The Braves’ 2011 Rotation

Bobby Cox’s teams were generally built around starting pitching and even though Cox won’t be around in 2011, the Braves’ trademark pitching should be. Atlanta lost Kris Medlen to Tommy John surgery, but still has enough starters in the majors to go into 2011 with an above-average rotation.

In fact, every pitcher who started a game for Atlanta this year is under team control for 2011. The Braves can retain Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami and Mike Minor next year.

Not all of those pitchers will necessarily return, though. The Braves had a similar amount of starting pitching last offseason and they shopped Lowe and Javier Vazquez, before sending the latter to the Yankees. The Braves would probably be open to trading Lowe this winter, but it seems more likely that he stays in Atlanta given that he makes $30MM in 2011-12 and has become a back-of-the-rotation starter. That kind of contract just isn't easy to move.

Kawakami earns just $6.67MM in 2011, so he'd be easier to trade. Judging by how little the Braves have used the right-hander since June, they'd be open to trading him. Kawakami was winless through his first 14 starts and posted a 4.48 ERA before he lost his rotation spot. Since then, he has bounced from the minors back to the majors, but Cox has only used him three times, so he is not at all a fixture on the team's pitching staff.

Clubs like the Indians, Mariners, Orioles, Cardinals, Brewers and Royals could be looking for back-of-the-rotation depth this winter, so they may have interest in Kawakami. It was just a year ago that he posted a 3.86 ERA as a rookie, so some teams would have room for him, even if the Braves don't.

Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens are going nowhere and figure to lead the 2011 rotation. Hudson is a Cy Young candidate this year, and Hanson is thriving in his first full season (though the Braves haven't provided much run support). Jurrjens missed time with a hamstring injury early in the year and his ERA is nearly two runs higher than it was in 2009, but he still has solid peripheral stats. Jurrjens, Hudson and Hanson will give Cox's successor an enviable top three.

Mike Minor didn't take long to get to the major leagues, and the 2009 draft pick looks like he belongs at the highest level. The Braves promoted Minor after 25 dominant minor league starts; he posted a  3.15 ERA with 10.9 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 before joining the big league rotation. The lefty has a 5.33 ERA in the majors so far, but that goes along with 10.3 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9, so it's not like Minor has been overmatched. His role in the 2011 rotation likely depends in part on his new manager's willingness to hand the ball to a 23-year-old every fifth day, but his performance so far suggests he's ready.

Highly-touted prospects like Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado and J.J. Hoover need more minor league seasoning, so the Braves could call on pitchers such as Todd Redmond and Scott Diamond if they need a minor leaguer to replace an injured starter. But the team won't have to rely on too much support from the minors if their big leaguers stay healthy. If all goes well for Atlanta, young arms like Jurrjens, Hanson and Minor will complement Hudson and Lowe to form a strong rotation in 2011.