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MLB season preview: The Braves are ready for the start of a new era

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It’s the dawn of a new era for the Atlanta Braves, who this season will play Game. No. 1 at their new stadium, SunTrust Park. They’re also the owners of the No. 1 farm system in the game. And they’ve got a former No. 1 overall pick ready to fully emerge as a face-of-the-franchise star.

How about being No. 1 in the NL East? Ehhhh, that’s gonna take some time.

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The Braves appear to be on the right track, though. That No. 1 overall pick is Dansby Swanson, a Georgia native who impressed in a limited call-up last season. They’ve still got Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran as useful stars. Matt Kemp is hanging around. And they’ve brought in some veterans like R.A. Dickey, Bartolo Colon and Brandon Phillips, who at the very least should make the Braves fun to watch in 2017.

They lost 93 games a year ago, one of the worst marks in the NL. While it would be a huge surprise if they challenged for a playoff spot, the Braves should at least be better than that. (Mike Oz)

ADDITIONS & SUBTRACTIONS
Additions: R.A. Dickey, Bartolo Colon, Brandon Phillips, Jaime Garcia, Kurt Suzuki, Sean Rodriguez
Subtractions: John Gant, Eric O’Flaherty, Mallex Smith

The Braves are in transition. Their farm system is in great shape, but not every youngster is ready for the majors just yet. With that in mind, the team went out and signed older, stopgap veterans who could fill in while the future continues to develop. R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon aren’t elite starters, but they are capable of eating innings, and that’s all Atlanta needs. Trading for Brandon Phillips was likely done to bring another name on board so that fans come to the park — and because new signee Sean Rodriguez was injured in a car accident. Phillips had a nice bounce back in 2016, but he’s getting older and losing effectiveness. None of the Braves’ losses should hurt that much. Gant put up a 4.86 ERA out of the bullpen last season. O’Flaherty was even worse, posting an ERA near 7.00. While Smith showed off excellent speed and strong defensive numbers, his hitting left a lot to be desired. (Chris Cwik)

Dansby Swanson (right) is the man of the future for the Braves. (AP)
Dansby Swanson (right) is the man of the future for the Braves. (AP)

KEY PLAYER
With the arrival Colon, Phillips and Dickey, plus Matt Kemp who joined last season, it might be hard to remember that older veterans aren’t the only players the Braves employ. They have young players, too! And the leader of that youth movement is shortstop Dansby Swanson, who the Braves somehow convinced the Diamondbacks to trade them. Swanson played in Single-A and Double-A before leaping right up to the majors in August. And in 38 games, he impressed with a .302/.361/.442 triple slash. If Swanson can keep that up, or even just something near that level, he’ll be a huge help to the Braves. And to himself, too. The former first overall pick has the potential to be a star, and more positive movement will only further cement him as part of the future of the game. (Liz Roscher)

PROJECTED LINEUP & ROTATION
Lineup
1. Ender Inciarte, CF (.291/.351/.381, 3 HR, 29 RBI, 85 R, 16 SB)
2. Dansby Swanson, SS (.302/.361/.442, 3 HR, 17 RBI)
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B (.302/.400/.569, 34 HR, 91 RBI, 102 R)
4. Matt Kemp, LF (.268/.304/.499, 35 HR, 108 RBI, 89 R)
5. Nick Markakis, RF (.269/.346/.397, 13 HR, 89 RBI)
6. Brandon Phillips, 2B (.291/.320/.416, 11 HR, 64 RBI, 74 R, 14 SB)
7. Adonis Garcia, 3B (.273/.311/.406, 14 HR, 65 RBI)
8. Tyler Flowers, C (.270/.357/.420, 8 HR, 41 RBI)

Rotation
1. Julio Teheran (7-10, 3.21 ERA, 188 IP, 167 K)
2. Bartolo Colon (15-8, 3.43 ERA, 191.2, 128 K)
3. R.A. Dickey (10-15, 4.46 ERA, 169.2, 126 K)
4. Mike Foltynewicz (9-5, 4.31 ERA, 123.1 IP, 111 K)
5. Jaime Garcia (10-13, 4.67 ERA, 171.2 IP, 150 K)

What does R.A. Dickey have left to give the Braves this season? (AP)
What does R.A. Dickey have left to give the Braves this season? (AP)

BEST-CASE SCENARIO
The Braves feel like the team with widest ranging possibilities this season. With a new stadium, new exciting prospects and some intriguing veterans, it’s easy to see them finishing with a winning record and hanging around the fringe of wild-card contention. Of course, a lot would have to go right for that to happen, but they’re closer than you might think. (Mark Townsend)

WORST-CASE SCENARIO
There’s some serious flop potential here too. The Braves boost a young and intriguing roster, but not necessarily a sturdy or bankable roster. The bottom isn’t nearly as low as it’s been recently, but it still reaches 90 losses. (Townsend)

PRESSING FANTASY QUESTION
Should you draft Jim Johnson?
The Braves could have one of the worst records in baseball, and Jim Johnson is 33 years old and a boring veteran. But seemingly half the league has an unsettled closer situation, and Johnson enters with a clear hold on the role in Atlanta, yet he’s currently the No. 33 reliever off draft boards (with an average draft position of 225.8). There might not be a cheaper source of saves out there, and it’s not like Johnson can’t pitch either, as he’s coming off a season in which he posted a 1.19 WHIP with a 25.6 K%.

Johnson is a candidate to be traded midseason, but his closing “experience” may result in him assuming the same role with his new team anyway. A pitcher likely to record 30+ saves at this price is a rarity, so take advantage of it. (Dalton Del Don)

BEST FOLLOW
Brandon Phillips might not be producing on the field like he did in his prime, but he’s still an All-Star tweeter. And he’s already endeared himself to his new fanbase. Phillips is one of the best at interacting with fans and always seems down for a selfie.

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If nothing else, Phillips’ trade to Atlanta will help fan interaction on Twitter. (Mike Oz)

BEST REASON TO ATTEND A GAME

Bartolo Colon: Worth the price of admission. (AP)
Bartolo Colon: Worth the price of admission. (AP)

One word: Bartolo.

ALSO IN THIS SERIES: San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!