13. Which starters might the Braves target?

Let's look at some of the top candidates the Braves may go after this winter.

Braves General Manager Frank Wren has said he will search for two new starting pitchers this offseason. That can be easier said than done, but the Braves have money to spend and depth to trade with. So now it's just a matter of who is available and who will be the right fit for the Atlanta Braves.

Obviously, the Jake Peavy situation is front and center. The Braves are involved in serious discussions with the San Diego Padres about the right-hander from Mobile, Alabama. He grew up a Braves fan and has an interest in playing in Atlanta. He would instantly fill the role as the ace of the team, which is now sorely needed.

The Braves probably have gotten to the point where they have to resolve the Peavy talks before they can move on in other trade discussions. They are still talking to agents about potential free agents, but it would probably help the plan if they can get an answer on getting Jake Peavy as soon as possible.

If Peavy is acquired, the Braves will probably then look to sign a free agent. But if Peavy goes elsewhere, they will have to seek another trade possibility. Those names have to be on the backburner for now, but the Braves are still investigating who may be available for a trade this winter.

Mark off Houston's Roy Oswalt and Toronto's Roy Halladay. They are just not going to be available. One veteran pitcher who has already been made available is Chicago's Javier Vazquez, a pitcher who the Braves have had interest in the past. Vazquez's ERA has risen in the last few seasons, and he probably wouldn't be considered a potential number one starter. But if the Braves did sign a big free agent as the ace Vazquez might be an option as the number two.

The San Francisco Giants are looking for middle infielders. Might they be interested in shortstop Yunel Escobar or second baseman Kelly Johnson for one of their young pitchers? Matt Cain is an ace waiting to happen, with outstanding stuff and a good long-term contract. The price would be very high, but the Braves could possibly have the quantity and quality to provide. Jonathan Sanchez is a 25-year-old lefty who also might be used to get the Giants some position players.

Cincinnati might be a team looking to move some pitching. Aaron Harang had a disappointing season under manager Dusty Baker, but he's had numerous productive years as an ace. His price might be down a bit, and the Reds could use some position players. Harang might be a main backup plan as a potential ace if Peavy is not acquired. Bronson Arroyo could also be had at the right price. The Braves tried to get him a few seasons ago.

Kansas City is also looking for some position players, specifically some power hitters. They've had interest in Jeff Francoeur ever since Dayton Moore left the Braves for the Royals. Could Francoeur be used in a package to get Zach Greinke, a right-hander who might be available for a large deal?

Now let's turn to the free agents. The Braves have interest in right-handers Derek Lowe, A.J. Burnett, Ryan Dempster, and Brad Penny. Lowe's success in the postseason, along with his agent being Lucifer Boras, could drive his price up too high. He has, however, averaged 15 wins and 208 innings in the last five seasons. Lowe is in line to return to the east coast, and he's told friends he would consider the Braves due to his respect for manager Bobby Cox. The Braves will investigate Lowe, but again the price could get out of control.

Burnett will opt out of his contract with the Blue Jays to seek a better deal. He was scheduled to make $12 million in 2009 and in 2010. After an impressive 2008 season, Burnett will be seeking a huge new contract. Burnett will be 32 years old in January, and he's coming off a season with 18 wins and 231 strikeouts.

Burnett has a reputation of being injury-prone, so there will be that risk for any team that signs him. But Burnett has the stuff to be an ace pitcher, and his performance in 2008 is going to make him very attractive on the open market. Since he's younger than Lowe (who turns 36 next June) the Braves are more likely to offer a large deal to Burnett. But again, will the price get out of control to make it unlikely?

Frank Wren knew Ryan Dempster when both were with the Marlins – Wren as the Assistant General Manager and Dempster as a young starting pitcher. Now Dempster is a free agent after proving once again he can be effective as a starter. He had mainly pitched in relief from 2004 through 2007, saving 87 games. But in 2008 Dempster went 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA in 33 games.

Chances are Dempster will return to the Cubs, but a long-term offer by the Braves might change that. You do wonder, however, if Dempster's control troubles in the playoffs might be a warning sign.

Brad Penny came to the Marlins just after Wren left Florida to be Baltimore's GM, but there is still some interest in the burly 30-year-old right-hander. Penny must first prove he is healthy, which was the reason he struggled last season (6-9 in 19 games). A year ago Penny finished third in the NL Cy Young race, so the talent is there. If he's healthy, he might be a possibility.

Do not expect the Braves to enter the C.C. Sabathia sweepstakes. His price is just going to be too high. And his Milwaukee teammate Ben Sheets is just too injury-prone for a team that dealt with nothing else last season.

Oliver Perez is represented by Scott Boras, which probably takes him out of the equation. Jon Garland made $12 million last season and will want more, despite his high ERA. The Braves might look into lefty Randy Wolf, a veteran who was effective last season at 12-12. Carl Pavano might also be someone that interests the Braves. He came back late last season after missing time with injuries, but Pavano could be a decent reclamation project.

The Braves are talking with Japanese pitcher Junichi Tazawa, a 22-year-old right-hander with good stuff. But do not count on him as one of the two pitchers Wren seeks this winter. If the Braves sign Tazawa it would be like signing a college prospect out of the draft. Tazawa would probably go to Myrtle Beach or Mississippi and be an option for either late next season or 2010.

It will be interesting to see what the mix will be of the two pitchers Wren acquires. It's not about just going out and signing and trading for somebody. They've got to be the right fit. The search will, however, be dramatic and entertaining.

Bill Shanks hosts The Braves Show Talk Show, The Atlanta Baseball Show on 680 the Fan in Atlanta, and The Bill Shanks Show on SportsRadio 105.5 the Fan in Macon. He 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. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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