move from second base to left field and could be Fredi Gonzalez's most valuable piece, able to play first or third if Freeman or Jones falter. The loss of versatile All-Star Omar Infante(notes), dealt to the Marlins in the Uggla deal, is hard to overstate, and will be forgotten only during Uggla's 30 or so home run trots.

Braves' payroll was whittled nearly 11 percent from 2009 to 2010 – only the Indians, Astros and Dodgers took greater hits. A lesser dip is coming unless GM Frank Wren takes on a contract at midseason, wild-card berth in his sights. Cliff Lee won't be available.

Braves in haiku

Bobby and Chipper
One gone, the other Brave back
Aren't tied at the hip

Next: Los Angeles Angels