By all accounts, no one would blame the Atlanta Braves for making a trade for a starting pitcher prior to Wednesday's non-waiver trade deadline.
Tim Hudson's season-ending ankle injury has left Atlanta scrambling to find a suitable replacement. Brandon Beachy did return to the rotation on Monday night, but failed to impress after giving up seven runs in less than four innings of work.
According to MLB.com's Mark Bowman, the Braves are in full pursuit of a "front-line starter" to help replace Hudson in the rotation and give the franchise a fighting chance at winning the National League pennant.
General manager Frank Wren was quoted in a recent Associated Press report (via ESPN) as saying that he was willing to pay for pitching if the player the Braves are getting will help them win the World Series this year.
As reported by USA Today's Bob Nightengale, one of the Braves' pitching targets has been taken off the market. Jake Peavy was traded to the Red Sox on Tuesday night, heightening the idea that finding a new starter might not be in the cards for Atlanta.
Expect Wren to check on a number of options on the starting pitching front on Wednesday. We'll break down a few moves Atlanta could make—or not make—below.
Houston Astros SP Bud Norris (6-9, 3.93 ERA, 21 starts in 2013)
Norris was scratched from his Tuesday start, which usually is an indicator that a player is about to be traded.
The 28-year-old has been solid for the Astros this year. With very little run support or excitement about the team's progress, he's been a name that has floated around in trade rumors for quite some time.
Fox Sports' Jon Morosi listed the Braves as a suitor for Norris last week:
More recently, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reported that the action on Norris was really picking up on Wednesday morning:
As promised Bud Norris Action picking up big time in last hour. Multiple teams involved Orioles and Braves being two according to source— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) July 31, 2013
Although he doesn't have postseason experience, Norris would relish the chance to pitch for a contender. He isn't considered a "front-line" option, and as noted by CBS Sports' Jon Heyman earlier this month, the asking price on Norris could scare a team like the Braves away.
Milwaukee Brewers SP Kyle Lohse (7-7, 3.22 ERA, 22 starts in 2013)
Lohse got off to a miserable start to the 2013 season, but he's righted the ship over the last few weeks.
As noted by ESPN's Jim Bowden, his performance since June 9 has forced teams like the Braves to pay attention to his availability:
Kyle Lohse 6-1 since June 9th including 7 starts with 1 ER or less….possible trade target for Braves or Cards?— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) July 26, 2013
However, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported on Tuesday that Brewers GM Doug Melvin was resisting any and all interest in one of his top starting pitchers:
Like Norris, the price for Lohse appears to be high—if there's a price at all.
Kansas City Royals SP Ervin Santana (7-6, 3.03 ERA, 21 starts in 2013)
Ervin Santana has also been mentioned as candidate to bolster Atlanta's rotation. According to Bowman, he's on the Braves' radar.
The Royals, though, have two options. They could trade Santana, but wind up falling out of the playoff picture in the process. If they keep him, they risk getting nothing in return for the 30-year-old this offseason. Santana will be a free agent at the end of the 2013 season.
Kansas City has surged back into the AL playoff picture. Currently seven games behind the Detroit Tigers, the Royals are playing stellar baseball and have a legitimate chance of sneaking into the AL Wild Card picture.
Trading Santana would net a nice return of prospects, but it could also signal the end of the team being anywhere near contention.
If the Braves offered enough to convince the Royals that Santana was expendable, I could see Kansas City parting ways with the free agent-to-be in favor of a return of quality prospects.
Atlanta Could Stand Pat
It might not feel like it because of the recent rash of injuries, but the Braves will carry a 10-game lead in the NL East prior to Wednesday night's games.
They also have the third-best team ERA (3.35) in baseball.
Although trading for a new piece would certainly bolster the Braves' World Series chances, they might be better off showing faith in their current collection of starters. Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal has reported that the Braves could avoid a trade in favor of waiting for their wounds to heal:
#Braves don’t sound inclined to trade for starter with Beachy, Maholm soon to return. Could stick with Plan A and upgrade bullpen instead.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 26, 2013
Mike Minor has headlined the rotation thus far. With a 10-5 record and a 2.89 ERA, Minor has been everything Fredi Gonzalez could have hoped for and more. If the Braves were to stand pat, they would be banking on the idea that Minor could carry the rotation during the final two months of the season.
Which option should the Braves explore?
Beachy returned to the hill to mixed results on Monday, but he'll need time to regain his bearings; he hasn't pitched since the middle of the 2012 season. There's certainly hope that Beachy will turn things around as he keeps making starts.
Kris Medlen and Julio Terehan have had strong seasons up to this point. Both have an ERA under 4.00 and have taken advantage of the chances afforded to them by the Atlanta coaching staff.
Paul Maholm, who has statistically been the worst pitcher on staff this year, still has a 9-9 record and a 4.41 ERA. He is on the disabled list, but according to Kevin McAlpin of the Braves' Radio Network, Maholm's return won't take long:
Paul Maholm tells me his wrist is feeling better every day. Threw yesterday & today & expects to throw a side session in next few days.— Kevin McAlpin (@KevinMcAlpin) July 27, 2013
Sometimes the best move to make is no move at all.
It will be up to Wren and the front office to make that decision on Wednesday.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.