3 most difficult decisions the Braves must make before the end of spring training

The Braves have some things they will need to sort out before the start of the 2024 season.

Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game Two
Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game Two / Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/GettyImages
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As spring training gets under way for the the Atlanta Braves, most of their roster is pretty well set for the start of the 2024 season. The lineup is going to consist of mostly the same players from the Braves' record-setting offense last season with the exception of the newly acquired Jarred Kelenic in the place of Eddie Rosario with the only reason question there being where he will hit in the lineup.

Most of the Braves' rotation anchored by Max Fried and Spencer Strider is in place now that the Braves brought in Chris Sale and the bullpen is stacked with a bunch of familiar faces along with a couple new additions from this offseason. As it turns out, keeping most of the roster that won 104 games last season together is a pretty sound strategy.

However, that doesn't mean the Braves don't have some tough choices to make in camp. While most of the big decisions have already been made, Atlanta has a few key competitions this spring that don't have clear answers at the moment. Here is a look at the toughest decisions the Braves have to make before the end of spring training.

What will the Braves' bench look like going into 2024?

Benches have arguably never mattered less in the game of baseball now that the universal DH is in place. Without the need for pinch-hitters nearly as much, the bench is more about protecting against potential injuries as well as providing depth than a necessary source of regular production especially given the way Brian Snitker manages. However, just because bench players aren't AS important as they used to be doesn't mean that they are completely unimportant.

We know that one the Braves' bench spots is going to be one of Sean Murphy or Travis d'Arnaud most days. However, with d'Arnaud getting older and struggling last year, there is an argument for the Braves carry a third catcher especially early in the season to allow Murphy and TdA to save their strength for later in the season. Chadwick Tromp feels like the easy answer as the most likely option as he is back on a minor league deal even though he isn't currently on the 40-man roster with prospect Drake Baldwin being a dark horse option as well if Atlanta is feeling particularly ambitious.

Forrest Wall, JP Martinez, Jordan Luplow, and Eli White appear to be set to compete for the backup outfield spot with Wall and Martinez having a slight edge being that they are already on the 40-man. It does seem like David Fletcher and Luis Guillorme are favorites to get carried on the big league roster as utiliy infielder back-ups, although the Braves could decide to only carry one of them if they want more roster flexibility early in the season.

Who is going to be the Braves' fifth starter?

This is the big decision the Braves have to make this spring regarding their big league roster. Right now, Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Chris Sale, and Charlie Morton are pretty much locked in for the first four spots in the Braves' starting rotation, but the fifth spot is very much up in the air.

The favorites for the fifth spot in the rotation right now are Bryce Elder and Reynaldo Lopez. While a certain amount of caution is warranted when it comes to Lopez converting back into being a starter, some beat writers are already predicting Lopez will be the choice early in the season given that Elder faded badly in the second half and the fact that he also has minor league options left, so the team can bring him back up if/when he is needed.

Then we have have the dark horse rotation candidates coming into camp in Dylan Dodd, AJ Smith-Shawver, Darius Vines, Allan Winans, and possible Huascar Ynoa who all are on the 40-man roster and who all have some level of experience in the big leagues already. If the Braves decide that they want to go with a six man rotation early in the year to help give guys like Fried, Morton, and Sale some more rest early in the season, one of those guys will likely get the nod based on how they perform in camp.

The elephant in the room here is 2023 first round pick Hurston Waldrep who blasted his way through the minor leagues during his first pro season. Putting him in the rotation right out of spring training would be extremely aggressive even for the Braves, but he also has the highest ceiling of any of the Braves options for their 2024 rotation. With a strong camp where he shows he can command his impressive stuff consistently, don't be surprised if the Braves think long and hard about going with his upside.

Can the Braves get an extension done with Max Fried?

On the surface, a Max Fried extension doesn't feel like a spring training decision. Fried is not a free agent until the end of the season, so a deal could get done at any time before that, right? Well, that maybe be technically true, but the groundwork for the Braves' strategy the rest of the season is currently being laid and that is where Fried's situation gets pretty sticky.

The Braves and Fried don't have to come to terms this spring, but the possibility of Fried coming back at all will need some clarity. If it is clear that Fried is going to walk after the 2024 season as is currently expected, Atlanta is going to have to start planning for life without him including preliminary discussions on potential trade deadline moves and figuring out their long-term payroll situation.

Now if Fried and the Braves both feel like an extension is worth working towards, that could impact the types of moves the Braves make during the season. Any Fried extension would have wide reaching implications for the Braves' payroll especially when it comes to the luxury tax, so that could deter the Braves from adding more 2025 and beyond money at the deadline especially when it comes to starters.

Unfortunately, this is the one decision that we are very unlikely to learn more about even by the end of spring training. Alex Anthopoulos plays things very close to the vest when it comes to negotiations and we probably won't know if Atlanta will extend Fried until it actually happens. However, that doesn't mean that decision won't come early and we could get some clues over the course of the 2024 season with the moves the Braves make elsewhere.

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