Before the Braves play their first exhibition game Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays, let’s look beyond the bench and bullpen storylines. Here are three questions surrounding individuals on the team:

1. What about the Freddie Freeman extension?

Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos probably is tired of being asked about this during every public appearance, but he understands it. Freeman is the face of the Braves organization. Everybody who’s followed the team will agree the 2020 National League MVP deserves to spend his career with the Braves, just as Hall of Famer Chipper Jones did before him.

The Braves have stayed quiet about extension talks with Freeman, whose contract expires following the season, opting to say only that both sides want to get something done. It would disappoint fans if the Braves don’t extend him before opening day, but that isn’t totally necessary. Freeman’s free agency wouldn’t linger over the team (like Bryce Harper’s did in Washington, for instance). And the parties could still reach an agreement later. But it would certainly quell concerns if an extension were signed before April. The business side of baseball isn’t easy.

2. Will Mike Soroka be ready for opening day?

It seems Soroka thinks he will be. The Braves won’t rule it out, though they’ve stressed if there’s any risk, they won’t push their prized right-hander. Soroka is recovering from a torn Achilles, and while it would be a boost to have him from the get-go, the Braves won’t do anything that could jeopardize his long-term outlook. They also have the depth, led by Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson, to withstand his absence.

Whether Soroka is ready for opening day won’t make or break the season, but it’s a major storyline that will unfold as spring training progresses. Expect an update in a couple of weeks.

3. Is there a scenario in which Cristian Pache doesn’t start in center field?

It would be a major upset if Pache isn’t the starter in center. Manager Brian Snitker didn’t call it a competition with veteran Ender Inciarte (though Anthopoulos used the term “competition” during an interview with Jim Bowden on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio), but that’s essentially what it is.

Ultimately, Pache would need a poor spring to lose the job. He provides elite defense with some upside at the bottom of the lineup. How he looked in October, when he showed poise in the pressure-cooker environment, matters more than spring training. But given this is the only starting job up for grabs, it will be a top story.

In Other News