Who is the Unlucky 13th Pitcher?

With Mike Hampton returning this weekend from the disabled list, the Braves are faced with one of their first big decisions of this season. Will there be a player sent down, or will there be a trade?

With Mike Hampton slated to return this weekend to the Atlanta roster, Braves officials are faced with their first of many big decisions for the 2003 season. Surely the team will not carry thirteen pitchers. So, with that in mind, which of the current twelve are in jeopardy of leaving?

Hampton will join a rotation of Greg Maddux, Russ Ortiz, Shane Reynolds, and Horacio Ramirez. Don't even think that Horacio, full of minor league options, is going anywhere. Heck, if Paul Byrd miraculously recovered tomorrow, he would not be pushing Mr. Ramirez aside. Instead, it would be "the Byrd man" heading elesewhere.

While some wondered why the Braves signed Shane Reynolds, his performance on Tuesday temporarily quieted critics. Remember, Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone love veteran pitchers, and Reynolds fits their John Burkett/Dennis Martinez model perfectly. Cox was on his radio show Wednesday saying Reynolds' "back and arm are 100 percent." That tells me Bobby's in love.

Kevin Gryboski leads Braves pitchers with eight appearances, putting him in line for the "Kevin McGlinchey Burn Out Award." But Gryboski has an ERA over 6, placing him in serious jeopardy. Cox and Leo seem to like the 6-5 righthander, but one more shaky performance might cement his future (or lack thereof) with Atlanta. Do the Braves trade him? If we got a single A pitcher who won fifteen games in 2002 for Chris Spurling, what can we get for Gryboski? Maybe a catcher?

Jung Bong captivated Braves fans with his awesome pickoff Tuesday night. The Braves seem to like having two lefties in the bullpen, and so far Bong has been extremely productive.

Would the Braves dare drop a veteran like Darren Holmes? That would totally be going against their history. Holmes has not been as effective as he was last season, but expecting that was unrealistic. Roberto Hernandez has established himself as the eighth inning man, and if Holmes improves his ERA, he could quickly become Mr. Seventh Inning.

Trey Hodges is hiding like he's in an Iraqi bunker. Haven't seem him much since his effective start on Thursday night. Maybe if they can't find him, they can't send him to AAA. This kid has no business going back to the minor leagues, and he proved it last week. Hodges is ready to contribute consistently in the big leagues, but will his ownership of options make him expendable?

The leader of the "on-the-bubble" group is Jason Marquis. The biggest enigma since Kent Mercker is in Braves purgatory right now. What is he? A starter or reliever? He wants to start, detests relieving. Yet there is simply no room. Counting the disabled Byrd, Marquis is the seventh starter in a five man rotation. Jason has talent, no doubt. But his public comments questioning how the Braves have treated him are Spooneybarger-ish. We all know what happened to him.

There were rumors a few weeks ago that several teams had inquired about Marquis. But what is his value on the trade market? Again, the talent is there. But his production since mid-2002 has been spotty, and whispers about arm trouble can't help any discussions. Also, if Marquis is traded, what would we get in return for him? Is there any room on the major league roster for another player? Not really. Marquis should command something beyond a fringe player, but it looks like it might wind up being a significant minor league prospect instead of someone who could contribute immediately.

If push came to shove, if there was no trade option available, I would probably release Gryboski or send him down to AAA Richmond. Sending Hodges to AAA would be like forcing Robert DiNiro take a screen test. He has nothing left to prove there. Marquis? Well, if a trade possibility is out there, don't be shocked at all if he's gone. With Reynolds and Ramirez doing well, Jason's time in the rotation could be over. His initial bullpen appearance was more like a repeat of "The Mike Venafro Show" from spring training.

They say you can never have enough pitching. Well, "they" are right. But the pending situation sure does present a dilemma that will only be the precursor for other important roster moves in 2003.

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