Braves may have competition for a hitter

How easy might it be for the Braves to find a hitter this summer? Not very easy if the Phillies and Giants are also looking around too.

The Braves will have a few more weeks to see how their team looks once everyone gets healthy. They hope Martin Prado will be back before the All-Star Break, which starts two weeks from Monday.

It would be good to see Prado hit behind Jordan Schafer, and then have a somewhat healthy Chipper Jones behind those two. And with Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward starting to show positive signs, it would just be good to see the complete lineup for a while.

Either way, the Braves are going to look around to see what may be available before the July 31 trade deadline. We've talked about an interest in Hunter Pence, but his back issues and the price tag may be problems. But the market will be clearer around the second week of July.

One issue that may be interesting to watch is Philadelphia's need for offense. The Philles and Braves have the two best pitching staffs in the game. Entering Sunday's play both clubs had a 3.07 team ERA to lead baseball.

But both teams have struggled at the plate. Philadelphia is 20th in the majors with a .245 team batting average, while the Braves are 25th with a .239 mark.

Rumors have started that the Phillies, like Atlanta, might be looking for a hitter.

"We could use a hitter in our lineup, at least one,'' Phillies manager Charlie Manuel told reporters this week. "We could definitely use a solid right-handed hitter. I don't want something like we got. I want something better.''

Both teams have predominantly left-handed hitters. Philadelphia has Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez and Domonic Brown. Atlanta has Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Nate McLouth and Jordan Schafer.

Another team that could be on the lookout for a hitter is San Francisco, who is right behind Atlanta with a .238 team batting average. They will be without second baseman Freddy Sanchez for the rest of the season.

The Giants are important because they could be in the wildcard race, and the Braves are going to have to keep an eye on that knowing how strong the Phillies are in the National League East. And all three teams looking for a hitter at the same time could make the market more interesting.

Of course, with Atlanta's pitching depth, they will have an advantage if they get into a bidding war with another team over a hitter. If the Braves want to overpay, they can with outstanding young arms to dangle.

However, if everything were to fall into place, with the injured players getting healthy and the unproductive players getting on track, Atlanta might not need anything more than one or two solid players for the bench.

That would be a tremendous asset for general manager Frank Wren to hold on to his core assets with pitchers until the offseason. Then he could make an even bigger splash to create the 2012 roster.

Atlanta will have almost $20 million coming off the books this winter (McLouth, Alex Gonzalez, Kenshin Kawakami, Scott Linebrink, George Sherill and Scott Proctor). While maybe half of that will go toward raises for the other current players (Uggla and McCann will make a combined $6 million more next season, for example), there will still be significant financial flexibility.

So the next few weeks will be interesting. Three teams will be on the lookout for hitters. Which team will get the one that might put them over the hump in the National League?



Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, GA and WCOH Fox Sports 1400 in Newnan, GA. Shanks is a columnist for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.


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