Braves Looking At Pitching Options

For 12 straight seasons dating to 1992, the Braves finished the season with either first or second in the NL ERA standings. However, in 2003 the Braves ended the season with 4.10 cumulative staff ERA (good for 9th in the league). What lies in store for the Braves pitching staff?

If spring training were to start now, here is what the Braves' roster of holdover pitchers would look like:

Rotation: RHP Russ Ortiz, LHP Mike Hampton, LHP Horacio Ramirez.

Bullpen: RHP John Smoltz, LHP Jung Keun Bong, RHP Kevin Gryboski, RHP Trey Hodges, LHP Ray King, RHP Jason Marquis.

And that's even a stretch. King has an option for 2004 that the Braves have yet to exercise, or else he will becomes arbitration eligible. Marquis is also eligible for arbitration, as are Will Cunnane and Jaret Wright, who were both on the postseason roster.

The upshot is this: For all the ink dedicated to the host of position players whose contracts are running out, the Braves' pitching staff needs a lot of upgrading itself. RF Gary Sheffield, C Javy Lopez and 3B Vinny Castilla are all up for free agency, and with the Braves' pledge to hold the line on payroll a chance exists that none of them will be back.

But the pitching staff appears substantially weaker, and this group ended the season ranked ninth in league ERA at 4.10. If management needed any refreshing, the Braves' elimination by Chicago in the League Division Series reminded them how far Atlanta's staff had slipped.

For 12 seasons dating to 1992, Atlanta finished either first or second in the NL ERA standings, with the 3.13 posted two seasons ago the lowest of the bunch. The offensive break-out of the 2002 team reflected a concerted effort by general manager John Schuerholz to push for bigger run production over the top-notch pitching stats that had brought the franchise a host of Cy Young awards but only one World Series title.

But Schuerholz is re-reviewing that choice this month. With Greg Maddux all but certain not to re-sign with the team and Smoltz coming off his fourth elbow surgery, the Braves staff needs help both in the rotation and the bullpen.

The club is hopeful that RHP Paul Byrd, who sat out all of 2003 after Tommy John surgery, may be able to rejoin the rotation next season, though no one knows when. But can Ortiz and Hampton lead the starters the way Maddux and Tom Glavine did in the 1990s?

The club needs another front-line starter. While RHP Kevin Millwood will not come cheap, the Braves have to inquire.

Atlanta Dugout Top Stories