The Braves are clearly in a transitional phase. Now two years removed from the end of their run of 14 straight division titles, they have to face the harsh reality of coming up short, teetering on the divide between contending and rebuilding.

For now, they choose the former, even calling on one-time hero Tom Glavine to help return the present to their past. He anchors the third spot in the rotation behind clear aces John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, with the Braves hoping Mike Hampton returns healthy from a second elbow surgery to give them a clear top four on the starting staff.

The deadline deal for Mark Teixeira offers the Braves renewed hope offensively. He brings instant star power and, teaming up with fellow switch hitter Chipper Jones in the middle of the batting order, gives opposing managers matchup nightmares on a daily basis. The Braves will need his thunderous bat in the lineup too, to help soften the loss of Andruw Jones. The 30-year-old took his 10 Gold Gloves and 368 career home runs to Los Angeles for a bigger contract with the Dodgers.

Outfielder Jeff Francoeur and catcher Brian McCann give the Braves two cornerstone players around which to build the franchise. They, along with homegrown double-play combination Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar, have to usher in a new era of success with longtime general manager John Schuerholz already out the door and 66-year-old manager Bobby Cox soon to follow.

Spring position battles

Starting pitchers Nos. 4-5 -- Mike Hampton and Chuck James vs. Jair Jurrjens and Jo-Jo Reyes

If Hampton proves healthy this spring, he has a spot for sure. The Braves simply owe him too much money not to use him. Jurrjens, acquired from the Tigers in an offseason deal for Edgar Renteria, has the most upside of the group, but James stands as the favorite to win the No. 5 role based on his experience. Reyes is a dark horse who appeared overmatched in a few spot starts last season. Jurrjens deserves a roster spot in long-term keeper leagues, with James more of an NL-only pitcher with the upside to grow into more. Hampton is at best a late-round flier in Fantasy. A 2 1/2 year layoff from his last start doesn't bode well for his 2008 prospects.

Center field -- Mark Kotsay vs. Josh Anderson and Brandon Jones

The Braves acquired Kotsay to take over for Andruw Jones, but if he proves offensively inept or incapable of recovering from back surgery, Anderson, also acquired via offseason trade, stands to man the great expanse of Turner Field. Anderson would actually have more Fantasy value than Kotsay because of his ability to steal bases, though neither deserves a spot outside of NL-only leagues. The Braves could even use Jones in center field, though for defensive purposes, they'd probably prefer to keep him in left.

Left field -- Matt Diaz vs. Brandon Jones

Two straight seasons with a batting average over .325 likely earns Diaz the majority of at-bats in left field, though Jones, a rookie, stands to steal a few even if he doesn't make the roster out of spring training. This position could ultimately emerge as a lefty-righty platoon, but we still say the right-handed Diaz gets the better end of it. Consider him a sleeper, especially for NL-only leagues.

Atlanta Braves Outlook
Projected lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Yunel Escobar SS 1 John Smoltz RH
2 Kelly Johnson 2B 2 Tim Hudson RH
3 Chipper Jones 3B 3 Tom Glavine LH
4 Mark Teixeira 1B 4 Mike Hampton LH
5 Brian McCann C 5 Chuck James LH
6 Jeff Francoeur RF Alt Jair Jurrjens RH
7 Matt Diaz LF Top bullpen arms
8 Mark Kotsay CF CL Rafael Soriano RH
Top bench options SU Peter Moylan RH
R Brandon Jones OF RP Will Ohman LH
R Josh Anderson OF RP Royce Ring LH
R Omar Infante UTL RP Manny Acosta RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2007 high Destination
1 Brandon Jones 23 OF Majors Majors
Broke out in Triple-A last year; could open in platoon with Diaz.
2 Jair Jurrjens 22 RH SP Majors Triple-A
Acquired in Edgar Renteria trade; might make rotation out of spring.
3 Manny Acosta 26 RH RP Majors Majors
Stuff a half step behind closer Soriano's; might emerge as setup man.
4 Jordan Schafer 21 OF Class A Double-A
Talented hitter considered the long-term solution in center field.
5 Brent Lillibridge 24 SS Triple-A Triple-A
Solid all-around shortstop with nowhere to play; a bargaining chip?
Best of the rest: OF Josh Anderson, 25; 1B Kala Kaaihue, 23; SP Anthony Lerew, 25; C Clint Sammons, 24; SP Tommy Hanson, 21; 3B Eric Campbell, 22; 3B Van Pope, 24; SP Cole Rohrbough, 20; SP Jeffrey Locke, 20; OF Gorkys Hernandez, 20; OF Jason Heyward, 18.

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