Hudson's surgery complicates matters

Bill Shanks talks about how Tim Hudson's surgery might make the Braves hesitate on trading a starting pitcher.

Atlanta right-hander Tim Hudson had back surgery on Monday. It may have come as a surprise to some, but Hudson's back was an issue at times last season to where many wondered if surgery would be inevitable.

The Braves say Hudson will be back in time for spring training. But it is a back operation, so there will be some curiosity as to how well Hudson comes back.

It also means that Atlanta's top three starters from the 2011 season will all face questions about their health. Both Tommy Hanson (shoulder) and Jair Jurrjens (knee) missed most of the second half of last season with injuries.

Atlanta still has unparalleled depth in the rotation, but having questions about the ‘top 3' is concerning. Might it make the Braves hold on to Jurrjens, who has been mentioned in trade rumors this offseason?

Rumors already had the Braves wanting a pretty good return for Jurrjens, who is two years away from free agency. So if Atlanta is overwhelmed with an offer, they may not have a choice to improve the team with a Jurrjens trade.

This team does need to get better if they are going to improve an offense that struggled mightily in the last month of the season. The lineup just needs more power, along with another player that can get on base more regularly.

Atlanta general manager Frank Wren has made it clear that his young and affordable pitchers are off-limits. He refused to include Mike Minor or Randall Delgado in a deal for Hunter Pence before the trade deadline. And it doesn't look like there's a player near Pence's caliber who is available right now.

So if Wren is going to use a pitcher in a deal to improve the offense, Jurrjens remains his best candidate. It's unlikely the Braves are going to commit long-term to Jurrjens, who is represented by super agent Scott Boras and will undoubtedly command huge dollars in a new contract.

But if Wren trades Jurrjens, and then if Hanson has additional shoulder issues, and then there are more concerns about Hudson's back, Brandon Beachy would be the number one (and most experienced) starting pitcher in the Atlanta rotation.

That's why Hudson's surgery may make Wren think hard about making a deal. Of course, that's a worst-case scenario, which is something you have to think about when discussing the next season.

Along with Beachy, the Braves will still have Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran and Kris Medlen as candidates for the rotation. You could also see Arodys Vizcaino in the mix if he were needed. That's six pitchers after the big three, so there is great depth to work with.

Of course, the Braves could also do what they did last year when they signed Rodrigo Lopez, a veteran pitcher who was not in much demand that went to Triple-A Gwinnett. He was simply an insurance policy if the Braves needed an additional pitcher. They didn't early in the year, and Lopez was eventually traded to the Cubs.

Wren probably has an idea of which teams, and even how many teams may be interested in Jurrjens. It might be after the top free agents are signed before teams turn to the trade market for help, so it might not be next week at the winter meetings. Wren will, however, be able to further gauge how much interest there is in Jurrjens in Dallas.

If Wren is really concerned about Hudson's situation, he might command a higher price for Jurrjens, just to make sure it makes complete sense to trade him with the questions that surround the rotation. But he'll also have to ask himself if there will be a better time to trade Jurrjens.

The Braves have to have their own questions about Jurrjens, who has disappeared with injuries the last two years down the stretch. If they are worried about his dependability, they will probably prefer to trade him if there is significant interest.

Atlanta needs offense. They need a left fielder with power, and possibly a young hitting prospect that can be another option for third base after Chipper Jones retires. So all of these issues are probably being discussed as they make their plans for the winter meetings in Dallas.



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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