With the Braves' recent signings of pitchers Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami, they've given themselves a pretty solid starting rotation. After they made the smart decisions to not give up the farm for Jake Peavy and let the Yankees gamble that AJ Burnett will remain healthy for the five years of his contract.
I don't expect miracles from Kawakami or Lowe. Considering Jair Jurrjens was the ONLY Brave pitcher to pitch 180 innings in 2008, I'd be happy with four pitchers who did that in 2009.
There's a reason Braves fans need to be patient because the 2009 Braves won't be an exciting or necessarily a winning team. With help on the way 2010 and especially 2011.
What reasons do I have to say this? Here's a few names—Tim Hudson, Jeff Locke, Tommy Hanson, Jason Heyward, Cole Rohrbough and Jordan Schafer.
Tim Hudson is a true ace. His return, likely in mid-August will allow Lowe to be the #2, followed by Jurrjens at No. 3, Vasquez in the No. 4 slot and Kawakami (or Campillo or Glavine) at the No. 5. Hudson will be a free agent after the 2009 season (he turns 34 this summer), but I'd be absolutely shocked if the Braves don't re-sign him.
In 2010 , that No. 5 slot would be Tommy Hanson. Hudson-Lowe-Jurrjens-Hanson-Vasquez would be a pretty nice quintet of pitchers to throw out at opposing NL teams. In 2011, Vasquez would likely be gone with Cole Rohrbough a probable replacement.
Jordan Schafer had a rough start to 2008, but rebounded with a strong finish in the minors at AA Mississippi. If he turns out to be anything close to the player some scouts compare him to (Cleveland CF Grady Sizemore), the Braves should have definite improvement offensively in center sometime in 2010, maybe even late in 2009. Gregor Blanco and Josh Anderson are good leadoff hitters, but don't provide much power at all.
With no one sure exactly which of the Braves' trio of potential closers will still be with the team after 2009 (Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan), LHP Jeff Locke projects to be a power reliever and might be ready for the majors sometime in 2010.
Jason Heyward is the least likely to make it to the majors in 2010. But, if he continues producing at the rate he has been so far in the minors since he was the Braves' 1st round draft pick in 2007, he might be in Atlanta in 2010.
Consider the Braves potential lineup, rotation and bullpen in 2011.
Tim Hudson - Derek Lowe - Tommy Hanson - Jair Jurrjens -Cole Rohrbough
Mike Gonzalez - Jeff Locke - Peter Moylan - Jorge Campillo - Manny Acosta - (+2 others)
CF - Jordan Schafer
SS - Yunel Escobar
3B - Chipper Jones
C - Brian McCann
LF - Jason Heyward
RF - Jeff Francoeur
1B - Casey Kotchman
2B - Kelly Johnson
IF - Omar Infante
OF - Gregor Blanco
IF - Martin Prado
OF - Josh Anderson or Brandon Jones
C - David Ross or Clint Sammons
Adding two or three top starters, two outfielders with power and a lefty reliever from within would make the Braves lineup in 2011 a potentially dangerous one from top to bottom.
The signings of Lowe and Kawakami helped for 2009. True—the Braves probably overpaid for Lowe, but he'll eat the innings and buy time for the next wave of highly touted Brave prospects to make it to the majors in time to contend for a World Series in 2011.