The Braves will find out Monday whether Ervin Santana will accept their $15.3 million dollar qualifying offer. Santana is expected to decline the offer so he can test the free agent market and try to get a multi-year contract offer.
There is still a chance Santana could return, but it is doubtful. After another solid season, teams should have Santana high on their list, even with a flooded market of starting pitchers.
If Santana leaves the Braves will obviously have a need for a new starting pitcher. They could bring Aaron Harang back, but they will undoubtedly be careful with an offer for a pitcher that will turn 37 next May.
The Braves are in need of help in the rotation, however. While Julio Teheran has emerged as the ace, there are questions after him. Mike Minor and Alex Wood both ended the season with injuries issues. Both are expected to be fine, but it is a concern when neither could make their last starts of 2014.
So who will the Braves target this offseason? Well, here’s one name to keep in mind: Jon Lester.
Yes, that Jon Lester. The Jon Lester that could be one of the most sought-after free agent pitchers on the market. The Jon Lester that has averaged 207 innings over the last seven seasons. The Jon Lester that happens to live around 37 miles from Turner Field.
Lester lives in Sharpsburg, which is near Newnan and less than 45 minutes from the home of the Braves. Lester has supposedly always wanted to be a Brave. Remember, he was almost traded to Atlanta with Coco Crisp and Craig Hansen for Andruw Jones in 2006. Jones rejected the trade and Lester started his career with the Red Sox instead.
But now he is a free agent, and the circumstances make it right for the Braves to at least have a conversation with the veteran left-hander. Even with Minor and Wood already in the rotation, having a veteran with the experience that Lester has would be tremendously valuable, especially after seeing what losing Tim Hudson meant to the team.
Lester is expected to get some significant offers. He will join Max Scherzer and James Shields as one of the most popular starting pitchers on the market. The Red Sox are expected to make a run to bring Lester back to Boston.
Lester will soon be 31 years old. He is a three-time All-Star and has been one of the steadiest pitchers in the American League since he came up to the big leagues. Lester made $13 million last season, so he’s probably going to get a significant pay increase.
Can the Braves afford Lester? Their payroll does not seem to have much flexibility. But if they trade one of the outfielders this offseason that could open the door for a major addition through free agency. The Braves are expected to gauge the trade interest in B.J. Upton, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward this month before the winter meetings. And if they believe a market is there, that could make the discussions with Lester more realistic.
And why shouldn’t they talk with Lester? He’s what they need (an ace). He lives close by, and he’s always wanted to pitch for the Braves. So that makes it worthwhile for the team to at least gauge his interest.
Plus, remember that the Braves get significant flexibility moving forward. Justin Upton and Heyward are both free agents after the 2015 season, and Dan Uggla’s money comes off the books after next year, as well.
The Braves could possibly give Lester a back-loaded contract that would make it easier to sign him this season, with the annual salary increasing as the team gets into the new stadium in 2017.
So, it may be a longshot, but this is not out of the question. There are things in play here to make Lester wearing a Braves uniform not be such a wild dream. It will be interesting to see exactly what the interest is on both sides, but from the early scuttlebutt, it’s there. That could make the Braves a wild card for Lester this offseason.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at email@example.com.
Could the Braves talk with Jon Lester?
Atlanta Dugout Top Stories
Braves expected to pursue Dickey this winterR.A. Dickey is among the veteran pitchers the Atlanta Braves are looking at heading into the offseason.
Hardball ScoopTuesday at 12:52 PM
Toronto expected to exercise option on GrilliJust as the city had figured, veteran right-hander Jason Grilli is expected to return to Toronto for 2017.
Hardball ScoopSunday at 2:47 PM
Braves sign Sam Freeman to minor-league dealSam Freeman has found a new home for next season, as reports indicate that Freeman has signed with the Atlanta Braves in a minor league deal.
Hardball ScoopFriday at 2:08 PM
MLB Ballpark Experience RankingsThe Stadium Journey staff fanned out to all 30 MLB ballparks to establish this year’s rankings. Each stadium was evaluated based on our FANFARE scale which includes 1) an…
Unbeaten streak ends, Tribe falls 5-1 in ALCSA nine-game winning streak and unbeaten October came to a screeching halt on Tuesday afternoon when the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Cleveland Indians by a score of 5-1 from…
Indians Baseball Insider10/18/2016