Fredi Gonzalez and Roger McDowell have moved past the controversial wildcard play-in game and are ramping up for another season.
The Atlanta Braves manager and pitching coach made a speaking appearance at a weekly meeting for the Rotary Club of South Forsyth on Wednesday at the Forsyth Conference Center and discussed what the 2013 season might have in store for the team.
"You forget [about last season]," Gonzalez said. "The closer you get to spring training you got to forget and move forward."
With the loss of Michael Bourn to free agency, the Braves signed center fielder B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75.25 million contract. The 28-year-old Upton previously played for the Tampa Bay Rays since 2004 and has a .255 career batting average. He also boasted 28 home runs and 31 stolen bases last season.
"This year, [general manager] Frank [Wren] and the front office have gone out and gotten us a good center fielder in B.J. Upton," Gonzalez said. "I think we’ll improve the club tremendously by having him. We’ve gone out and gotten better with [reliever Jordan Walden] from Anaheim, too."
Gonzalez said he was having such a long conversation with Wren on the drive up to the Forsyth Conference Center that he pulled over to let McDowell drive. The manager hinted that the Braves may be close to pulling off another offseason acquisition.
"We’re making deals, we’re making deals," Gonzalez said. "Keep your fingers crossed that here in the next day or so there may be something in the newspaper coming out saying, ‘Hey, there’s another deal out there to make our club better.’"
The Braves will be without future Hall of Fame third baseman Chipper Jones for the first time since he was called up to the major league team in 1993. Jones leaves a vacant spot at third and a career batting average of .303. Gonzalez said he will wait until the end of spring training to make the ultimate decision, but said Juan Francisco is the favorite to win the position.
Francisco tore up the Dominican Winter League, batting .307 with a gaudy .575 slugging percentage.
"We’re going into spring training giving him that opportunity," Gonzalez said. "He’s got a lot of power. We went to go see him in the Dominican Republic and he had a great winter ball."
On the mound, the club hopes to have prized minor leaguers Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran vying for the No. 5 spot in Atlanta’s rotation after a disappointing major league stint last season. McDowell praised both pitchers for their success in the Dominican Winter League and is confident the duo has nearly finished their growing pains.
"Their development is coming along fine," McDowell said. "As much as we’d like them to be successful and win every game and have great numbers, it doesn’t always work out that way. It’s always better to fail in the minor leagues than it is in the big leagues. Sometimes it’s not mechanical, sometimes it’s not mental, sometimes it’s just the maturity level isn’t there yet.
"Both had a great winter ball, so it’ll be a tough decision on which one to pick."
Even without Delgado and Teheran, McDowell will have plenty to choose from.
Kris Medlen finished the season with 10 wins and a 1.57 ERA, while Tim Hudson tallied 16 wins with a 3.63 ERA. Following Medlen and Hudson, left-hander Paul Maholm will play his first full season with the Braves since being acquired from the Chicago Cubs near the trade deadline last season. Mike Minor will round out the rotation, while Brandon Beachy hopes to return from Tommy John surgery in June.
"Hopefully, our starters will go out and give us an opportunity to win every fifth day on a consistent basis," McDowell said. "We want to get deep enough in the game where we don’t have to tax our bullpen."
With the core of players the Braves have returning and the addition of Upton and other newcomers, Gonzalez expects to contend for the club’s first World Series appearance since 1999.
"I expect the playoffs," Gonzalez said. "Get in and get hot and go as far as we can. The very minimum would be for us to be one of the last two teams playing at the end."