Braves fans suffered a couple of major blows last week, learning that longtime veteran staff anchor Tim Hudson has signed a lucrative multi-year deal with the San Francisco Giants, and that Brian McCann will be a Yankee. With Hudson signed away, the Braves pitching staff find themselves in a relatively unfamiliar position at the moment.
The now longest tenured Brave, Kris Medlen, serves as the staffs leader and number one pitcher. Medlen is just 28 years old, and after missing a season with Tommy John surgery, and spending the better part of another in the bullpen, a lot of fans seem to think that the Braves would be much better off with a veteran presence in the promising and youthful rotation.
The veteran starter has long been a staple in baseball. The knowledge and insight of a crafty veteran can’t be tracked by any Sabermetric, and there is no WAR for their influence on a player. We’re lead to believe their experience gives them a tactical advantage that could rub off on younger starters, helping them grow as pitchers for years to come. The Braves have a handful of young, high upside arms, and even a couple of guys with a year or three of big league experience under their belt, but is their a pitcher to be had that could help mold these young guys into quality big league starters for the long haul, without sacrificing the quality of the rotation, and the teams chances at another playoff berth?
I should note that General Manager Frank Wren made an effort to retain Hudson, but his offer was reportedly lower than the $9MM that Hudson had annually earned over the last 4 seasons. With that in mind, the Braves are obviously being cost conscious in their effort for veteran experience. After viewing the free agent stock, I eliminated those who were likely to demand multi-year contracts, or salaries meeting or exceeding $9MM, as well as ruling out guys trying to prove their health, as it’s arguable that the Braves are looking for a solid sure thing rather than a reclamation project.
With those things in mind, let’s take a look at the cream of the veteran free agent crop:
A.J. Burnett is clearly the runaway winner here, but his comments on his potential retirement claim he will pitch for the Pirates or nobody. The only saving grace is that we all know about how Burnett was swept from under Atlanta’s feet by the Yankee’s checkbook 5 years ago, so he might still have a little interest in pitching in Atlanta.
Just behind Burnett is none other than former Cy Young winner and ageless wonder Bartolo Colon. I touched base on his performance a few months back at my personal blog, so you can imagine how skeptical I am about signing a guy like this at his age. He’s been a great story at times, but all good things must come to an end, and I don’t want the Braves to be witnesses to when it does.
Beyond these two, there are nothing more than guys who are going to keep pitching based on their names alone. Roy Oswalt would be an interesting gamble, but I wouldn’t guarantee him a roster spot at this point in time.
In all honestly, Tim Hudson was the best realistic free agent option for the Braves.
I purposely did not touch base on any potential trades for guys like Max Scherzer or David Price, as those players would be out of the budget the Braves have set. Most of the TT staff remain optimistic about a Price trade, but I cannot say I am one of them. With lots of arbitration eligible players still unsigned, and an apparent tight budget, it doesn’t seem realistic to me.
Braves beat writer Mark Bowman posted the intriguing possibility of acquiring Kyle Lohse last week, and he remained a solid #3 starter in 2013, but still remains a bit out of the price range. If Milwaukee kicked in some cash, I could see a potential swap, and it might be the best trade option the Braves would have.
After examining the lack of realistic free agent or trade options, do you feel the Braves need to acquire a free agent veteran starter, or do you think they are better off with a cheaper combination of Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy, Alex Wood, David Hale, and possibly J.R. Graham and/or Sean Gilmartin?