Braves packing more power after offseason moves - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Braves packing more power after offseason moves

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DALTON, Ga. (WRCB) -- Frank Wren was able to smile a bit this offseason.

As tough as the end of the 2012 season was to swallow, the Atlanta Braves' general manager knows it wasn't as bad as 2011.

"A year ago when we were here, we were coming off a really tough month of September," Wren said Monday afternoon at the Braves Caravan stop in Dalton. "But last year we played really good baseball. We won 94 games, and we felt going into the playoffs we were playing our best baseball and we were in great position."

A loss to St. Louis in the newly-formed one-game wild card playoff ended that run before it could even start. It also magnified some of the Braves' glaring weaknesses.

Flush with all-stars and reliable veterans on the mound, offense is where Atlanta needed a boost. That's why the focus this offseason was on finding more punch for an aging lineup.

Wren achieved that by signing B.J. Upton away from Tampa and swinging a trade to get his brother, Justin, from Arizona. 

"This year we're going to have one of the best, if not THE best, outfield in the league," said closer Craig Kimbrel. "There won't be a lot of balls dropping with those guys flying around back there. It's a pitcher's best friend.

"Now we also have a lot of power. We can hit a lot of home runs and score a lot of runs. That's the recipe for winning."

It also appears to be a recipe built for the long-haul.

The Braves got younger by bringing in the Uptons, with the duo now signed for a combined eight years. The 28-year-old B.J. Upton inked a five-year deal with the club in December, while 25-year-old Justin has three years remaining on his deal.

And while the Braves paid a heavy price to snag Justin from the Diamondbacks in do-it-all fan favorite Martin Prado, Wren said having the brothers team with Jason Heyward was too good to pass up.

"A year ago Justin was rated higher than Jason Heyward in right field, and we all know how good Jason is," Wren said. "Prado is as good as it gets as a pro's pro, but we feel like we had a chance to have a real dynamic outfield.

"Not only are we good defensively, but we added the ability to hit the ball out of the park and run the bases, plus we're just getting more and more athletic."

With Prado's departure, the Braves will look elsewhere to fill its other huge offseason holes.

The retirement of Chipper Jones leaves the team without a third baseman and true standout leader in the clubhouse. Wren hopes a platoon of Juan Francisco and newly-acquired Chris Johnson can at least help with the first part of that.

"We're going into spring training with an open mind there," Wren said. "We like Juan Francisco a lot. He was one of the top defensive third basemen in the minors when he was coming up with the Reds and he has a great arm. We asked him to come back in a little better shape, and hopefully he comes in ready to win the job.

"But we feel good about Chris Johnson, too. The combination of the two hit 24 home runs last year, so it gives us another power position in our lineup."

What looks good on paper still has to be proven between the lines on a field, but the Braves are confident in their chances to contend in the National League.

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Florida in two weeks, but Atlanta's eyes are already locked on October.

"All of us have experienced what's happened the last two years. It hurt at the time, but we know it's going to make us stronger," Kimbrel said. "Our goal is the same as it was last year. We want to win 95 games. We want to make the playoffs and we want to win the World Series."

Added Wren: "The desire of our ballclub is to play deeper. We want to win a world championship, and while getting to the playoffs is the first step towards that, it's not enough to satisfy where we want to go."

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