Okay, I think we’ve all had enough time to soak in the misery and read tea leaves about coaching staff decisions. Let’s get to the meat of the off-season, already.

The Atlanta Braves total payroll for 2013, without prorating guys like Scott Downs or Elliot Johnson for their time with other teams, was $96.7 million. I know it didn’t feel like a new $100 mil roster there at the end, but that was all BJ Upton and Dan Uggla’s fault when you really look at the numbers.

For 2014, the Braves have eight players who are going to be free agents outright.

Player 2013 Contract Cost
Brian McCann $12.00 mil
Tim Hudson $9.00 mil
Paul Maholm $6.5 mil
Scott Downs* $5.00 mil
Eric O’Flaherty $4.32 mil
Reed Johnson $1.60 mil
Kameron Loe* $1.05 mil
Luis Ayala $1.0 mil

Since we’re using the total contract cost of the players acquired mid-season for the $96.7 mil number, we’ll use the total contract cost of their 2013 deals for “free agent savings” too. That means that going into November, the Braves are trimming $40.47 million from their 2014 roster. You can probably toss the $1.67 mil they paid Jonny Venters into that pool as well and call it a solid $42 mil to spend.

Now, some of that is obviously going to go toward arbitration and pre-arbitration players. Your Jason Heywards and Freddie Freemans and Julio Teherans and such. Baseball-Reference projects the total increases in arb and pre-arb cases to be roughly $29 mil. Let’s assume that’s the case, so we don’t have to crank out individual guesses as to how much any given player is going to get. That reduces the available spend to a mere $13 million. So, barring major movement of existing contracts or extensions that buy out arb years and assuming they have the same budget next year as this, the 2014 Braves have $13 million to spend on talent.

The question is, obviously, where to spend it. The first obvious answer is “not in the outfield.”

Player 2014 Contract Cost
Justin Upton $14.25 mil
B.J. Upton $13.45 mil
Jason Heyward Arb-2
Success! Arb-1

And in the wings you have your Jose Constanzas, your Joey Terdoslaviches, your Todd Cunninghams. They can fight it out for the league minimum and fifth OF spot. So you don’t spend anything on the OF. You fix B.J. Upton and move on.

The infield is relatively set as well:

Player 2014 Contract Cost
Freddie Freeman Arb-1
Dan Uggla $13.00 mil
Andrelton Simmons Pre-Arb-2
Regression Arb-2
Gerald Laird $1.5 mil
Evan Gattis Pre-Arb-2

Leaving be the question of his Ugglaness for the moment, the starting rotation as of today:

Player 2014 Contract Cost
Kris Medlen Arb-2
Mike Minor Pre-Arb-3
Julio Teheran Pre-Arb-2
Brandon Beachy Arb-1
Alex Wood Pre-Arb-1
David Hale Pre-Arb-1

The pen is equally cheap. The most expensive player there will be either 1) Craig Kimbrel* or 2) a free agent veteran signing (be it Jonny Venters, EOF or someone else.) I’ll save the table breakout for the time being.

* I assume Kimbrel will make more money in his first year of arbitration eligibility than Christian Martinez will in his second year.

All of which is a long winded way of saying what everyone already knew, I guess. You have two major holes in the lineup: CF and 2B. You don’t have the flexibility to fix both of them, so you have to swallow hard and run with B.J. Upton in CF. You have a really young starting rotation, that is also really cheap. You have $13m or so to upgrade your team. The question at hand is how do you do that.

When the Braves say they want an “ace” what they mean is that they think they’re be better served spending the brunt of that $13 mil to improve the rotation, getting a top of the line starter and pushing everyone else down a slot (and Wood or Hale out of the rotation entirely) while dealing with either Uggla or a league minimum guy like Pena or Johnson at 2B. Or La Stella if he demands the promotion with his play. That makes sense to me, personally. The team is good enough to get into the playoffs again next year, even with an offensive sinkhole at 2B. It needs a front line starter to get past the first rounds. If they can pull a Derek Lowe with Dan Uggla their budget for a top line starter moves into the $18 mil range…