Plenty of options for the 2012 rotation

The Braves have an enormous amount of starting pitching depth. So what happens in 2012?

Tim Hudson - He's under contract for a very respectable $9 million in 2012, and for an ace pitcher that is a bargain. Hudson was 16-10 in 2011 with a 3.22 ERA in 33 starts. The Braves know he is at the top of the rotation, and they have complete confidence he can continue his good work next season. He's now 35-20 since coming back from his elbow surgery, so Hudson has proven he is still an elite starting pitcher. With more young arms in the rotation next season, the Braves will lean on Hudson, who will turn 37 next July, to be the leader.

Derek Lowe - Braves GM Frank Wren has already made it very clear that Lowe will likely not be in the rotation next season. So that means Lowe will either be traded or sent to the bullpen, and with the relievers already on the team it's unlikely the Braves would have a $15 million dollar middle reliever. The Braves will shop Lowe, who was 9-17 with a 5.05 ERA in 2011, and see if a team with the financial ability will want a veteran starting pitcher. The Braves may have to eat at least half of Lowe's salary, but they don't seem reluctant to do that after Wren's comments. So expect Lowe to be elsewhere next season.

Tommy Hanson - This is perhaps the biggest question mark of the rotation. The tests on Hanson's shoulder all came up clean, but he continued to have issues that kept him out most of the last two months. The Braves will monitor his progress over the offseason after Hanson has some rest, but who knows how he will feel in February. He is probably penciled into the rotation, but Hanson is unfortunately a big "if" right now. If he's healthy, Hanson is one of the best pitchers in the game. But if not, the Braves will have to rely on the depth to take his place in the rotation.

Jair Jurrjens - This situation is a bit clearer with Jurrjens performance in the Instructional League the day after the Braves' season ended. His knee held up well, so now the Braves hope rest will heal whatever is ailing Jurrjens. At least it's not an arm issue, and that might allow the Braves to see if Jurrjens could have some value on the trade market. They are not happy that for the second straight stretch drive Jurrjens was on the shelf, and with Jurrjens two years away from free agency the Braves might be tempted to see if teams are interested in the right-hander. The fact Jurrjens was in the Cy Young conversation at the All-Star Break will have some teams intrigued. But it all depends on Jurrjens' health.

Brandon Beachy - There is some concern on Beachy not going deeper in his starts later in the season, but there is no doubt the right-hander shows tremdendous promise for the future. He was a great fifth starter, and with Lowe's issues and the injuries to Jurrjens and Hanson, Beachy became the number two starter later in the season. His strikeouts (169) to innings pitched (141.2) ratio was outstanding. With the depth the Braves have, they might be tempted to see what Beachy could fetch on the trade market. He could possibly have outstanding value right now, and could be the centerpiece for a trade that could net a productive hitter. But the Braves won't be sad if he's still in the rotation next season. His value, and their depth, might make him the one that could be traded.

Mike Minor - The lefty showed he was getting better with each start later in the season, and since he is the only southpaw of the bunch he might have a better shot at sticking around. Minor showed he can be a solid number three or four starting pitcher in a rotation, and his development, particularly after losing the fifth starter's competition to Beachy in spring training, was impressive. Teams might come calling about Minor, but since Frank Wren was stingy with Minor in the Hunter Pence discussions, don't expect him to give up the young lefty easily.

Randall Delgado - The kid made seven starts in Atlanta, and it seemed he got better each time. His start against the Phillies in the last series was impressive, and he did well under the pressure of a stretch drive. Delgado looks ready now, and it's going to be difficult for the Braves to keep him out of the 2012 rotation. Sure, he could go back to AAA and get some more starts there, but was there anything you saw in his starts that made you think he wasn't ready to contribute in a big league rotation? Probably not. The Braves knew he was a great prospect, and his performance in Atlanta only made them feel better about him. Delgado has a bright future, and the Braves would have to be overwhelmed to part with him. Chances are he battles for the last spot in the rotation next March.

Julio Teheran - Behind Tampa Bay's Matt Moore, Teheran is arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball. He was outstanding in Triple-A as a 20-year-old, going 15-3 and posting a 2.55 ERA. How much more does he really need to prove? Some do believe Teheran does need more time to develop, while others are convinced he is ready for the big leagues and sending him back to Gwinnett would be a waste of time. The Braves will really have to evaluate their reports on Teheran to determine this winter if he's ready to compete for a spot in the rotation. The Braves know Teheran is special, but they've just got to determine his timetable.

KRIS MEDLEN - Oh, that Medlen kid is back. It was great to see Medlen pitch twice before the end of the season. It gave the Braves reason to count on him to start the 2012 season, instead of having concerns of whether or not he would come back. But now that Medlen pitched so well, the Braves can consider him in the discussion. Let's say they trade a starter, or even two, and rely on their young arms. They can use Medlen as the insurance policy. If they fail, Medlen could once again be the starter as long as he continues to be healthy. And just having him getting back may be enough to make then feel confident that Medlen will be fine in March. If Medlen does not start, the Braves will have an excellent compliment to the bullpen trio that was so dominant in 2011. So in a way, Medlen could be the key to the offseason plans. Even with the questions surrounding the health of Hanson and Jurrjens, having Medlen around still keeps the depth strong.



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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