Braves' biggest roster decision lies in bullpen

Club weighing whether or not to employ a 7- or 8-man relief corps

Braves' biggest roster decision lies in bullpen

With Spring Training fast approaching, will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Braves squad each day this week. Today's topic: Predicting the 25-man roster

ATLANTA -- When the Braves became concerned that Sean Rodriguez could miss the early portion of this season while recovering from a left shoulder ailment, they altered their plans by trading for second baseman Brandon Phillips.

Braves deal for veteran 2B Phillips

Injuries and other unexpected developments could continue to affect the club's strategy throughout Spring Training, but for now it appears the most interesting roster decisions will involve the bullpen and bench.

The Braves seem committed to stick with their plan to enter the upcoming season with an eight-man bullpen and what would consequently be a short bench. Going with a seven-man bullpen might force them to make a trade or possibly lose a reliever who is out of options.

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Given that the Braves acquired veteran starters Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia with the hope that they would consistently work into the sixth inning and beyond, they might eventually decide to go with the seven-man 'pen. Doing so would open a roster spot and allow them to bolster their defensively-sound yet offensively-suspect bench with a primary pinch-hit option.

Below is a prediction of how Atlanta's roster will look on Opening Day. As this prediction is periodically updated throughout Spring Training, a reference to this initial list will provide a quick glimpse at how some of the most interesting storylines have evolved.

Catchers (2): Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki
With the acquisition of Suzuki to serve as Flowers' backup, Anthony Recker will now likely begin the season with Triple-A Gwinnett.

First Base (1): Freddie Freeman
With concerns surrounding Rodriguez, the only question regarding this position is who will serve as the backup in the event that Freeman doesn't realize his goal to play 162 games.

Second base (2): Phillips and Jace Peterson
If Ozzie Albies makes a successful return from the fractured elbow he sustained in September, there's a chance he could be deemed Major League ready at some point this summer. But until Albies arrives or Rodriguez returns, Phillips and Peterson will handle the position.

Third Base (1): Adonis Garcia
Garcia improved enough defensively last year to escape the liability category, but he still likely won't be used on an everyday basis. Peterson and d'Arnaud could also see some time at the hot corner.

Garcia's great play in the 7th

Shortstop (2): Dansby Swanson and Chase d'Arnaud
Rodriguez, Peterson and d'Arnaud are all capable of playing short on those days when Swanson is out of the lineup. d'Arnaud struggled offensively over the final months of the 2016 season, but his more recent experience at shortstop might give him the edge as he battles Micah Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio for the final bench spots.

Outfield (4): Matt Kemp, Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis, Bonifacio
While d'Arnaud's roster spot is far from a given, the final spot for a position player might come down to whether the Braves want to carry Bonifacio or Johnson -- as both could spell Inciarte in center, if necessary. Bonifacio is older and has struggled at the big league level each of the past two seasons, but his experience may give him the edge.

Inciarte's game-winning catch

Bullpen (8): Jim Johnson, Arodys Vizcaino, Ian Krol, Mauricio Cabrera, Jose Ramirez, Paco Rodriguez, Josh Collmenter, Blaine Boyer 
This will be the most intriguing roster battle, as Krol, Ramirez and Chaz Roe are out of options. Roe pitched effectively after joining the Braves late last season, but he might now be an attractive trade candidate if the Braves choose to carry both Cabrera and Boyer. Collmenter will be the long-relief option and Rodriguez could serve as the lefty specialist, as long as A.J. Minter doesn't force the Braves to put him at the big league level a couple of months earlier than expected. Rule 5 Draft selection Armando Rivero could make things intriguing during camp and Daniel Winkler, a 2014 Rule 5 selection, will likely begin the upcoming season on the disabled list as he recovers from the right elbow fracture he suffered in April.

Starting Rotation (5): Julio Teheran, Colon, Garcia, Dickey, Mike Foltynewicz
The Braves will say Foltynewicz will battle Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair for the fifth spot because they don't want to send their young players a message that anything is guaranteed. Barring injury, Foltynewicz will almost certainly begin the season in the rotation.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.