Mailbag: Braves Starting Pitching For ’08

As always, you can hit up the MLBTR mailbag at  September and October are good months for mailbag questions given the relative hot stove inactivity.

John P. writes:

What do you see the Braves doing about finding some starting pitching next season?  The gaping hole this year can’t be allowed to continue.  Do they have anyone left in the minors?  We all know about the free agent situation this winter, or lack thereof.

First let’s talk about who’s under contract and locked in for the ’08 rotation.

There’s Mike Hampton, who will earn a whopping $15MM in ’08 (all of it paid by the Braves unfortunately).  The 35 year-old southpaw had Tommy John surgery but hopes to be ready by Spring Training.  The Braves might be able to pencil him into the #5 slot if he impresses in winter ball.  But they can’t really count on him for anything.

Tim Hudson‘s signed at $13MM for ’08.  His excellent ’07 season has been a huge surprise to me.  Even with some mild regression Hudson should be quite good.

John Smoltz is locked in at $14MM.  Wow, this is shaping up to be a pricey rotation.  Smoltz will be 41 next season and spent time on the DL this year with shoulder inflammation.  It”s hard to argue with results but you have to be a little concerned that he can keep doing this for another two years. 

Chuck James is the #3, and he’s nice and cheap still.  He had a DL stint this year with a tired arm/tight shoulder.

That’s where it starts getting iffy.  Other pitchers given starts by Atlanta this year: Buddy Carlyle, Kyle Davies, Lance Cormier, Jo-Jo Reyes, Mark Redman, and Anthony Lerew.  Of those who remain with the team there are none you feel comfortable penciling in as the #4 (which could become the #3 if Smoltz or James return to the DL in ’08).  Carlyle, Cormier, and Reyes have not been effective in the bigs.  Davies and Redman are with other teams and Lerew went down with TJ surgery.  Of the group, Reyes seems most likely to contribute.  Matt Harrison was the team’s best pitching prospect, and he’s gone to Texas in the Teixeira deal.

Bottom line: the Braves need to come up with one starter to bridge the gap between Smoltz-Hudson-James and the fifth guy. 

Free agency does present options.  Tom Glavine could finish his career in Atlanta.  John Schuerholz could make an injury play like Matt Clement, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Randy Wolf, Jaret Wright, or Jason Jennings.  They could hit up Japan for Koji Uehara.  They’ve had interest in Carlos Silva and Livan Hernandez in the past.

The Braves could reignite trade talks for Bronson Arroyo, Jon Garland, Carl Pavano, or Jose ContrerasEdgar Renteria could be the best trading chip, though he doesn’t work for all those teams.  Unfortunately the Braves don’t have much to deal beyond Renteria.  The Braves liked Kei Igawa last winter, and could engage the Yankees on that topic.  The Yankees don’t really seem to have a place for Igawa in their 2008 rotation.

If you’re a Braves fan, you shouldn’t be terribly concerned.  The Braves need one starter, and Schuerholz could go in a million different directions.

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