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State of the Braves: Morton, Fried and Anderson headline the rotation once again

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The Braves rode their outstanding trio to a World Series, but questions remain behind them

MLB: World Series-Atlanta Braves at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

As Major League Baseball hits pause and we await the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Atlanta Braves continue to bask in their World Series glory.

With no transactions for at least another couple weeks, this presents an opportunity to take a look at the organization as a whole. With the Braves playing into November this past season, there was minimal chance to evaluate where the organization stands heading into an important offseason.

How is the roster situated for 2022 and beyond? Where is there depth and where could there be holes down the road? We conclude* the series with the starting rotation.

*As we know, bullpens are volatile on a year-to-year basis. We know how great the Night Shift was in the postseason. Add in Kirby Yates to the mix at some point next summer. But besides that, it’ll be an open competition in the bullpen this spring with plenty of turnover during the 162+ game campaign. This concludes the State of the Bullpen.

The Present

Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Ian Anderson made 11 of the 15 postseason starts and gritted their way to a championship. Morton would’ve made it 12 of 15 if not for a freak broken leg injury in Game 1 of the World Series. And all three will be back in 2022.

The Braves re-signed Morton to a one-year pact for $20 million after a stellar 2021 campaign. Assuming he makes a full recovery from surgery — and Father Time does not suddenly knock down the door at the age of 38 — we can expect another strong campaign from Charlie and his absurd curveball.

Fried’s emergence as one of the game’s best left-handed starters has been a thrill to watch. You can, quite literally, spike his ankle in front of 50,000 screaming fans and it won’t do a damn thing. 28 years old next season, Max is in the middle of his prime and is a dark horse Cy Young contender.

It isn’t always pretty with Anderson on the mound, but the results have been undeniable so far. The 23-year-old righty owns a career 3.25 ERA across 30 big league starts with supportive strikeout and walk numbers. Add in some outstanding postseason performances and he should settle in nicely as the Braves’ No. 3 next year.

The Future

As things stand now, there are significant question marks with the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. And as we know, you need far more than just five starting pitchers to navigate the grueling six-plus months of baseball.

It remains to be seen if Alex Anthopoulos brings in external help via free agency. Perhaps someone in the Drew Smyly mold — an innings eater with limited upside who is available on a short deal — will be brought in. Or there’s always the possibility of a trade. But short of either of those things happening, the Braves have plenty of internal options, although all of which carry fairly high risk.

Huascar Ynoa. Kyle Wright. Kyle Muller. Tucker Davidson. Touki Touissant. Dig a little deeper in the farm system and add in names like Jared Shuster, Spencer Strider and Bryce Elder. A lot of names, but very little proven or sustained big league success to count on.

Will the front office go into the spring hoping that at least two of these guys can carry the load over a full year? Or will they pay the price to bring in external help?

It’s easy to dream on Ynoa or Wright or Touissant putting it all together as strong No. 4 starters, but that’s quite the gamble. Can Muller throw enough strikes? Can Davidson put away hitters the second and third time through without prime stuff? The back end of the rotation is one of the big questions Anthopoulos faces once the CBA negotiations wrap up.

Bottom Line

You feel good about the Braves’ chance to win whenever Morton, Fried or Anderson are on the mound that evening. But there are two big holes in the back end of the rotation with no clear resolution at the moment. It will be fun to see how the spring shakes out.