Braves insider’s Opening Day roster prediction may have revealed key pitching change

One of the Braves' newest faces could beat out an All-Star for a spot in the Opening Day rotation.

Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game Three
Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game Three / Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/GettyImages

One of the few big decisions the Atlanta Braves must make in spring training this year is with regards to the last spot in their rotation. Spencer Strider, Max Fried, Charlie Morton, and Chris Sale are going to be starting unless something truly tragic happens, but that last starting spot is very much up in the air.

On paper, it would seem like Bryce Elder would have the inside track for the job. Elder shocked everyone and made the All-Star team in 2023 while posting a 3.81 ERA and 2.9 rWAR overall across 31 starts. However, Elder really struggled in the second half as he tired and he was also the beneficiary of some pretty fortunate batted ball luck all year long. More often than not, his starts were awfully adventurous even though things tended to work out in the end.

Still, it was curious when Braves beat writer Mark Bowman made his Opening Day roster predictions, he did not have Bryce Elder in the rotation to start the season. Instead, he gave the nod to one of the newest Braves in Reynaldo Lopez.

Reynaldo Lopez starting in the rotation early in 2024 isn't too farfetched

Going from a guy that gave very solid backend of the rotation production last year in Elder to Lopez who is having to convert back into being a starter this offseason would be a bold choice. The Braves have been pushing this idea from the day they signed Lopez to a three year deal, but there was a healthy amount of skepticism that they would actually follow through given Lopez's previous struggles as a starter.

However, despite Bow's somewhat iffy track record when it comes to predicting rosters, he makes a great point in his predictions here. Assuming a world where the Braves are committed to at least trying Lopez out in the rotation, doing so early in the season is the best logical choice. Giving Lopez some early season starts will allow the team to see how he looks in the role quickly while avoiding having to do the four man rotation silliness to start the season that we have seen previously and give guys like Fried, Morton, and Sale plenty of early season rest.

As for Elder, losing his spot may be a tough pill to swallow, but it also could make some sense in the long-term. Elder still has minor league options which allows the team to move him up and down from the minor leagues as needed without much difficulty and the Braves can manage his early workload more readily in the minor leagues so that he doesn't gas down the stretch. Some have also wondered if Elder's good fortune could lead to the regression monster coming to claim him before too long and the Braves may want to explore arms with more upside this season.

Funnily enough, there is a world where both Elder and Lopez make starts early in the season. There has been a lot of reporting recently that Atlanta wants to avoid their rotation arms getting tired again in 2024 by the end of the season especially older guys like Morton and Sale. Employing a six man rotation that includes Elder and Lopez would give guys an extra day of rest for a nice stretch early in the season which, in theory, could pay huge dividends for the Braves down the stretch and into the playoffs.

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