It's been an active offseason in the National League East, where four of the five teams have made steps to improve themselves in 2014.
The Washington Nationals stole Doug Fister from Detroit and added role players Jerry Blevins and Nate McLouth to fill out a roster that was among the league's hottest down the stretch in 2013, while the New York Mets imported Curtis Granderson, Bartolo Colon, and Chris Young in an attempt to show some respectability. The Philadelphia Phillies should see some benefit from Marlon Byrd, Roberto Hernandez and the returning Carlos Ruiz, and even the Miami Marlins dipped their toes in the free-agent waters, adding Jarrod Saltalamacchia to an impressive collection of young talent.
Those teams are all attempting to catch the defending champion Atlanta Braves, who have worked to maintain their edge by ... acquiring a catcher who can't catch (Ryan Doumit) and a pitcher who can't pitch (Gavin Floyd, recovering from May Tommy John surgery) while bidding farewell to star catcher Brian McCann and longtime starter Tim Hudson.
It's hard to see those moves as anything but a step down, and so from a baseball perspective, it's been a decidedly disappointing winter in the Peach State.
The Braves do have enviable young talent on the field and in the rotation, along with the best closer in baseball. But they also have two expensive black holes in the lineup -- second base (Dan Uggla) and center field (B.J. Upton) -- and are limited by a poor television deal that pays them a fraction of what other clubs receive, as well as a notoriously tight-fisted ownership group that regards the team as merely a minor line item on a larger ledger.
That makes Atlanta's flexibility limited, since the Braves usually spend about $90 million annually, and a steady payroll is a declining one in today's increasingly wealthy game. Including Doumit and Floyd, the Braves now have about $55 million committed for 2014, but they still need to set aside approximately $30 million for what was the largest arbitration-eligible group of players in baseball at the beginning of the offseason. Unless ownership suddenly finds itself in an unexpectedly generous mood, Atlanta looks to be getting close to its payroll limit, and the team has little choice but to give Upton a second chance to prove himself.
That said, there is still time for the Braves to salvage the winter, and here are three things they can do to prevent this offseason from being a complete disaster.