The Braves have some decisions to make this week regarding the starting rotation. Here is what I would do with the rotation if they asked me.
1. Send Mike Foltynewicz to AAA Gwinnett – It is tempting to go ahead and leave Folty in the rotation in Atlanta and let him take his lumps at the big league level. And yes, he probably could have some good games right now and get people out. But what if you keep him in Atlanta and then either Eric Stults or Wandy Rodriguez do well and then Mike Minor comes back? You might have to send Foltynewicz down to Triple-A Gwinnett. I don’t want him back and forth between Gwinnett and Atlanta. When he’s ready, I want Folty to stick for good. I’m just worried that might not happen right now. If he got some starts in Triple-A, then he could work more with pitching coach Marty Reed and not feel pressure to get good results. He could instead simply work on his secondary pitches and fastball command and try to simply get more prepared for the Majors. If Foltynewicz came up later in the season, he might not feel the pressure he felt in spring training, especially if the Braves are already showing signs they are not going to be a playoff team. Also, if the Braves did get good work out of Stults or Rodriguez, the value for them on the trade market would be higher later in the year, after they’ve showed they can be productive starting pitchers. So then they could trade one of those two (or both) and get a higher return, which would open the door for Foltynewicz to take over a permanent spot in the rotation. The biggest thing is giving Folty more time to simply prepare to stick and stay as a Big League starting pitcher. Let him have just a bit more time and then give him a full-time chance at being in the rotation.
2. Monitor the trade market for Rodriguez – The Braves would likely be able to get a greater return for Rodriguez if he is in the rotation and can prove he can be a solid starter, even more than now, after he had a solid spring training. Look, if the Braves can get a decent prospect for Rodriguez now, they should pull the trigger on a trade, since there are serious concerns about whether Rodriguez can hold up as a starting pitcher. But if they can’t, the Braves should let Rodriguez start the season in the rotation and simply see how he does. Then if Mike Minor comes back, hopefully Rodriguez has done well enough to get something decent in return for him in a trade. Who knows, maybe Rodriguez does so well he sticks around until July and then they can get even more for him before the July 31 deadline. It’s doubtful Rodriguez would end the season in Atlanta if he starts the season there, but the Braves’ ability to maximize his value could be key to the season, considering the continuing need to add talent to the farm system.
3. Monitor the trade market for Stults – Much of the same can be said for Stults, although the Braves might have a better shot at getting something more significant for him if he pitches well. Stults was so solid late last season for San Diego, and his results have continued this spring, that he could be a valuable trade commodity before July 31. The best case scenario is for Stults to be in the rotation as the fourth starter and to get 15-20 starts and then the Braves trade him for a good prospect or two in July.
4. Hope Mike Minor comes back – We are to the point where Mike Minor is already a serious candidate to be non-tendered after this season considering his injuries the past two seasons. But the Braves do need him to come back and do well. It would not only help the team, but they could also monitor the trade market for Minor, who is unlikely now to get a long-term offer from the Braves like they provided Julio Teheran. Minor is under control for two more years after this season, so he could have value as long as he does well. If he stays on the disabled list, chances are teams will know the Braves will simply non-tender him after the season and not trade for him. So if they are not going to re-sign him for the long-term, they need him to do well to maximize his value. When writing down the 2017 rotation, it’s unlikely Minor will be there, unless he does so well this season it would be just stupid to trade him. But this is a make-or-break season for Minor as far as his future with the Braves.
5. Don’t be afraid to put Cody Martin in the rotation – If the Braves traded Rodriguez this week, and decided Foltynewicz needed to go to Triple-A, they would need another starting pitcher. Cody Martin should be that man. They should not be afraid at all to see what Martin can do. He’s likely won a job already as the new David Hale, the long reliever who can step in and start if needed. But Martin has had a great spring and is coming off solid work for the last year and a half in Triple-A. He’s likely not a permanent starting pitcher, but could he fill in until Minor returns? Certainly he could do that. Martin has talent, and deserves his shot in the big leagues. Many are anxious to see how he will do.
6. Have a goal for the end-of-season rotation – It’s not going to matter as much what the rotation looks like April 6 compared to August 1. That’s when the Braves want Foltynewicz in the rotation for the last two months to give him ample time to show if he’s ready for the job full time. Also, the goal should also be that one of two pitchers join the rotation by then, as well. Either Manny Banuelos or Williams Perez needs to be in the rotation by the last quarter of the season. Banuelos is going to Gwinnett to get innings, and after pitching in only 76 innings last season, the Braves are ready to see how he can do going to 130-150 innings this year. They would love to give Banuelos 10 starts or so in Atlanta at the end of the season. If he struggles or is not ready, then don’t count out Williams Perez, who made a tremendous impression in spring training. There are some who believe Perez can be a solid big league starter. He’ll likely go to Triple-A Gwinnett, and if he does well there’s a good chance he could get a shot late this season in Atlanta. The Braves would be in a great position if they have Foltynewicz, Banuelos and/or Perez do well late in the season to give them multiple options for the 2016 rotation.
7. Hope there are too many 2016 starting pitching options – Obviously, the Braves could have Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Shelby Miller and Mike Minor all back next season. Again, it would be great if Foltynewicz, Banuelos and Perez could also make their case for a starting rotation spot next season. But you have to watch the minor leagues even closer. If they have solid seasons in Double-A, guys like Lucas Sims and Tyrell Jenkins could both get into the conversation about next year. Sims is still just 20 years old, so you have to wonder if he needs two more complete minor league seasons. And Jenkins has never had more than 19 starts in one minor league season, so he needs to stay healthy and show he can be an innings-eater. But both have the talent to have good 2015 seasons and get into the conversation, which would be great for Atlanta heading into the 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 email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What should happen with the rotation
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