Here are the top questions facing the Braves as they enter the winter meetings:
1. Will a trade for Marcus Giles materialize?
The talks with the Padres will probably be revisited, since they have still not fill the void left with the trade of Josh Barfield to Cleveland last month. There is no reason to think they do not still have an interest in Giles, which would allow them to pair him with his brother in their hometown.
The Braves are going to want Scott Linebrink and possibly another prospect. The Padres are posturing so far, and they may have to wait to see if they have to include Linebrink in a potential deal for Manny Ramirez before they can pull the trigger on a trade for Giles. But the Braves simply feel the Padres are trying to get Giles without having to give up Linebrink, and don't expect that to happen.
Several of the other teams that may have had interest in Giles have already filled their void. Cleveland got Barfield, the Cardinals signed Adam Kennedy, the Cubs signed Mark DeRosa, and Cincinnati signed Alex Gonzalez for shortstop, which allows Brandon Phillips to stay at second base.
Two teams to keep in mind are Boston and Oakland. The Red Sox have to replace Mark Loretta, and the Sox are not often a team that will go with a rookie. They have Dustin Pedroia, but they could have some interest in Giles. Could Giles be apart of a larger deal that might include Tim Hudson, or even maybe Andruw Jones?
The Athletics showed interest in Giles two years ago when Hudson was traded to Atlanta. Oakland still has Mark Ellis and Marco Scutaro, but Giles would be an upgrade. The A's have a number of relievers (Justin Duchscherer, Kiko Calero, Brad Halsey, and Joe Kennedy) that could interest the Braves.
So where will Giles end up? The odds still have to be on San Diego, but don't rule out an American League team getting involved.
2. Will the Braves field offers for Tim Hudson?
Before Glavine re-signed with the Mets on Friday, it looked like Hudson was definitely gone. So it will now be interesting to see if the Braves still shop him around this week. His contract, which balloons to $15.5 million in both 2008 and 2009, is the concern.
In past weeks there have been rumors that both Texas and Baltimore talked with the Braves about Hudson. The Rangers might first have to wait on Barry Zito, whom they have expressed interest in. The Braves would probably ask for one of the Rangers young pitching prospects (John Danks or Thomas Diamond?) and maybe a reliever (Akinori Otsuka?) in a deal for Hudson.
Baltimore is an interesting situation. The Orioles have signed four free agent relievers (Jamie Walker, Danys Baez, Chad Bradford, and Scott Williamson) in the last few weeks, so you have to wonder if they would dangle Chris Ray to the Braves in a deal for Hudson. Atlanta would probably prefer Adam Loewen, who is eight years younger than Hudson and could be a cornerstone for the future Atlanta rotation. But a deal for Ray and pitching prospect Hayden Penn might be more realistic.
The Red Sox are also a team that could be interested in Hudson. They have Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, and Tim Wakefield. Plus, they are waiting to get a deal done with Daisuke Matsuzaka, the star Japanese pitcher. But with Matt Clement and Jon Lester both question marks for next season, adding Hudson would not hurt. Perhaps the Red Sox would be interested in Hudson and Giles, especially if they got young talent back from the Dodgers or Padres in a deal for Manny Ramirez.
J.P. Riccardi was an Assistant GM in Oakland when Hudson was having those successful seasons, so you wonder if he might have an interest in the right-hander. The Blue Jays might like to add another veteran to Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett, and they do have some young pitching (Shawn Marcum, Casey Janssen, Dustin McGowan) that might be available.
And would the Devil Rays be tempted to add Hudson to Scott Kazmir? Yes, it's a long shot, but how else are the Devil Rays going to add a veteran starter like a Hudson? They're not going to convince a free agent to go there, and more veterans who could be traded would have no-trade contracts that would veto a deal there. Again, it's a long shot, but you wonder if the Braves would at least ask Tampa Bay about Hudson in an attempt to get either Rocco Baldelli or Carl Crawford.
So will Hudson be traded? Well, the Braves are going to have to get a starting pitcher back in return now since Glavine did not come back. So that might make it more difficult. The Braves are not going to give Tim Hudson away, and with his contract many teams might try to get the Braves to do just that. So it will be interesting to watch this week.
3. Will any team ask about Andruw Jones?
We all know the circumstances here. Jones is a year away from free agency. He's got the ability to veto any trade with his 10/5 rights. So it seems a trade will be unlikely.
However, it will still be interesting to see if we at least hear some rumors this week. There have already been rumors about the Red Sox, White Sox, Angels, and maybe even the Dodgers could ask the Braves about Jones. It might be more interesting to see what the Braves could get back if they were able to trade Jones.
But a trade is just unlikely. It seems that too much would have to happen for a deal to go down. The Braves would have to get a good package in return, and Jones would have to okay the deal. Plus, you wonder if a team that acquired Jones would first want to try to extend his contract past 2007. So while we may hear rumors, it might be a surprise if Jones is dealt away.
4. Will the Braves trade Horacio Ramirez?
If Glavine had returned, Ramirez would have been a definite goner. But now it's a little more questionable. The Braves still have six starters for next year (John Smoltz, Hudson, Ramirez, Chuck James, Kyle Davies, and the returning Mike Hampton), but Ramirez's future might be tied to whether the Braves trade Hudson.
Ramirez is still rather affordable for a left-handed starter, but of course he needs to stay healthy next season. The Braves are not going to give Ramirez away, and feel that in today's market for starting pitchers there will be an interest in him.
The Cardinals are one team that have been rumored to have some interest in Ramirez. Would the Cards give up one of their relievers (no not Adam Wainwright, but maybe Brad Thompson or Tyler Johnson?) in a package for Ramirez? The Padres and Astros could also have some interest.
The Braves' main priority this winter, according to GM John Schuerholz, was to upgrade the starting rotation. So they must make important decisions about both Hudson and Ramirez. Don't be surprised if Ramirez is involved in a deal this week.
5. Will the Braves find a leadoff man?
If Giles is traded, the Braves are going to have to find a new leadoff man. Martin Prado and Yunel Escobar, Giles' possible replacements, are not likely to assume that role. So the Braves will look to see if there are any left-fielders that could also hit lead off.
The main candidate everyone would love to acquire is Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford. Rumor has it that the Devil Rays want two positional starters and a starting pitcher for the outfielder, which is ridiculous. But it does show that the price will be very high. The Devil Rays are certain to ask for Chuck James, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and another top player. That's a high price, and the Braves are going to be reluctant to give up James and Saltalamacchia.
Rocco Baldelli might be a bit cheaper, but since he too is relatively inexpensive with his contract for the next several years his price will still be expensive. Tampa Bay needs pitching, and the Braves have some pitching depth to dangle in their direction.
The White Sox re-signed Scott Podsednik Friday, so he's no longer an option. There has been some talk that the Astros might place Wily Taveras on the block, and Eric Byrnes is reportedly unhappy in Arizona.
Boston's CoCo Crisp is a player the Braves asked about when the Red Sox inquired about Andruw Jones. He did not have a good season last year in Fenway, and if the Sox and Braves talk about either Tim Hudson or Marcus Giles that might be a target.
It will be very difficult to acquire a leadoff man, but the Braves have some pieces to dangle in a trade that might make it possible this week in Orlando.
6. Are there any free agent relievers out there that could interest the Braves?
The Braves would like to get a veteran reliever to set up Bob Wickman. That could come in a deal for Marcus Giles or Horacio Ramirez, but there are a few relievers out there on the free agent market to keep in mind.
Russ Springer, a former Brave, is a free agent who pitched in 72 games for the Astros last season. He's a one-inning pitcher, which might be perfect for an eighth inning situational pitcher. He's 38, so Springer is a bit older. But he might be willing to only double his $750,000 salary from 2006, which could fit the Braves budget.
David Riske, whom the Braves reportedly had interest in last December, is also a free agent. He split last season between Boston and the White Sox and has good experience as a middle reliever. Riske made $1.8 million last season, so he'll command a salary in that same neighborhood.
Would the Braves take a chance on Eric Gagne? That seems like the sort of move John Schuerholz would make. However, with Scott Boras as Gagne's agent, it seems unlikely. Gagne is looking for a team that will allow him to show he's healthy so he can turn around and get a large deal next winter, so he could be had for a reasonable contract. But Boras is always a concern.
Keith Foulke is a free agent, but the Red Sox offered him arbitration Friday night. So they'll get a supplemental and second rounder for him when he's signed. The Braves guard their picks closely, so it's unlikely they'd go after Foulke.
Arthur Lee Rhodes and Rudy Seanez are two veteran relievers that could also be looked at. Seanez has been a Brave twice before, so he's always a candidate.
Signing a free agent reliever depends on a potential Giles' trade, but if the Braves are able to get a reliever on the market somewhere under $2 million dollars, they might take a chance on a veteran that could help set up Wickman.
7. Will John Schuerholz upgrade the starting rotation?
This is his priority, which obviously revolved around Glavine until Friday afternoon. So now that Glavine's out, how will Schuerholz improve the rotation? He'll obviously claim that getting Mike Hampton back next season after his Tommy John surgery will be like acquiring a top flight starter, but will that be enough?
The Braves will have a 40-year old leading the rotationin John Smoltz, a question mark in Tim Hudson as the number two starter, followed by Hampton. Yes, most pitchers come back stronger after having Tommy John surgery, but until he shows everyone he's healthy he's still a question mark.
Chuck James was a bright spot in the second half of 2006, and there's little doubt he'll fit in somewhere. Since he missed half of next season, Ramirez will remain a question mark. And Kyle Davies has to go to spring training and prove he's ready to be in the rotation.
So when you look at it, James is really the least of the worries. But to have five other question marks is a concern. That's what makes you wonder if Schuerholz will at least look to see if there's a starter available.
We've all heard the Jake Peavy rumors, but the Padres seem unlikely to add him in any deal. There's little doubt the Braves would love to bring the Mobile, Alabama resident home to the south, but it would be a surprise if the Padres gave him up.
Here's one name to keep in mind: Andy Pettitte. Yes, it's a long shot. But remember that the Braves pushed hard for Pettitte before he signed with the Astros a few years ago. The Braves would have to move significant salaries to add Pettitte, but he's always been a favorite of Schuerholz. So if Hudson and Giles and Ramirez were dealt away, you have to wonder if he would at least talk to Pettitte about joining the Braves.
Most of the other pitchers on the free agent market are going to be difficult to fit under the budget. With pitchers like Gil Meche and Ted Lilly commanding close to $10 million a season, it seems unlikely the Braves would have a chance.
8. What will the Braves do this week?
Now with the Glavine decision behind them, the Braves can move on to their more pressing needs. They'll meet Sunday night to examine the possibilities and to schedule meetings with potential trade partners.
You have to wonder if it could be an all-or-nothing week. The Braves might be very active, with Giles, Ramirez, and possibly Hudson all on the move, or they might not make a move at all. But at the least, expect the Braves to try and resolve the Giles situation. They would like to find a reliever for Giles, and that could be the top priority this week.
The Braves Show will have extensive coverage from the winter meetings in Orlando for our premium subscribers. We'll have nightly reports on the discussions taking place, along with breaking news of any trade or free agent signing. Plus, the chat room will be our place to talk about trades, signings, and rumors all week long.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can also be heard on the Atlanta Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at email@example.com.