COMMENTARY | With the retirement of Chipper Jones this will be the first time since 2000 the Atlanta Braves have started the season without an MVP in their lineup.
Chipper has not been that MVP type player for several years, but it's still important to have that presence in the middle of your order. Someone who pitchers fear when they come to the plate.
So who -- if anyone -- is going to take over that spot for the Braves?
The case for Justin Upton
The reason so many people loved the trade that brought Justin Upton to Atlanta is because they were able to get a guy that has the potential to win an MVP award and hardly gave up anything close to that level of talent in return.
Potential is defined as showing or having the ability to develop into something in the future. That is exactly what Justin and his older brother B.J. are at this point. They both have the ability to become superstar players, but they've failed to put it all together and the Braves hope they both do it in Atlanta.
The younger Upton is just two years removed from finishing fourth in the National League MVP balloting in a year in which his Arizona Diamondbacks club shocked most of baseball by winning the National League West.
During that season he hit 31 home runs, drove in 88, scored 105 runs and hit .289. While his power and RBI numbers were down in 2012, he actually scored more runs (107) and his average was still good at .280.
He also received a vote in the 2009 balloting when he hit 26 home runs, drove in 86 and hit .300, while stealing 20 bases.
He has yet to put up over 100 RBIs in a season and that would be a major boost for his campaign. He's proven he can put up the other numbers needed to win an MVP, and I don't think many fans would be surprised if he's in the discussion come years end.
The case for Jason Heyward
When Heyward broke onto the scene in 2010 many labeled him as someone who would be a perennial MVP candidate. The raw tools and ability he displayed during parts of his rookie year proved why many believed he could be a star for years to come.
In his rookie season he finished 20th in the National League MVP voting receiving 11 points. He also finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting that season. He scored 83 runs, hit 18 home runs, drove in 72 and hit .277 with a .393 on base percentage.
After a disappointing sophomore campaign that was marred by injuries, Heyward bounced back nicely in 2012 setting career highs in runs (93), homer runs (27), RBIs (82) and stolen bases (21). He finished the season with a batting average of .269.
His value to this Atlanta Braves team was greatly underrated in 2012, but he did manage to receive a vote for MVP and finished 28th in the balloting. He also earned his first Gold Glove of his career.
Like Justin, Heyward's RBI totals need to increase to be considered for the award. Heyward also needs to work on becoming a more consistent hitter to bring his average up.
At this point I think Justin is closer to winning an MVP than Heyward, but the intangibles that Heyward brings with his speed and defense could still make him the MVP of the Braves.
While most of the focus has been on the Braves outfield this offseason, many people have forgotten about the team's talented first baseman. Freddie Freeman has quietly put together back-to-back good years and could be ready to emerge as a potential MVP candidate.
After a solid rookie campaign in 2011, he increased his numbers in almost every category in 2012 scoring 91 runs, hitting 23 home runs and driving in 94. His average did take a significant dip going from .282 to .259.
If he can get his average back up, which I believe he will because he's a great pure hitter, and increase his power numbers he has the potential to be considered among the best players in the game.
This should be an exciting year for the Braves and it will be fun to see if one of these players can break out and have that MVP type year to bring the award back to Atlanta.
Jake Mastroianni has written for several websites pertaining to the Braves and baseball in general. He also has experience working in media relations for minor league baseball, as well as at the collegiate level.