Inbox: Can the Braves contend by 2017?

Inbox: Can the Braves contend by 2017?

If the Braves keep getting rid of players, how do they expect to be competitive in 2017, their first season in SunTrust Park?
-- Kenny K., Elyra, Ohio

While it might seem pretty optimistic to project the Braves as a legit postseason contender in 2017, each of the significant trades made over the course of the past year have been aimed toward enriching the future.

Now the Braves have to take advantage of the financial flexibility they have created. But just as importantly, they have to hope to spend the next few years reaping the benefits of the pitching-prospect crop they have assembled.

My projected 2017 rotation would consist of Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims. Tyrell Jenkins and Manny Banuelos might have something to say about this mix, but there's always that chance that one or both could be traded at some point over the next year to strengthen areas of need.

Teheran and Sims are the only members of this group who were not acquired via trades completed since the end of the 2014 season. Though it might be difficult to remain patient as prospects develop, the Braves are in a far better position than they were when Jason Hursh, currently ranked No. 19, was considered one of their top pitching prospects.

Like they did during the late 1980s and early '90s, the Braves are building their future around pitching. If they enter 2017 with the rotation projected above, there'd be reason to wonder whether they were still at least a year away. Wisler would have a little less than two seasons under his belt. As for Newcomb and Sims, we don't yet know how much big league experience either could gain this year.

So, yeah, I can see why you are still questioning whether the Braves will actually be playoff contenders in 2017, but there's no question that the flurry of moves made over the past year have created a chance for many of those early years in SunTrust to be pretty memorable.

With Mallex Smith seemingly the center fielder of the future, would the Braves be willing to eat a portion of Michael Bourn's salary in a trade?
-- Jason M., Madison, Ala.

The Braves made it known during the early days of this offseason that they were willing to eat a portion of the salaries owed to either Bourn or Nick Swisher. But it didn't take long for them to realize they would instead have to trade the much more marketable Cameron Maybin, who was essentially dealt to the Tigers for $6.5 million worth of financial flexibility.

Though Bourn is no longer the All-Star performer he was during his first stint with the Braves (2011-12), he still provides some value via the leadership and character he provides in the clubhouse. If the veteran center fielder can impact Smith like he did Jason Heyward, the $14 million he is owed in 2016 could provide the Braves value for many years to come.

Smith likely won't join Atlanta's lineup before June, but the fleet-footed center fielder will spend all of Spring Training benefiting from the opportunity to work alongside Bourn.

We hear a lot about financial flexibility this time of year. How does that apply to this coming season?
-- James H., Knoxville, Tenn.

As I'm sure you figured out, like most everything else, that financial flexibility the Braves have been creating has been aimed toward 2017. With that August trade that brought Bourn and Swisher from Cleveland, they rid themselves of the financial commitment they had made to Chris Johnson in 2017. They did the same with Melvin Upton Jr.'s contract at the cost of Craig Kimbrel back in April.

The Braves have between $15-20 million left to spend this offseason. If they want to roll the dice with Adonis Garcia at third base, they still need to sign at least one backup infielder. The Braves definitely want to use some of this money to acquire at least two relievers, one of whom will likely be a lefty. But with multiple needs and limited funds, does it really make sense to spend the kind of money free-agent reliever Darren O'Day is going to get?

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.