Braves report to Florida in February, but questions abound

Braves pitcher Ian Anderson is rated baseball's 18th overall top prospect ahead of 2021 season

Believe it or not, it’s that time on the calendar again. The Super Bowl is Sunday, and its conclusion is the annual signal that baseball is on the horizon. MLB teams, including the Atlanta Braves, are scheduled to report to camps in Florida and Arizona later in February. The regular season is still slated to begin in April.

It’s all a bit of a whirlwind, given the uncertainties surrounding baseball and the world around it. Here are some questions for which we’re awaiting answers:

How will spring training work?

It’s the most basic question about the upcoming exhibition season. Are teams reporting to camp on time? As of now, it seems that’s the case. Will teams play their spring-training slate as scheduled? Again, there’s no indication that part would change, as questionable as it may seem. How will media access work? That’s obviously a big question for the journalists, but it’s relevant to the consumer, too. It affects the information you’ll see regarding your team. This is a learning process for everybody involved.

MLB recently proposed a 154-game schedule that would begin after a month-long delay. The union is reportedly “considering” it. That would reshape the entire conversation, but for now, everybody must proceed with the current schedule until it’s altered.

ExploreBraves’ 2021 spring training schedule

Braves stars fill the outfield screen at CoolToday Park during spring training on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, in North Port, Fla.  (Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com)
Braves stars fill the outfield screen at CoolToday Park during spring training on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, in North Port, Fla. (Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

How about the regular season? Fans in the stadiums?

It will be interesting to see how the health and safety protocols are adjusted, but they’ll still include what you saw last season. It will undoubtedly be tougher to navigate a 162-game (or 154-game) season than the 60-game edition. We don’t know how vaccines will change the game later in the campaign, either. That includes the uncertainty surrounding fans at games, where certain local and state governments will be more willing to open their gates than others. Will there be a point later in the season where fans are back in the seats? Everybody is hoping so. Delaying the season would help that cause.

Unless an agreement is reached to push back the season, the Braves are scheduled to open the regular season April 1 in Philadelphia.

What about the rules, including the universal designated hitter?

Like the first question, all teams can do is move forward under the current circumstances. It’s fair to say the consensus is everybody prefers a universal DH. Under the current circumstances, there’s simply no downside (unless one is a hardcore traditionalist), it opens up more roles for hitters and it spares pitchers the trouble of batting, which most would agree has become increasingly excruciating to watch in recent years.

But right now, there isn’t a DH. The MLBPA reportedly rejected the league’s recent proposal for a universal DH because it was attached to an expanded postseason (the union isn’t interested in using the universal DH as a trade item). There’s also no agreement for the other rule changes implemented last season, including expanded rosters, a runner at second in extra innings and seven-inning doubleheaders. The past year has showed us MLB and the MLBPA can strike a deal at any moment, however, so some of this could change on a whim. With the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring next December, it’s likely we haven’t seen the last of those rules even if they aren’t used this season.

Cutout fans and two cheerleaders holding the 2020 pennant are the only ones looking on as the Atlanta Braves celebrate clinching their third consecutive National League East championship title Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, at Truits Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Cutout fans and two cheerleaders holding the 2020 pennant are the only ones looking on as the Atlanta Braves celebrate clinching their third consecutive National League East championship title Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, at Truits Park in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Where does all this leave the Braves?

Regardless of the DH, the Braves need another bat (or two) to fortify their offense. Marcell Ozuna is still a free agent. Adam Duvall is still a free agent. Keeping one or both would be a coup, but the Braves have clearly been exploring alternatives, meaning a reunion with either is up in the air.

Explore5 free agent alternatives for Braves

The Braves might end up with a cheaper option than Ozuna, and while that will probably prompt complaints in the moment, if the acquisition produces, all will be forgiven. But it’d be hard for anybody to come close to Ozuna’s production last season — including Ozuna himself. Nonetheless, if the Braves re-sign him, they’ll be in excellent position. If they don’t, they’ll need to plug a new slugger into their lineup for the third time in as many years. With spring training three weeks away (for now), the Braves still haven’t answered their own biggest question of the offseason.

Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna hits a solo home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fourth inning in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. (Curtis Compton/Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna hits a solo home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fourth inning in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. (Curtis Compton/Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

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