The Braves' 2012 season ended just like 2011, losing the wild card to the Cardinals. This time, it was different: It came off quick like a Band-Aid instead of the long, drawn-out collapse of 2011. While it may be just as painful at the moment -- it was at least a quick ending. Now let us mourn the 2012 Braves …
What went right
It's a long list. The Braves bullpen didn't collapse, they discovered a new ace in Kris Medlen (whose handling was handled brilliantly) and saw a bounce-back year from Jason Heyward. Chipper Jones played well enough -- and enough -- to make the case that he's perhaps retiring too soon. Martin Prado, Michael Bourn and Heyward put together an incredible season as a collective outfield. And then there was Craig Kimbrel, who recorded 42 saves and put up a 1.01 ERA in the process.
What went wrong
Sam Holbrook? Too soon?
MVP: Consider Heyward's sophomore slump a thing of the past. In his third big-league season, Heyward hit .269/.355/.479 with 27 home runs and 93 RBI. He's also one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. But even more than that, he showed he's ready to take the torch from Jones as the team's franchise player.
LVP: Jair Jurrjens was an All-Star in 2011. Let's just say he wasn't in 2012. With a $5.5 million contract for 2012, Jurrjens was the highest-paid member of the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves staff. Jurrjens put up a 3-4 record and 6.89 ERA in 11 games (10 starts) for Atlanta and wasn't much better in Gwinnett, where he was 4-6 with a 4.98 ERA in 14 starts.
MLB free agents to be: OF Michael Bourn, C David Ross, OF Matt Diaz, IF/OF Eric Hinske, RHP Ben Sheets, INF Jeff Baker, OF Reed Johnson, RHP Chad Durbin, RHP Miguel Batista, C Brian McCann ($12 million team option), 3B Chipper Jones ($7 million team option), RHP Tim Hudson ($9 million team option), LHP Paul Maholm ($9.75 million option).
Offseason game plan
Signing Bourn, a Scott Boras client, won't be quick or easy. The outfielder is coming off of a career year, and many teams could use a center fielder. Despite McCann's off year, the team should pick up his option -- and maybe be glad they didn't sign a megadeal before the season. The team should also pick up the option on Hudson. There has been speculation that the team would move Prado to third base with Jones' retirement. If they do that, it would open another hole in the outfield.
Ridiculously premature prediction for 2013
At some point there will be a call for Jones to come back -- and he won't oblige. For the entire season, Braves fans will actually listen to the announcement of the umpires and if they hear Holbrook's name, they'll boo his every move.