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Braves Starting Pitchers... Who to Trade?

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There has been a lot of talk in the past week about the Braves inability to keep both Javier Vazquez and Tim Hudson on the pitching staff next year. This is assuming that the Braves pick up Hudson's option (something they said they would do before the season), and that Hudson accepts that option (something he has the right to decline).

Picking up Hudson's option would present the team with a problem -- they would have six starting pitchers going into the 2010 season, and four of them would be very well paid. Hudson and Vazquez would presumably be on one year deals, with the rest of the staff locked up beyond 2010.

Ken Rosenthal pointed out this dilemma earlier this week, and Jeff Schultz of the AJC is the latest to point it out. In both cases they consider only trading either Hudson or Vazquez, reasoning that Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami would be too hard to move, and Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson are too young and too good to move. My thinking lately has shifted from this foregone conclusion of trading either Hudson or Vazquez. I say the Braves should "consider" trading one of those other pitchers, specifically Jair Jurrjens. Now before you blast me for saying this, hear me out (after the jump).

When the Braves acquired him, most scouts considered Jurrjens a solid middle of the rotation starter. In two years with Atlanta he has proven that he is that and possibly a lot more. When we consider what we might get in return for any of these pitchers, consider that trading either Hudson or Vazquez would probably net us only another high-priced player in return who we wouldn't control for very long. Their value on the trade market is limited by their contract status -- both pitchers are only under contract for next season.

Consider these other factors with regards to trading either of these guys. Hudson is probably not tradable since he's a 10-and-5 player and would have to approve any trade. Vazquez is likely not very desirable by many teams because of his inability to pitch effectively at previous stops in New York, Arizona, and Chicago -- his reputation was damaged by his perceived mediocrity in those cities. Vazquez also has a no-trade clause to any NL West or AL West club. Add to that his $11.5 million salary which puts him out of reach of many low budget clubs and that rules out over half of the teams in major league baseball. Know this, trading Javier Vazquez would be very difficult.

So then, who has the most trade value on the Braves pitching staff? It's those young guys, Hanson and Jurrjens. Sure you'd like to have these two guys make up the core of your staff for the next four years, but remember that the Braves biggest problem this year was scoring runs on a consistent basis. We're pretty sure we'll get some help in that department next year from Jason Heyward, and perhaps Freddie Freeman, but if those two are delayed, then our offense might be weaker than it was this year if Adam LaRoche and Garret Anderson leave as expected with a weak free agent market.

In offering up Jurrjens in a trade, the Braves would not be looking for a high-priced near-free agency option in return. They'd be looking for the hitting equivalent of JJ -- a young impact player with several more years before free agency. Consider Toronto's Adam Lind or Houston's Hunter Pence or Milwaukee's Ryan Braun as affordable young players under team control for several more years.

A young inexpensive player may allow us to keep both Vazquez and Hudson through the end of next year. We could then offer up a reasonable 3-year contract to one of those guys, if the first one doesn't accept, then we offer the same deal to the other guy; knowing that both of them like Atlanta and may take a discount to stay here. That would allow us to retain a strong core of four starters heading into 2011, with Mike Minor on the horizon to take over the fifth spot.

Adding a young bat like the ones mentioned above, as well as working in Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman throughout the year, should put our offense back on the right track. Trading Jurrjens would be tough, but we would likely lose nothing less from our 2010 pitching staff than if we traded Hudson or Vazquez, and the value of the player we would net in return would be far greater. This would also be in keeping with a recent trend of Braves GM Frank Wren -- trading from a position of strength. We're strong in the starting pitching department, and no matter who we lose from that group we'll still be strong. I say trading Jurrjens is the right move (and in keeping with another trend of Wren, it may also be an unpopular move).