Braves Talking To A's?

ESPN's Peter Gammons reports the Braves are talking to the Athletics about one of their "Big 3" starting pitchers. BravesCenter's Bill Shanks takes a look at the possibilities.

The BravesNation was all abuzz Monday with the rumor printed on ESPN.com from Peter Gammons that the Braves had offered second baseman Marcus Giles and left-handed pitching prospect Dan Meyer to the Oakland Athletics for one of their big three starting pitchers, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, or Barry Zito.

There have been rumors for several weeks that Oakland General Manager Billy Beane was looking to trade one of his star pitchers, and with that there should be little surprise that Atlanta General Manager John Schuerholz is at least exploring discussions with Beane.

The shock in the BravesNation was the potential of having Marcus Giles and Dan Meyer in the deal. Giles is arguably one of the most popular players on the Atlanta team, as fans love his hard-nosed playing style, while Meyer is a prospect that many fans are anxious to see in an Atlanta uniform.

Some of the stuff printed by Gammons is nothing more than idle speculation, like the bunk posted last week that the Braves might consider sending Andruw Jones to the Yankees in a deal for Kevin Brown. That was just nonsense. But Gammons, who does have contacts and does get a lot of information right, was a little more direct in his comment that the Braves have made an offer to Oakland. Whether it is true or not, and only John Schuerholz and Billy Beane know for sure, it's fun to speculate the consequences if such a trade is completed.

First let's analyze the "Big 3" from Oakland. Many compare Hudson, Mulder, and Zito to the Braves trio of Smoltz, Avery, and Glavine from the early 90's. Over the last five years the Oakland trio has formed the best rotation in the American League. But now, with their contracts up for renewal in the not-so-distant future, it's not surprising that Beane might be testing the market.

Barry Zito, who will be 26 on Opening Day in 2005, might be the most attractive of the three for Schuerholz. He's the youngest of the three along with the cheapest of the three. Zito will make $4.8 million dollars in 2005 and it could rise all the way up to $5.5 million based on incentives. Then in 2006, the team that has him will have a $7 million option for his services. He had a difficult 2004 season, at least compared to the previous years in his career, but it doesn't diminish his tremendous talent. Zito doesn't throw that hard, usually reaches 90 mph but not much more than that. But his curveball is one of the best in the game. Zito is 72-40 in his career with an ERA of 3.41. He has more strikeouts per 9 innings than the other two with 7.1 per 9 IP in his career. Zito is a surfer-dude, known for playing his guitar in the clubhouse before he starts games. Not sure if that will go over in Atlanta, but for that total Bobby Cox might bare with it.

The other lefty, 6'6" Mark Mulder, has a remarkable career record of 81-42 along with an ERA of 3.92. Mulder struggled late in the 2004 season with his pitching and with his back, so he may be more of an injury risk than Zito. Mulder, 27 on Opening Day in 2005, has the best control of the big three allowing only 2.67 walks per 9 innings. He throws a little harder than Zito, but not as hard as you would think for his height. He mainly mixes his pitches up effectively and has a big looping curve like Zito. Mulder is slated to make $6 million dollars in 2005, with a potential increase to $7 million based on incentives. Then in 2006, his team will hold a $7.25 million option on his contract or a $250,000 buyout.

Tim Hudson has one big negative and one big positive. The negative is that his contract expires at the end of the 2005 season, so any trade for him may be a gamble unless he can be re-signed to an extension. The positive is that Hudson was born in Columbus, Georgia, 100 miles southwest of Atlanta, and went to Auburn in Alabama. The Braves may feel they would have a solid chance of re-signing Hudson, but it would be a huge gamble if the price to acquire him now is as expensive as reported. However, the right-hander, who will be 29 on Opening Day next season, is a fantastic pitcher. He has a decent fastball in the low-mid 90's, a slider, changeup, and an occasional split. Hudson did have some trouble with an oblique muscle in 2004, but he still was able to win 12 games. Overall in his big league career, Hudson is 53 games over .500 at 92-39 along with an ERA of 3.30, best of the Big 3.

If you got 100 people in a room, 33 would probably vote for one of the pitchers as the best one, 33 would probably vote for another one as the best one, and then the remaining 34 would vote for the last pitcher. Their talent is that close, and everyone seems to have their favorite based on their favorite style of pitching. But Zito might be the most logical choice for the Braves. He's younger and cheaper, and he seems to fit Leo Mazzone's style of pitching. But don't be surprised if any of these three are the Braves favorite.

A deal for one of the Big 3 would probably kill Jaret Wright's chances of re-signing with the Braves. He might command upwards of $6 million bucks himself, so it's fair to ask, ‘who would you rather have - Wright or one of the Big 3? I'll take one of the Big 3.

As for the price, Marcus Giles and Dan Meyer would be expensive. Many believe Giles is the heart and soul of the team. He was sorely missed after injuring his collarbone last May in Milwaukee, even though Nick Green filled in admirably. Giles has become a very solid #2 hitter, with the potential to consistently hit 20 home runs. However, his injury last summer affected his offense, limiting him to only 8 homers in 379 at bats. Giles's biggest attribute is his fire, along with his youthful exuberance

The biggest question is who would replace Giles. Nick Green did well last summer, but the Braves certainly don't feel he's good enough to step in and take over as the starter. Wilson Betemit played a little second base last spring, but his natural position is shortstop and his best position is third base. Second base prospects Aaron Herr, Martin Prado, and J.C. Holt are simply not ready yet. The Braves may have to go out and acquire a starting second baseman to replace Giles if he is dealt.

As for free agents at second base, Jeff Kent is the biggest name, but he will probably cost more than what the Braves will be willing to pay. Todd Walker and Mark Grudzielanek are two former Cubs second basemen who would be decent short-term options until one of the kids (Prado) may be ready. Also figure Ron Belliard, an All-Star now with the Indians, as a possibility if Cleveland non-tenders him next month. Adam Kennedy also may be on the market if the Angels non-tender him.

The Braves could decide to move Rafael Furcal back to his natural position of second base and then go after a shortstop or even hand Wilson Betemit the job at short. Furcal could probably do very well at second base, but the question would then lead to short. Do the Braves believe Betemit can play everyday? This would be a good way to answer that question. But they also have more shortstops closer to being ready to contribute from their minor league system than second baseman. Tony Pena, Jr. and Luis Hernandez could both be ready in the next season and a half to two years. If Betemit didn't make it, they could then see how far away those other two kids are from being ready.

Top prospect Andy Marte started his career as a shortstop, but it's almost guaranteed that the only position he might ever move to is the outfield. Marte will not play short and will not play second base.

Dan Meyer is a tremendous pitching prospect. He's been compared to a young Eric Milton-type pitcher. The Braves would hate to lose Meyer, but especially if they acquire either Zito or Mulder, another left-hander, it might be easier to give up Meyer in a deal with the A's. There is a falloff in talent and readiness from Meyer to the next best left-handed prospect, so the Braves would have to have faith in guys like Macay McBride (still in the bullpen), Jake Stevens, and Chuck James as possible replacements for Meyer as a lefty prospect.

It would be tough to lose Meyer, simply because of his awesome potential. However, from a numbers perspective, it would not harm the organization greatly. The Braves have set up the organization to continue to churn out pitchers to be used in deals and still not have a depth problem with young arms.

So what will happen? Well, I believe the two teams are talking. I'd almost be shocked if Schuerholz wasn't investigating the situation in Oakland. These are top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers, and the Braves are looking for one to help get them another World Series ring. It's just a guess, but I think Zito is the best possibility. He's the youngest, the cheapest, and the healthiest. Plus, Leo Mazzone would probably love to get a hold of that breaking stuff to refine it even more.

The cost, if it were in fact Giles and Meyer, would be extremely high. If that's it, the Braves will have a plan in place to replace Giles at second base. Whether it's with a free agent, another trade, or a move of Furcal to second, they'll have to know they've got some contingency in the event Giles is dealt.

I'd love to see Meyer in our rotation one day, but if we can get Zito or Mulder, we shouldn't cry too long. These guys are proven, established winners – not just pitchers, but winners, while Dan is still unproven. There's a difference.

If these two teams are, in fact, talking, I can't imagine Oakland getting a better deal on the table than Giles and Meyer. They need a second baseman, and Meyer would probably step in as the 5th starter behind the two who aren't traded, Rich Harden, and either Mark Redmond or Joe Blanton. If the best offer Oakland got for Hudson was from Boston, Keith Youkalis and Byung-Hyun Kim, which was turned down, then you know they've got to love the package on the table from the Braves – if it is true.

If you were the A's, wouldn't you want Giles and Meyer? Certainly. The question is whether the Braves can live without Giles, even if they acquire one of the best pitchers in the American League.

And we thought this was going to be a quiet offseason. If a trade with Oakland goes through, it would be one of the biggest in team history. These three pitchers are the real deal. Just like it was always thought the Braves had three aces in Glavine, Smoltz, and Maddux, these three in Oakland also fit that bill. They're very good, and the price, whether it is Giles and Meyer or some other package, is certain to be high.

As for me, I'd do it. Yea, I'd hate to lose Giles. He's a tremendous talent. And losing Dan Meyer would be tough to handle, since I believe he's got a chance to be a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. But to acquire a pitcher like Barry Zito to lead our rotation would be too good to pass up. I often read many people complain that since Maddux and Glavine left the Braves, we haven't had an "ace." While I detest the term, there would be little doubt that Zito, Mulder, or Hudson would step right in and be our ace. We would expect them to lead our pitching staff.

Remember, this is all about putting together a team that can compete for a World Series title. If the Braves do this, they must feel that they have to have this type of pitcher to get back to that level, which by the way they haven't been in (a World Series) in half a decade. That's quite a drought considering we appeared in five Fall Classics in nine years. Schuerholz might think we need a stud to get us back there, and what better staff to pick from than the Oakland A's.

We'll see.

Bill Shanks can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com

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