PHOENIX -- Braves president of baseball operations John Hart and general manager John Coppolella have come to this week's General Managers Meetings with an agenda that differs from the ones they carried to this event the previous two years, when they were engineering a massive rebuilding process.
Instead of feeling the need to create financial flexibility or overhaul their farm system by trading some of their most popular and proven players, the Braves have come to Arizona with a desire to move closer to filling some of those holes that are blocking their path toward a return to respectability and potential prominence.
"There's more optimism, and you feel there are fewer holes," Coppolella said. "There's also a chance for us to do more things. We're two years into this reloading [process], and we feel we're ready to turn the corner."
While the success of this rebuilding process will be significantly determined by the value created by many of the highly regarded prospects acquired via trades over the past two years, the optimism the Braves' front office carries into this offseason was certainly strengthened as the team posted a winning record (37-35) after this year's All-Star break and won 20 of its final 30 games.
Now in order to build on this success, the Braves must find at least two starting pitchers and possibly a catcher during an offseason when the free-agent market does not provide many attractive options. There's always a chance the tireless and creative Coppolella will satisfy a need via the trade market, but he is standing by his stance that he does not want to trade his top prospects this winter.
"Eventually, we're going to have to trade some prospects," Coppolella said. "It's difficult to say if right now is the right time. Our preference is to explore free agency because it allows us to keep our young players and our prospects. But if an extraordinary opportunity comes along where we can get somebody that would greatly improve our big league club, we have to examine that. We owe that to our players and more important than that, we owe it to our fans."
While there would certainly be a desire to add a top-tier starting pitcher like Chris Sale or Chris Archer if they are shopped on the trade market, the Braves will likely balk at the cost in order to give their prospects an additional year to develop and possibly enhance their respective trade values.
So, if the Braves are determined to fill their need for starting pitching via free agency, they will need to determine whether they want to gamble on the likes of R.A. Dickey, Rich Hill, Doug Fister or Edinson Volquez. They are looking for pitchers willing to take short-term deals and bridge the gap between the arrival of the waves of starting pitching prospects who could land in Atlanta within the next couple of years.
Among free-agent starting catchers, Jason Castro or Nick Hundley appear to be the most likely to land in Atlanta. Wilson Ramos is a longshot and would only become a possibility if his cost drops far below expectations and he's willing to take a short-term deal to prove his surgically repaired right knee is sound. There has never seemed to be interest in pursuing Matt Wieters.
"We don't want to create unrealistic expectations, but we're also much more optimistic than we were a year ago or two years ago," Coppolella said, "not only at the Major League level, but at the Minor League level as well. We feel we have a better overall collection of talent, and that is going to provide us with the ability to do some things to make our club better and get back to the championship level."
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.