Sept 10, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann (16) takes batting practice before game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The New Face of the Atlanta Braves

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This offseason has been one of the most exciting that I have witnessed being a Braves fan for as long as I can remember.   In some ways, it has been disheartening.  Watching Chipper Jones retire was one of the hardest things to do as a fan.  I have idolized him ever since I was a little boy.  However, that is in the past.  There has been a lot more excitement and thrill in this offseason than disappointment.

I think that the realities of our new acquisitions are finally starting to settle in my mind.  We now have what is arguably the most dominant outfield in the league and something that fans are really looking forward to.  With Chipper’s departure and the addition of B.J. and Justin Upton, the big topic has been who is going to be the new face of the Atlanta Braves. There are three scenarios that I see possibly playing out.

  1. Brian McCann
  2. B.J. and Justin Upton
  3. Jason Heyward

Brian McCann is the most logical of the three possibilities to take over as the new franchise face.  However, he has a lot of obstacles to overcome before he can truly emerge as the face of the Braves.  It is well known that McCann is aiming to be behind home plate on Opening Day.  Whether he comes back on Opening Day or on April 15, when he is expected to clear, I do not think that it will matter for this given situation.

An obstacle McCann will have to overcome is going to be returning and making his presence known.  McCann had his worst season last year with his shoulder injury looming over him.  He had career lows in both batting average .230 and on base percentage .300.  McCann has to prove that he can return to his old ways of making the All-Star team and a batting average above .270.

The shoulder injury is not the only thing hanging over McCann’s head though.  This season is his last season on his contract.  I have seen some experts say not to expect the Braves to resign him until the end of the season but I’ve also seen some expressing to expect a new contract to come in the middle of the season. I do believe that an early to mid-season contract extension combined with a great comeback performance by McCann will propel him to the new face of the franchise.  After all, he does have Chipper’s endorsement.  I think the Braves best option will be to resign McCann.  It does not look like Christian Bethancourt will be ready to replace McCann for the 2014 season if he does not make some vast improvements in this coming season.  He definitely has potential but I don’t think that he’s a viable option yet.  The Braves best play for catcher will be to resign McCann.

The second scenario is that Justin and B.J. Upton become the dual-face of the Braves.  I feel as though this is a very plausible scenario, dependent upon what happens with Brian McCann.  I also think this depends greatly on the chemistry between the two of them.  If they go out and light up the outfield together, they could definitely become the fan favorites.

When I think of the two brothers together, I think of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez during the glory days of their friendship.  They were an exciting duo to watch because they were best friends.  They gave each other high fives after big plays, tried to outdo each other and just added a sense of camaraderie to the infield.  I fully expect that type of attitude from the Upton boys and look forward to seeing it.

No matter what, I think that B.J. is going to become the big presence in the locker room if the Braves were to make a playoff run.  B.J. has played in 25 playoff games and made it to the World Series in 2008. B.J. has the experience in the playoffs and I think he would be excellent at leading the Braves in October.

The third and most unlikely scenario I see playing out is that Jason Heyward emerges as the leader.  This is the option that a lot of fans are hoping for but it’s going to take a lot of dominoes falling for that to happen.  I think McCann has to have another bad season and the Upton boys do not do as well as expected.  Neither of those scenarios seem plausible to me.  Not only do other plays have to fall off, Heyward has to prove himself.  Jason has yet to have back-to-back good seasons.  He started off his rookie year as a .277/.393/.456 player and fell to a .227/.319/.389 season in 2011.  Last year Heyward rebounded to a .269/.335/.479 season and appeared to be back to what was expected of him.  Jason Heyward has to prove that he can have consistent successful seasons before he can ever develop into a franchise-leading player.

At the end of the day, I still think Brian McCann emerges as the leader.   He has been with the team since 2005 and has the most potential to take over Chipper’s role. However, I personally hope that the Upton boys become a two-headed machine that leads the Braves to post-season success.  Even better, Jason Heyward proves himself and the outfield as a whole takes over, much like that of the 2003 Atlanta Braves with Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Gary Sheffield all in the outfield.

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