With Jorge Sosa back from the WBC, the Braves' starting rotation has grown by one. John Smoltz and Tim Hudson are having good springs, while Horacio Ramirez has looked terrific in his last two outings. John Thomson has struggled, and the kid that had to make an impact this month for a chance at a job, Kyle Davies, has done just that.
So with the Braves claiming that Sosa will remain in the rotation, a trade seems very possible. Smoltz and Hudson are safe, and since Ramirez is the only lefty in the group, he's probably off limits as well. The Braves believe Davies is a long-term candidate for the rotation, and despite the fact that most teams are calling about him, the 22-year-old is probably not going anywhere. So that leaves Thomson and Sosa as the most likely candidates to be dealt.
Thomson is an attractive trade piece for one major reason: he's affordable. He's owed only $4.75 million this season, which is not a bad salary for even the cheapest of teams. Plus, he's in the last year of his contract. But Sosa is younger and under control through 2008, so he might command more attention.
With questions still lingering in the bullpen, the Braves could spin one of these starters for a reliever. The team already knows John Foster will not be ready for Opening Day, and Blaine Boyer is a huge question mark. It seems that five pitchers are set in the bullpen: Chris Reitsma, Joey Devine, Macay McBride, Oscar Villarreal, and Lance Cormier. That leaves two spots open.
The internal candidates are still viable options. Mike Remlinger or Chuck James could take one of those spots as the second lefty reliever behind McBride. And Anthony Lerew, Sean White, and Chad Paronto could temporarily replace Boyer until he's healthy. Plus, there's still a chance Boyer might be ready for Opening Day.
But with the excess in the starting rotation, and with the Braves' history of making deals late in March, a trade is very possible.
We know that to predict an Atlanta Braves' trade is almost foolish. We could sit here all day and not come up with the player that John Schuerholz might be targeting, or the team he might be talking with. He's very, very difficult to predict. But, what the heck, let's give it a try anyway.
The Chicago Cubs could be in the market for a starter. Kerry Wood is out, and it looks like Mark Prior will not be ready to go for Opening Day either. They have Greg Maddux, Carlos Zambrano, Glendon Rusch, and Jerome Williams in their rotation, with Angel Guzman the favorite for the fifth starter's job. They could possibly have several relievers available: Michael Wuertz, Will Ohman, Scott Williamson, and Todd Wellemeyer. But wouldn't the Cubs have to give the Braves two of those three in a deal for Thomson or Sosa?
The Cincinnati Reds have been in the market for a starter since the turn of the century. They have extra outfielders available, so the long-standing rumor of a Braves' pitcher for a Reds' outfielder make take off again. Wily Mo Pena, a batting practice king, is the latest to be on the block, while the Braves have had interest in Austin Kearns in the past. The Reds could definitely afford Thomson, and even though the Reds might not be able to help Atlanta's bullpen (unless you're interested in David Weathers or Ryan Wagner), the chance to help the offense could be tempting.
The Houston Astros are without Roger Clemens, and there's a good chance he might never come back. They have Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt, Brandon Backe, and Wandy Rodriguez. A scout told me last week they plan to go with one of their kids, either Ezequiel Astacio, Fernando Nieve, or Taylor Buchholz, for their fifth's starter's job. Forget about Houston trading Brad Lidge, at least right now, and focus more on a Dan Wheeler, Chad Qualls, or Mike Gallo.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have a young starting staff, but the inclusion of a veteran like Thomson might be needed. With the Bucs shopping Craig Wilson, an outfielder the Braves expressed interest in over the winter, a match could be possible. The Braves' bullpen could use some help, but again, the ability to acquire another bat would not hurt this Atlanta roster. Wilson is a good right-handed bat that could do well in a platoon with Ryan Langerhans.
The San Diego Padres could use a starter, but their bullpen is in dire straits with the loss of Doug Brocail to heart surgery and the offseason trade of Akinori Otsuka and free agent loss of Chris Hammond.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are auditioning for their fifth starter's spot, and they have an excess of relievers. A better match might be with the San Francisco Giants, who have a young bottom half of their rotation with Brad Hennessey, Matt Cain, and Noah Lowry. With Armando Benitez back after missing most of last season with a hamstring injury, might the Giants be interested in trading Tyler Walker, who saved 23 games last year?
In the American League, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays remain in the hunt for pitching. They are trying to trade former Braves' outfielder Damon Hollins, who probably wouldn't interest his former team. But for Thomson, the Braves might be interested in Joey Gathright, a speedster who is reportedly on the market.
The Detroit Tigers could use a starter, and they were interested in Thomson a few years ago. The Tigers are also in need of bullpen help, but they do have right-handed hitting outfielder Craig Monroe as possible trade bait. The Braves inquired about Monroe last winter.
Questions remain in Fort Myers, where the Minnesota Twins are not sure about the health of Brad Radke. But they also have bullpen questions, with Juan Rincon possible out for a while. A Jorge Sosa for Jesse Crain trade would seem fair. Crain is a young reliever who was very successful last year.
The Kansas City Royals need pitching help, with their top starter, Zach Greinke still AWOL. But reliever Mike MacDougal, whom the Braves had interest in last winter, is out for six weeks with a strained muscle in his right shoulder. The Braves could possibly make a smaller trade for an Andrew Sisco, but don't count on it.
And the Texas Rangers remain interested in bringing Thomson back. He left them for the Braves after the 2003 season. Outfielder Kevin Mench is reportedly not one of Buck Showalter's favorite players, and he might be a right-handed platoon option with Ryan Langerhans.
Okay, so we've just mentioned twelve teams and oodles of players, and there's a good chance we haven't even scratched the surface at the trade options the Braves might have. There could be some lesser known reliever that we haven't thought about, or an outfielder that hits lefties hard that we've passed over. And we have to remember that it's very possible a trade will not happen. But that's why we love the spring and love trade rumors. Just waiting for a trade is half the fun.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional front office philosophies. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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