Your mother always taught you when you were a child that if you play with fire, you’re gonna get burned. Evidently, the Atlanta Braves didn’t learn that simple childhood lesson.
The Braves have not just been burned by the winter Hot Stove happenings in Major League Baseball; they have been scorched. Coming off a second-straight disappointing season with no playoffs, the Braves had a number of holes that they hoped to fill this winter.
First and foremost, Atlanta needed starting pitching. With Mike Hampton gone to Houston, Chuck James gone to injury and John Smoltz and Tom Glavine possibly gone to retirement or free agency, the Braves had starting pitching at the top of their winter wish list.
The Braves tried hard to pry prized pitcher Jake Peavy away from the San Diego Padres earlier this winter. The Braves were the front-runners for Peavy, but talks fell through and the trade didn’t end up happening.
While the New York Yankees and several other big-market teams were battling it out for CC Sabathia, the Braves set their next pitching sights on free agent A.J. Burnett from Toronto. Although they offered him more money, the Yankees landed Burnett and Sabathia.
The Braves did manage to trade for Javier Vazquez from the Chicago White Sox, but he doesn’t bring the kind of intimidation factor as Burnett or Sabathia. Vazquez was 12-16 last season and had an earned run average of almost 5.00. Vazquez will eat up innings, but he isn’t a No. 1 or even a No. 2 starter.
After losing out on Burnett, the Braves set their sights on free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal. Furcal, who began his career with the Braves before signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers three years ago, received a three-year offer from the Braves and it was rumored that he was definitely headed back to Atlanta.
Unfortunately for the Braves, Furcal received a last-minute offer from the Dodgers and he is staying in Los Angeles. The Braves are upset at Furcal and his agents, but no amount of frustration is going to change the fact that the Braves struck out for the third time this off-season.
Where will the Braves go from here? As it stands now just before 2009 arrives, there are a number of holes in the lineup. Atlanta still needs at least two solid starting pitchers. It is rumored that Smoltz is entertaining playing for another team. Glavine is probably a good bet to return to the Braves or to retire.
One thing is a safe bet: The Braves will not enter Spring Training with the same pitching staff that they have right now. The free agent pool isn’t very conducive to the Braves’ desires or budget, so any improvements will probably come via trade.
Where will the Braves look for pitching help? Here are a few possibilities:
Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals
You may be saying, “Zack who?” Make no mistake about it, though; Greinke is a coveted 25-year-old pitcher who posted a 13-10 record and a 3.47 ERA for a pitiful Kansas City team last season. The right-hander also struck out 183 batters in 202 innings.
Vincente Padilla, Texas Rangers
Padilla was 14-8 last season for a Texas team that struggled overall. He is a 31-year-old right-hander who has remained healthy over his career and he will eat up a bunch of innings, helping a manager keep his bullpen rested as much as possible.
Paul Maholm, Pittsburgh Pirates
Maholm was only 9-9 last season, but that was for a bad Pittsburgh team that didn’t score many runs. He did have a very respectable ERA of 3.71 and is only 26 years old. Two other positives for Maholm are the fact that he is left-handed and is from the South (Mississippi), so a change of scenery to Atlanta would probably be welcome.
Ian Snell, Pittsburgh Pirates
Snell was only 7-12 for the Pirates last season, but he did strike out 135 batters in 164 innings. In 612 career innings, Snell has struck out 524 batters.