Cliff Lee Signs With Phillies: How Will The Atlanta Braves Counter The Move?

Evan WalkerCorrespondent IDecember 14, 2010

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 27:  Cliff Lee #34 of the Philadelphia Phillies speaks to the media after World Series workouts on October 27, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

While we were all waiting to see if Cliff Lee would choose to be in Texas or the Bronx in 2011, he went out and LeBron-d us.

Lee will be taking his talents to the city of brotherly love and join Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt to create one of the, if not the, greatest starting rotations that the world has ever seen.

Lee's decision hurts three teams in the MLB the most: The New York Yankees, the Texas Rangers, and the Atlanta Braves.

The Yankees should be just fine. All though Lee's decision may cause them to lose the division to the Red Sox, they have just enough money and prospects to go out and get the next best option and make the postseason.

The Rangers are cooked. Even if they do make it into the playoffs, which they most likely will due to the horrible division that they reside in, they will not make it very far without their former ace. Without Lee, their rotation is just mediocre.

The Braves, however, went from being the favorites to win the National League East to just one of the front runners to win the National League Wild card overnight.

Now how does Atlanta counter Philadelphia's move? Sure, Dan Uggla was a step in the right direction for the Braves, but their starting rotation is just average compared to the Phillies' big four. Atlanta only has about $1 million left to spend, meaning they need to make a couple of trades if they want to contend for the NL East title in 2011.

For financial purposes, trading away veteran starter Derek Lowe would make the most sense, but since Lowe performed so well down the stretch in 2010, that likely won't happen. 

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been very interested in starter-turned-disappointment Kenshin Kawakami and have stated that a deal involving Paul Maholm is a possibility. Sure, Maholm is not Cliff Lee, but he then gives Atlanta one extra starting pitcher to trade in exchange for the centerfielder that they have been missing since the departure of Andruw Jones.

I wonder....Who is desperate for starting pitching after the Cliff Lee deal and has an expendable centerfielder with the great speed and defense that the Atlanta Braves lack...? 

The New York Yankees.

Brett Gardner, the fastest man in baseball, will likely take a back seat to the rejuvenated Curtis Granderson in 2011 and the fact that the Braves and Yankees both fit each other's needs makes them a trading match made in heaven.

If Atlanta were to trade one of their starting pitchers, it would be young Jair Jurjens.

Jurjens had somewhat of an off year last year due to injury, but he got it together at the end of the year and in his three previous seasons with the Braves, JJ has shown flashes of brilliance.

Say the Braves trade Jurjens to the Yankees, Kawakami to the Bucs, and acquire Gardner and Maholm. Even though Maholm had an off-year in 2010, his ERA was not much higher than Jurjens and he started twelve more games than JJ. Mahlom has had a couple of good seasons and who knows how good he could be for a team actually in contention. It is obviously still a downgrade from Jurjens, but the acquisition of Gardner and the incredible pitching depth in Atlanta's farm system would far outweigh that.

With a good hitting coach and more game experience, Gardner has the potential to bat .300 and become the Braves' true leadoff man that they have lacked for so many years. When the College of Charleston graduate gets on base, he is the biggest distraction in baseball for pitchers and almost a guarantee to steal.

Do not expect the Braves to go out and sign Zack Greinke or Adrian Beltre. They do not have the finances or the trading chips to acquire a superstar-type player like Uggla again and there is no way that Frank Wren can match what the Phillies did.

However, if the GM can give the Braves their key missing components on offense, most importantly center field, they should be in the NL East race the entire year. Philadelphia obviously has the advantage in pitching, but with their loss of star outfielder Jayson Werth and the Braves' acquisition of slugger Dan Uggla, the Braves should be the better offensive team.

Remember, Atlanta still has one of the best rotations in baseball and all of the Philadelphia starters are human....except this is certainly not the end of the world for the Atlanta Braves.

Don't stop choppin', Braves fans and don't stop dealin', Frank Wren.