Inside Pitch: 12/20

A lot of things can happen between now and the start of spring training. Or between now and Opening Day. Or between now and the end of July. Or the end of August, for that matter.

That's why general manager John Schuerholz is unconcerned about having just traded his left-field platoon -- Charles Thomas and Eli Marrero -- after declining to pursue free agent RF J.D. Drew.

"We are very confident in our flexibility," Schuerholz says, surveying his budget. "We are in no rush" to fill the holes in the outfield.

But while there are minor leaguer players who will be given every opportunity to show what they've got in spring training, Schuerholz is not counting on them to make the roster.

One of them, Andy Marte, is going to get a look in the outfield, but he has never played there. He can hit, though, so he'll get a shot.

Jeff Francoeur is oh so close to the majors. He lost a lot of weight and thus strength, however, when he broke a bone around his eye fouling off a pitch last season.

But Schuerholz made a point of saying, in a conference call about the Braves' recent transactions, that in addition to bolstering the starting rotation they also gave him the cash to pursue outfielders.

As for rumors of the Braves trying to get Sammy Sosa, Schuerholz says, "We had some conversations with the Cubs, as I think every team in baseball did. We would sort have been asleep at the wheel if we didn't at least have conversations about it. They were initially categorized as very preliminary, and that's about all they were."

NOTES, QUOTES

--RHP Tim Hudson has been acquired from the Oakland A's for RHP Juan Cruz, minor league prospect LHP Dan Meyer and OF Charles Thomas. General manager John Schuerholz now believes the Braves have the best starting five they've ever had.

--RHP Jorge Vasquez was acquired from the Royals in exchange for OF Eli Marrero and cash considerations. The Braves are so intent on strengthening their pitching, they are willing to create a hole in the outfield to do it.

--RHP Dan Kolb has been acquired from the Brewers. With him in the closer's role, RHP John Smoltz can return to the starting rotation.

--RHP Jose Capellan, whose 100-plus fastball amazed everyone last spring training, was traded to the Brewers in the trade for RHP Dan Kolb.

BY THE NUMBERS: 101 -- Mph on some the fastballs thrown by RHP Jose Capellan, who was just traded to the Brewers for RHP Dan Kolb.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's kind of like auto racing. You can do your best job of preparing your car and your driver -- which would be the players and the manager -- and bad luck can set in and you don't always win." -- Manager Bobby Cox.

ROSTER REPORT

The Braves acquired RHP Dan Kolb from the Brewers for minor league RHP Jose Capellan and a player to be named later, who turned out to be RHP Alec Zumwalt. RHP Paul Byrd signed a one-year deal with Anaheim. RHP John Smoltz signed a two-year contract with a club option for 2007. RHP Jorge Vasquez was acquired from the Royals in exchange for OF Eli Marrero and cash considerations. RHP Tim Hudson was acquired from the Oakland A's in exchange for RHP Juan Cruz, minor league prospect LHP Dan Meyer and OF Charles Thomas.

ARRIVALS: RHP Tim Hudson (trade with Oakland), RHP Dan Kolb (trade with Milwaukee), RHP Jorge Vasquez (trade with Kansas City).

DEPARTURES: OF Charles Thomas (traded to Oakland), OF Eli Marrero (traded to Kansas City), RHP Juan Cruz (traded with Oakland), RHP Russ Ortiz (free agent, signed with Arizona), RHP Jaret Wright (free agent, signed with Yankees), RHP Antonio Alfonseca (free agent, signed with Florida), RHP Jose Capellan (traded to Milwaukee), OF Dewayne Wise (claimed off waivers by Detroit), RHP Paul Byrd (free agent, signed with Anaheim), LHP Dan Meyer (traded to Oakland).

BIGGEST NEEDS: CF Andruw Jones is the only outfielder left after J.D. Drew became a free agent and Charles Thomas and Eli Marrero both were traded, so the Braves need to figure out who will flank the perennial Gold Glover.

FREE AGENTS: RF J.D. Drew.

Drew is surely gone, given the salary he can command now that he has had a healthy season.

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: SS Rafael Furcal, 2B Marcus Giles, INF Mark DeRosa, RHP Chris Reitsma.

Furcal and Giles can expect raises, given that they are the table-setters. Manager Bobby Cox and their teammates believe the offense starts with them. DeRosa, rehabbing from a torn right ACL, is not so lucky; his errors and lack of offense will keep his value down. Reitsma didn't have enviable numbers, but Cox relied on him a lot last season -- too much, actually.

IN LIMBO: CF Andruw Jones continues to be the subject of trade rumors, but he's not going anywhere now that the Braves have lost all of their corner outfielders from the 2004 club.

MEDICAL WATCH: LHP Mike Hampton will have offseason surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee. INF Mark DeRosa is rehabbing following surgery to repair a torn right ACL.

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