The Atlanta Braves have the potential to be a very good team in 2009, but the potential staff in 2010 is what has the front office personnel salivating. GM Frank Wren had approximately 40 million dollars to spend in the offseason, and he apparently intends to spend a large part of that allotment on AJ Burnett.
Adding Burnett to a staff that could also include Tim Hudson, Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens, and Tommy Hanson would no doubt create one of the best starting groups in the majors in 2010.
The Braves had an incredible and well documented period of excellence, made possible thanks to a starting rotation that included 3 future hall of fame pitchers in their prime. As those pitchers aged and moved on, Atlanta seemingly went away from the philosophy of building a team around pitching(and defense).
While the 2010 staff won't be comparable to Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz, the mindset that good pitching beats good hitting has returned.
The ace of the 2010 staff, assuming he recovers well from Tommy John surgery, would probably be Tim Hudson. The Braves hold a 12 million dollar option in 2010 for Hudson, which would make Hudson a very "cheap" ace if he returns to form after surgery. Hudson has been a workhorse throughout his 10 year career, averaging 201 innings, 30 starts, and a sub-3.50 ERA.
Burnett, assuming the Braves land the huge fish(big assumption), would be the number 2 starter. He possesses an "ace's" assortment of pitches, but consistency has always been his problem.
Burnett has only started 29 games and pitched 200 innings three times in his 10 year career, two of those times coming before he became a free agent. However, with 8.36 K/9 innings, a plus fastball, and a hammer for a curveball, Burnett can be dominant and provides tremendous upside.
Javier Vazquez is the exact opposite of Burnett. Over the past nine years, the fewest starts Vazquez recorded was 32, and the fewest innings was 198. Vazquez is an "innings-eater," with a respectable 4.32 career ERA. He's won at least 10 games every year since 1999, and although not spectacular, he ensures a fresh bullpen.
Jair Jurrjens had an impressive beginning to what looks like a promising career. Even though he wore down towards the end of the season, Jair still managed to post 13 wins and a 3.68 ERA through 188 innings of work.
He'll turn 23 in a couple months, and Jurrjens will only get better between now and 2010. By the way, what a trade by Wren to get Jurrjens AND Gorkys Hernandez for Renteria last off-season, with Yunel Escobar taking over at SS.
Unless you're an avid follower of the Braves organization, you probably haven't heard of Tommy Hanson. You will. Behind Jason Heyward, Hanson is the best prospect in the Braves loaded system, and he just finished dominating the talented Arizona Fall League.
Hanson was 5-0 with 49 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings, with a whopping .105 batting average against. Tommy is younger than Jurrjens by about 7 months, and will surely get a cup of coffee at worst in the big leagues in 2009.
If the stars align, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine are healthy, and the Braves find a right handed, power hitting LF, they could make the playoffs in 2009. Mark it down though, in 2010, Atlanta could be scary good. Good pitching beats good hitting...every time.