3. Should Atlanta pick up Thomson's option?

BravesCenter's Bill Shanks continues to look at the top 35 questions facing the Braves' front office this winter. Today we examine whether the Braves should pick up the 2006 option of right-hander John Thomson.

This might be one of the easiest questions of the thirty-five to answer. The Braves have a $4.75 million dollar option on right-hander John Thomson for the 2006 season. Even with his injury-plagued 2005 campaign, there is no doubt the team should pick up that option.

Thomson continued the roll he started on in the middle of 2004 with a strong beginning to his 2005 season. From August 1, 2004 until he was injured in San Diego in mid-May, Thomson was 9-3 with a 2.75 ERA in 20 starts. The injury to his finger was serious, and the Braves were lucky he was able to avoid surgery and return at all late in the season.

He did struggle a bit when he returned, but that was almost expected. Thomson did finish with a better September, posting a 3.68 ERA in his five September starts. And then, in his only playoff performance, he shined out of the bullpen in the marathon last Sunday.

Thomson is what he is: a solid middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. The Braves' scouts knew he could fill this role, and that's why they recommended him to John Schuerholz two winters ago. There is no reason to believe he cannot continue that very important role if he returns next season.

Particularly with the pending absence of Mike Hampton in 2006, the Braves are going to need a dependable third starter. A $4.75 million dollar salary is pretty reasonable for a pitcher you are going to depend on for 12-17 wins. It's always easier to go with what you know, and the Braves, especially Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone, really like Thomson. If they had to choose between Thomson and a new pitcher they'd have to bring in for the same amount of money, they'd probably pick Thomson.

Thomson could easily fit in right behind John Smoltz and Tim Hudson to give the Braves a very dangerous trio at the top of the order. No, I'm not forgetting about Jorge Sosa. But Sosa's ability to repeat his 13-3 season next year might be a bigger issue than whether or not Thomson can fit in as the number three starter.

Of course, with all the depth in the rotation, including Sosa, Horacio Ramirez, and even Kyle Davies, Anthony Lerew, and Chuck James, there is the possibility that the Braves will prefer to pick up Thomson's option and trade him to another team. If they would like to use that $4.75 million dollars to use on Rafael Furcal's salary or maybe a closer's salary, then they'd just have to find a taker for Thomson.

And even though he did miss most of last season, I would think there would be some interest in Thomson. Again, $4.75 million is pretty reasonable, and there are many teams that can't afford to acquire a pitcher making more than that. For some teams, Thomson could be a number two starter.

The Braves could also use Thomson in a trade for a reliever. Perhaps there's a reliever out there that makes close to $4.75 million dollars, where it could produce a straight swap. The Braves might also use Thomson in a bigger trade, if they decided to acquire a top-notch starting pitcher that might cost a little money. Let's say they wanted Barry Zito, who is scheduled to make $8.5 million next season. If the A's wanted to save a little money and trade Zito, perhaps they would take back Thomson's $4.75 million salary. That would mean the Braves could get Zito, arguably a better pitcher, for a net gain of only $3.75 million. If Furcal were to leave, freeing up some more money, that kind of trade would be possible, as long as Thomson's salary was included in the deal.

This proves that it's very logical to pick up Thomson's option for 2006. It simply gives the Braves more options, whether they wanted him to return to his role as a middle-of-the-rotation starter, or simply in order to deal him away. Yeah, there may be a few people that would prefer to just pay him his $500,000 buyout and spend the extra $4.25 million somewhere else. But Thomson has too much value to just let him go, even coming off the injury. He's a good pitcher, and the Braves will only increase their flexibility for the offseason if his option is picked up.

Tomorrow we will talk about whether or not Horacio Ramirez can take his game to the next level and be a consistent middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.


Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. Bill can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com.


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