Changes for the Braves in 2012

It's going to be a long offseason for the Braves. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
There’s no doubt that the collapse of the Atlanta Braves was a result of injuries, but also bad decision-making down the stretch that led to key players getting overused and thus, worn down.

OK, now the excuses are out of the way. Let’s move on to getting answers. I have so many questions about where this team goes from here, and I’m going to need answers in the offseason, which can’t be long enough, in my opinion.

– Is Fredi Gonzalez really the answer to the Braves’ postseason woes, or is he literally Bobby Cox at a younger age? I’m willing to give him another season, but I’ll be honest — that meltdown was extremely painful, and I don’t want to go through it again. The way he ran down our bullpen, specifically the trio of O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel, resulted directly in that collapse. I fully believe GM Frank Wren should go after departing Red Sox manager Terry Francona right now, and if they can get him, I wouldn’t be upset seeing the Braves changing managers after just one season. Extreme? Yes. But the way we fell apart was extreme, too. (And I know Francona was managing a massive meltdown in Boston as well, but that team doesn’t suit him. Youth does, and the Braves have that).

– The Jason Heyward Honeymoon is over. I didn’t see anything out of him this season. His frequent strikeouts in moments where he should be clutch got old, as did his pitiful arm and fear of a collision with the wall, leading to several drops. If we brought back Jeff Francoeur, we’d have seen more baserunners getting thrown out by the right fielder — and we’d have gotten six home runs and 45 more RBI than we got out of Heyward this year. 45! If the Braves can trade Heyward, they should. The guy just isn’t panning out in Atlanta. Again, if that sounds radical, it is. But their meltdown was radical.

– Derek Lowe can’t be allowed to wear a Braves uniform again. We brought him in and paid him $15 million to win nearly 20 games this season, and instead, he lost nearly 20 games. That’s completely unacceptable for one of our highest-paid players, and he must be released for the Braves to have a shot at the playoffs in 2012. No staff needs a guy that’s going to lose every time he takes the mound down the stretch.

– Our set-up of relief pitchers (O’Flaherty in the 7th inning, Venters in the 8th, Kimbrel in the 9th) made for a good story, but it can’t be so cut-and-dry in 2012 or they’ll get worn down again. It cost us a playoff spot — the runs they allowed in the final games ended up keeping us from winning those clinching games. I don’t blame them, I blame Gonzalez for using them so much in the regular season. With the return of Peter Moylan from injury, there should be a “reliever by committee” set-up next season. I know Kimbrel is our closer, but he doesn’t have to get every save if he’s going to be exhausted at the end of the year. Call Cory Gearrin back up and allow him to close out some games. Better yet, improve the offense and you won’t need to use your closer so much.

– Chipper Jones needs to start about 81 games. That’s it. He’s too old to be the full-time starter, and the risk of injury is too high. We have to find someone who can fill in for half the season.

That’s a start. It may not take the biggest changes to get the Braves into the playoffs in 2012, but something has to be done.

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