The news of Eric O'Flaherty's UCL tear and Tommy John surgery sent shockwaves through Braves nation this week. With Jonny Venters undergoing his second round of Tommy John surgery the week before, the Braves suddenly found themselves with an even bigger hole at the back of their bullpen.
Venters's and O'Flaherty's success from the left side has been well-documented, and the Braves will be hard-pressed to replace them internally. Luis Avilan has currently assumed the primary lefty reliever role, but he's really better suited for earlier innings, at least at this point in his career.
To that end, Frank Wren said the Braves would look outside the organization to bolster their bullpen. The Braves could go out and get a righty, but with Jordan Walden and Luis Ayala on the road to returning, I suspect they will be looking primarily at lefties. So which lefty relievers could the Braves target? Here are a few possibilities:
Most Braves fans will remember Mike Dunn from his time in Atlanta before being shipped to Miami in the Dan Uggla deal. Dunn has always been a power pitcher who walked a good number of guys, but this year he's cut down on his free passes. In 20.2 innings pitched with the Marlins so far this year, Dunn has posted an 8.71 K/9 and a 3.92 BB/9. He's posted a 1.74 ERA with a 3.03 FIP , so he's been a bit lucky but he's still pitching well. He's also done an excellent job of keeping the ball in the park, posting a 0.44 HR/9.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports has also floated the possibility of Atlanta acquiring Dunn, saying that the Marlins' lefty would be an "ideal" pick up. Dunn will be arbitration-eligible for the first time after this season, so he will represent an increased cost the Marlins may not want to take on. He will not be a free agent until 2017, so if the Braves acquire him they would have 3 more years of arbitration control.
Bedard is a veteran lefty starting pitcher who the Astros signed to a one-year deal at the beginning of the year. He has made 7 starts for the Astros, but also come out of the bullpen twice. His results starting haven't been particularly impressive, as he owns a 6.00 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP this year. He has looked more effective in relief however, as he's able to throw his stuff harder. The owner of a 3.92 career ERA and a 2.43 K/BB ratio, Bedard could be worth a flier.
The Astros are currently paying him $1.15 million on a one-year deal, and have shown little enthusiasm to give him starts. Given the 'Stros perpetual youth movement, Bedard could probably be had fairly cheaply.
Many will remember Perez from his days as a starter with the New York Mets, where he was constantly held to high expectations that he never attained. Now pitching out the 'pen, Perez is finally putting up good numbers. In 2 years (2012-2013) pitching out of the Seattle bullpen, he has posted a 1.93 ERA with a 1.24 WHIP. He's also doing something he never did with New York: limit walks. Perez has cut his BB/9 with Seattle to 3.9 after a 5 BB/9 mark in previous seasons. He's still striking out batters at a good clip as well, posting a 9.3 K/9 in his time with the Mariners.
Like Bedard, Perez is also on a one-year deal with Seattle, making $1.5 million. If the Mariners continue to scuffle, Perez could be moved for the right price.
A former Tampa Bay Ray, Howell was signed on a one year deal by the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason. After a stellar 2012 season, Howell is continuing his success so far this year. The Dodgers' lefty has thrown 18.2 innings, allowing only a 2.89 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP. Howell's always been a bit wild, owning a BB/9 of 4.3 this year. He does strike out batters at a pretty good clip though, whiffing 7.6 men per 9 innings over the last 3 years.
Like most relievers on this list, Howell is only under contract for this year, making $2.85 million. If the Dodgers continue to underachieve, the Braves may be able to pry Howell away from them.
At this point, I have no idea what Frank Wren will do. Wren always has a history of surprising people with his bullpen moves, so I wouldn't be stunned to see him bring in someone off of everyone's radar. That said, of the four listed, I feel like Mike Dunn is the most likely to be a Brave. We all know the Marlins are a tire fire, and they've shown an extreme willingness to trade players as they get more expensive. Further, Wren has a history with the Fish, having pulled the Dan Uggla swap with them a few years ago.
Regardless, I imagine Wren's been working the phones hard already, and I suspect he will add someone sooner rather than later.