We continue our look at the top-5 questions facing the Atlanta Braves this off-season.
Question Two: What do the Braves do with six starting pitchers?
It's a good problem to have, six starting pitchers. Especially the six starters that we have, all of them of proven quality (though at least one did not show that quality this season). This assumes, of course, that the Braves will pick up the 2010 option on Tim Hudson's contract, and that Hudson (was has the right to void the option and become a free agent) will accept the option. Most baseball people think that he'll stay here, but we could see the Braves decline the option and try to work out a multi-year deal for less money per year. The problem there is getting insurance on a contract of a player who has just come off major surgery. My guess is that the Braves pick up his option for next year and leave it at that.
Then we really do have six starting pitchers, and six really good starting pitcher. One would think that Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson are safe and will make up the core of the Braves staff for the next half-decade. I did propose that the Braves trade Jurrjens last month, and that is still an idea in the back of my mind, though watching how well JJ pitched down the stretch I hope that it never happens.
Of course, I believe it was Terry Francona who said a couple of years ago, "When you think you have enough pitching, go get more." The Braves certainly know how important depth in starting pitching can be after the debacle of 2008, but that doesn't mean a team can keep multimillion dollar starters waiting in the wings in case of injury. As much as some may want to go into spring training with six starters, just in case one gets injured, I don't think that's going to happen. The guys we have are making too much money, and because of the financial burden of keeping three starters making over $10 million and another making over $6 million, the Braves will be forced to trade one of that group of starters that includes Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, Javier Vazquez, and Tim Hudson.
The odds are best that Vazquez is the guy to go.
There's not much of a chance that the Braves can trade Hudson -- he wouldn't agree to that contract option if he knew he was going to be traded, and he's approaching 10-and-5 status, so he may be able to veto any trade pretty soon, if not already. Lowe and his contract are probably untradeable, especially after he put up some pretty ugly numbers this season. Kawakami could be desirable to some teams, as he settled down after a rough first month, but he still could be viewed as an unknown quantity, and he's not the number-1 or number-2 type starter that would return the kind of impact bat we are likely looking for.
Add to this question the principal idea of the first question (the Braves need a big power bat), then take a look at the weak free agent class, and how much you'd have to pay a guy like Holliday or Bay, and the only option for the Braves seems to be to trade for a bat and to use this surplus of starting pitching to do that. And unfortunately, the best candidate may be Javier Vazquez.
If the Braves were to try and keep Vazquez and re-sign him to a multi-year deal they'd be doing so at the height of his value, and that might cost the team more than he's worth. On a similar note, trading him now would be trading him at the height of his value, and the return should be better than at any other time. As I said in an article a month ago, trading him will be difficult as he has a no-trade to any west coast team, and he's burned bridges in Chicago, New York, and Arizona, and that leaves very few teams who would still want him and can afford him.
Another factor in determining if we have the depth to trade starters will be how well Mike Minor fares in the Arizona Fall League. He is supposed to be close to major league ready, and if he has a good AFL season, then that would be more minor league depth to go with Jo-Jo Reyes and Todd Redmond.
It will be strange this off-season to watch the team try and get rid of starting pitching, as opposed to last off-season when they were so desperate to get as much starting pitching as they could. I just hope we don't go all out in our pursuit of a right-handed bat this year, like we did last year in our pursuit of starting pitching, when we seemingly forgot that there were other needs facing this team. Speaking of other needs...
Coming up later, Question Three: Who will be the Braves closer in 2010?