The Braves are going to have to have a significant player available for such a trade, and Edgar Renteria is the leading candidate to be shopped. With Yunel Escobar arriving and thriving last season, Renteria is now expendable.
Renteria should have a lot of value. He finished third in the National League with a .332 batting average. He just turned 32 in August. And his salary is very reasonable, with the Braves owing Renteria $6 million dollars in 2008 and the Red Sox being responsible for the $3 buyout if the club declines an option for 2009 for $11 million.
Therefore, Renteria is the automatic and easy candidate to be used as trade bait this winter. And we then turn to the see which teams may be interested in Renteria and what they may have to offer:
San Francisco: The Giants' shortstop from last year, Omar Vizquel, is a free agent this winter. He'll be 41 next April, and it's unlikely San Francisco will bring him back anywhere near his $5-plus million dollar salary from last season. So the Giants, who want to get younger, will call (and maybe already have) about Renteria.
It's unlikely the Giants would give up Matt Cain and Tim Linecum, two young pitchers who will join Barry Zito as perhaps one of the best trios in the National League next season. So that makes a likely candidate left-hander Noah Lowry.
Lowry turned 27 years old yesterday (October 10th). He was 14-8 in 2007 with a 3.92 ERA in 26 starts. The Braves saw first-hand how tough Lowry can be when he beat them on July 25th in San Francisco. Lowry allowed only one run on seven hits in eight innings of work, with two walks, and four strikeouts.
Here's a positive: Lowry is already under contract through 2009, with an option for 2010. He's due $2.45 million next season, along with potential bonuses. Then Lowry is signed in 2009 for $4.5 million, and then the Giants have a $6.25 million option on Lowry for 2010.
Here's the negative: Lowry missed the final month of the 2007 season with a bone spur in his left elbow. Now the Giants decided that surgery was not needed, but you have to be concerned about something like this. It sounds very similar to what happened with Mike Gonzalez, who missed the last month of the 2006 season with the Pirates before he was traded to Atlanta. We know how that one ended up; Gonzalez had to have Tommy John Surgery in May and will be out until next year at the All-Star Break.
But if Lowry is healthy, and if the medical reports are positive, he would have to be a top target. He's young, relatively cheap, and has been effective. But the injury question must be answered before the Braves trade an All-Star caliber shortstop to San Francisco.
If Lowry is not healthy, or if the Braves simply decided to look at other arms on the Frisco roster, two names to keep in mind are Kevin Correia and Jonathan Sanchez. Correia is a 27-year-old right-hander who has mainly been a reliever in his big league career, but he started eight games late in the season for the Giants and was impressive: 3-1, 2.54, 38 hits in 46 innings pitched, 13 walks, and 34 strikeouts.
Correia has a fastball (88-92 mph), slider (best pitch), and an occasional changeup. He also made an impression on the Braves with a solid performance against them on August 14th (4.1 scoreless innings, four hits allowed, one walk, three strikeouts), which was his first start of the season. All reports indicate the Giants plan on Correia, who is eligible for arbitration this winter, to be a candidate for the rotation next spring if he is still on the roster.
Sanchez was rated by Scout.com as the Giants' fourth best prospect coming into the 2007 season. He had pitched in 27 games the previous season, and the Giants mainly used him as a reliever this year. He pitched in 29 games out of the pen (5.30 ERA) and made four starts (0-3, 7.16 ERA).
But the 25-year-old Sanchez has better potential than Correia, and he is a left-hander. Sanchez has a plus-fastball that can hit into the mid-90s but is usually in the 91-93 mph range. He's also got a plus changeup and is developing his slider. Most believe he is a potential number three starter in a rotation.
Two other names to keep in mind: Right-hander Pat Misch and left-hander Travis Blackley.
A Renteria-for-Lowry trade is possible, but it all depends on Lowry's health. If there are worries, then the Braves may propose a trade involving Renteria and another pitcher in exchange for Correia and Sanchez. That would bring depth to the Atlanta rotation in search of another solid starter.
Detroit: The tie-in with the Tigers is easy to see. Renteria played with Manager Jim Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski in Florida when he won the World Series for the Marlins in 1997. Leyland loves Renteria, and now he is looking for a starting shortstop.
The Tigers are prepared to move Carlos Guillen to first base, so they'll look around for a veteran to replace him at short. Renteria is the perfect candidate for an older team that will try to rebound and make another run at the World Series next season.
Detroit will not trade Justin Verlander or Andrew Miller, so forget about those two. Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson are two possibilities.
Bonderman may be the favorite. He's still young (25) and is signed for three more seasons ($8.5 million in 2008, $12.5 million in 2009 and in 2010). But there are some concerns.
Despite Bonderman's outstanding stuff, his career ERA is 4.78 and it was 5.01 this past season. He was streaky this past season, with a 10-1 record and a 3.50 ERA in his first 17 starts, but then a 1-8 record in his last 11 starts with an ERA of 7.78.
Bonderman missed the final three weeks of the season with a sore right elbow, so that's even the bigger issue. He's got a lot of innings (923.1) on that young arm, so you have to wonder if it's catching up to him a bit.
Robertson is older (30) and is even cheaper (due for arbitration this winter after making $3.26 million in 2007) than Bonderman. He's under control for two more years before becoming a free agent. The lefty was 9-13 in 30 starts this past season with a 4.76 ERA. Robertson's got good control, but he made only 13 quality starts in 2007.
Chad Durbin might be another option from the Tigers. He was 8-7 overall this season with a 4.72 ERA. As a starter, the right-handed Durbin was 6-7 with an ERA of 4.88. He'll be 30 years old next season but will be eligible for arbitration this winter.
Jair Jurrjens made seven late-season starts for the Tigers and was impressive (3-1, 4.70). He had posted a 7-5 record in Toledo with a 3.20 ERA in 19 starts. And right-hander Jordan Tata made three starts in Detroit and was 1-1 with a 7.71 ERA.
The Tigers might try to push Robertson on the Braves for Renteria, so Schuerholz & Company will have to decide if Robertson could make a difference as another lefty in the rotation. The Braves will have to really check on Bonderman though if that is the target.
Chicago White Sox: Back in July the Braves and White Sox talked about a trade that would have sent Renteria to the American League (along with then-Braves prospect Matt Harrison) for right-hander Jon Garland. The White Sox reportedly turned the trade down.
Now did they turn it down because they wanted more than Renteria and Harrison? Did they turn it down because they wanted Yunel Escobar instead? Or did they just not want to trade Jon Garland?
Well the latter is probably unlikely, since rumors still exist about Garland's availability this winter. So you wonder if White Sox GM Kenny Williams preferred Escobar instead of Renteria, even though his team could use a solid veteran like the Braves' shortstop.
Either way, rumors persist that Williams will trade either Garland or fellow right-hander Javier Vazquez. So that does present the possibility that the Braves could once again call to inquire about one of the two starting pitchers.
Garland is under contract for only one more season, at $12 million dollars. Vazquez has three more years left on his deal worth $11.5 million each season. If the Braves traded Renteria for one of these pitchers, it would be an increase between $5-$6 million to the payroll. But there is no doubt, with the histories of both pitchers, the Braves would be getting a solid number three starter to place behind Smoltz and Hudson.
The 31-year-old Vazquez was 15-8 in 2007 with an ERA of 3.74 in 32 starts. He had 20 quality starts and gave the White Sox 216.2 innings. The former Expo has averaged 206 innings in his 10-year career.
Garland was 10-13 last season with a 4.23 ERA in 32 starts. He pitched 208.1 innings in 2007 and has 207 innings pitched over the last six seasons, so Garland is a big innings-eater as well.
So if the Braves want a pitcher that they can pretty much guarantee will give them 200-plus innings, Garland and Vazquez could be the best candidates.
Chicago Cubs: Like the Tigers, the Cubs have a connection with Renteria. GM Jim Hendry was also in Florida when Renteria won the World Series for the Marlins. He was an assistant to GM Dave Dombrowski, so Hendry saw first-hand how valuable Renteria can be to a club. In fact, when the Braves got Renteria from the Red Sox two winters ago, they were afraid Hendry would jump in and make an offer.
The Cubs had Ryan Theriot as the main shortstop this past season, so it's possible they'll look for an upgrade. Of course, they could always give Alex Rodriguez a billion dollars and put him at shortstop.
If Hendry does generate interest in Renteria he could have some pitching available. Don't expect the Cubs to give up Rich Hill, a 28-year-old lefty with terrific promise. He was 11-8 this past season with a 3.92 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 195 innings.
Ted Lilly was Chicago's number two starter last year behind Carlos Zambrano. But he's highly paid and it's doubtful the Cubs would let him go.
The pitcher probably most available off the Cubs roster would be tall lefty Sean Marshall, who had two great games against the Braves this past June (2-0, 2 earned runs allowed on 10 hits in 12.2 innings, 3 walks, 12 strikeouts). Marshall was 7-8 overall with a 3.92 ERA in 21 games (19 starts). The Cubs could possibly offer Marshall and right-handed prospect Angel Guzman in a deal for Renteria.
St. Louis: Renteria's old team might want to bring him back. But if Tony LaRussa leaves for the Yankees, that could lower the chances of a reunion. LaRussa loved Renteria while he was a Cardinal, but who knows if the new tandem in St. Louis would have similar feelings.
The Braves could possibly inquire about Anthony Reyes, a former top prospect who struggled through a tough 2007 campaign (2-14, 6.04). But the 26-year-old right-hander still has tremendous promise, and just a few years ago was rated higher than former Braves' prospect Adam Wainwright.
Other than Reyes the Cardinals, who are also in search of more starting pitching, do not have much to offer the Braves in a potential deal for Renteria.
While the Oakland A's might not need Edgar Renteria with Bobby Crosby still around, they might have some young pitching available. Rumors have it that the A's might shop right-handed starters Joe Blanton and even maybe Dan Haren.
Blanton will be 27 next season. He's averaged almost 33 starts and 208 innings the past three seasons for Oakland, while also winning 42 games. Blanton was 14-10 last season with a 3.95 ERA and 20 quality starts out of 34 appearances. Blanton is still a year away from being eligible for arbitration, so it would be shocking if the A's deal him away.
Haren is signed through 2009 and owed only $4 million dollars next season and $5.5 the next season. There's also a club option in 2010 for $6.75 million. The former Cardinal prospect was 15-9 last season with a 3.07 ERA. Since coming over in the Mark Mulder trade Haren has averaged 34 starts, 221 innings, and right at 15 wins per season.
While the Braves still have a loaded farm system, a deal for one of these two pitchers probably would have been more likely to happen if Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Elvis Andrus were still around. It would take a major package to pry Blanton or Haren away from the A's. The Dodgers tried to get Blanton before the trade deadline in July, but A's GM Billy Beane wanted half the Dodgers' farm system in return.
So there are options. The Braves do have some teams that have pitching available, and with Renteria possibly on the block, they also have a good commodity to possibly trade. Expect there to be plenty of rumors in a couple of weeks.
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 be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at email@example.com.