Atlanta Braves' Starting Pitching Options After Tim Hudson's Departure

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Atlanta Braves' Starting Pitching Options After Tim Hudson's Departure
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Tim Hudson has signed with the San Francisco Giants, per John Shea and Henry Schulman of SFGate.com, and now the Atlanta Braves are in a position where they need to replace the veteran righty.

After having gone 113-72 in nine years with the Braves, Hudson is returning to the West Coast after he and the Giants agreed on a two-year, $23 million deal.

For Braves' fans, it's just another big name that has gone elsewhere, something that will happen again this offseason when Brian McCann signs with another team.

With Hudson gone, this is how the Braves rotation currently looks (2013 stats):

  1. LHP Mike Minor (13-9, 3.21 ERA)
  2. RHP Kris Medlen (15-12, 3.11 ERA)
  3. RHP Julio Teheran (14-8, 3.20 ERA)
  4. RHP Brandon Beachy (2-1, 4.50 ERA)
  5. LHP Alex Wood (3-3, 3.13 ERA)
  6. RHP David Hale (1-0, 0.82 ERA)

There's a lot of confidence in the top three in the rotation, but after that, things aren't as clear.

Here is a look at the options the Braves have with the departure of Hudson:

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

 

In-House Options

Wood seems like an easy pick to fill one of the rotation spots in 2014.

As a starter, he went 3-2 with a 3.54 ERA and 54 strikeouts. He seemed to have good control and was able to handle a good workload.

The one thing that people may point to is that he had a 2.08 ERA in 21.1 innings coming out of the bullpen. If Jonny Venters struggles coming back from Tommy John surgery, and other relievers struggle as well, Wood could be moved back to the bullpen to solidify that area.

Then there's Beachy. After having had Tommy John surgery in 2012, Beachy made five starts last year before being shut down due to more elbow trouble. Then there is this tweet by MLB.com's Mark Bowman:

Although Beachy is expected to be ready for spring training, there are some question marks there as well. And there will continue to be question marks until he can pitch a full season.

Hale is another option and someone who had a lot of success in the minor leagues. In 22 games in Triple-A (20 of which were starts), Hale went 6-9 with a 3.22 ERA and 77 strikeouts.

Top-pitching prospect J.R. Graham could be another option, but as Bowman notes in a mailbag post, he's more likely to start 2014 in the minors:

Graham has made significant strides since his right shoulder sidelined him for the final 3 1/2 months of this past season. Still, while there is a chance he could end up in Atlanta's bullpen or rotation at some point next year, it seems safer to assume Graham would begin the 2014 season back at the Minor League level.

Obviously, Wood and Beachy will be on the roster to start the season, as should Hale in the bullpen. But what if something goes wrong. Shouldn't the Braves have some insurance?

 

John Lackey

It seems crazy to think this, but David O'Brien of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution believes the Braves should look at Boston starter John Lackey in a potential trade:

Lackey is owed $15.25 million in 2014, while he will be due the league minimum in 2015 because of a weird clause in his contract, according to Dave Cameron of Fan Graphs:

So, they (or maybe his agent) came up with a pretty creative solution, adding a league minimum club option to the end of the deal if Lackey missed significant time due to an elbow issue. Sure enough, Lackey’s elbow became problematic, and after the 2011 season, he underwent Tommy John surgery and spent the entire 2012 season on the DL, triggering the club option for 2015.

As a result, the Red Sox now own the rights to Lackey’s 2015 season at a salary of around $500,000. 

For the Braves, that would be an extremely good deal considering Tim Hudson's $9 million and Brian McCann's $12 million will be off the books. 

The Braves could reasonably pay Lackey the money he is owed this year and then have him for a league-minimum salary next year.

Lackey was 10-13 with a 3.52 ERA and 161 strikeouts this past season. He was a key cog in helping the Red Sox win the World Series.

If he continues to pitch the way he did this past season, two years and $15.75 million is a great deal.

The Red Sox have even gauged other teams' interest in Lackey, according to Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston:

Obviously, the trade chips would be another aspect of a potential deal. While not wanting to give up a lot, the Braves could conceivably give up Cody Martin and Matt Lipka (or Todd Cunningham) in exchange for Lackey and a lower-level prospect.

That would allow the Red Sox to clear out some room in their rotation and also give them pieces for the future.

 

Roy Halladay

Roy Halladay hasn't been the same over the last two years, combining for a 5.15 ERA in 38 starts the last two seasons.

However, now a free agent, what if Halladay could be even a shade of his former self.

If that's the case, O'Brien suggests the Braves should look at signing him:

The Braves would do something like sign Halladay only if they were reasonably certain, after looking at the medical reports, that such a pitcher might be ready to compete at a high level again.

The fact remains, before those past two painful seasons, Halladay was the game’s best starting pitcher, piling up 78 wins and 35 complete games during a remarkable four-year stretch (2008-2011) in which he posted four consecutive sub-2.80 ERAs and had seasons with 20, 17, 21 and 19 wins.

O'Brien makes a good point. Imagine if Halladay can compete at a high level again. How much of a steal would it be for the Braves (or any team) to sign him? Here's how he looked in the previous four seasons before the shoulder issues:

Roy Halladay Before Shoulder Issues
Year Record ERA SO WHIP
2008 20-11 2.78 206 1.053
2009 17-10 2.79 208 1.126
2010 21-10 2.44 219 1.041
2011 19-6 2.35 220 1.040

Baseball-Reference.com

Halladay would also bring a veteran presence in the rotation, something the Braves lost when Tim Hudson left for San Francisco.

Obviously, the Braves would need to get Halladay at a decent rate. Like many players have done in the past, Halladay could sign a one-year deal to rebuild his value for 2015, in which he could seek the final two- or three-year deal of his career.

What should the Braves do this offseason concerning their starting pitching?

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It's a gamble. But it's no more of a gamble than what the Braves are dealing with when it comes to Beachy.

 

What Should the Braves Do?

As we saw late in 2013, having Hudson out of the rotation hurt the Braves. There was no veteran leader to set the tone for the rest of the staff.

Minor, Medlen, Teheran and others are more than capable of doing the job. But the Braves need a leader on the pitching side of things. Bringing in someone like Lackey, Halladay or even another veteran starting pitcher would be beneficial for the Braves.

It would help come September as the team looks to grab the top seed in the playoffs. Imagine if Hudson wasn't injured last year. Would the Braves have lost the No. 1 seed to the Cardinals?

The Braves need veteran leadership with Hudson gone. Lackey or Halladay could provide that leadership. They have the experience and a proven track record. If either can be had for the right price, it's something the Braves need to pull the trigger on.

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