With the Braves rotation arguably being the best in the game, at least on paper, next season, it becomes even more important to build a strong bullpen to compliment the starters.
The Braves have already brought in veteran Scott Proctor, who will be back sometime in June if his recovery from Tommy John surgery goes well. But there's a chance he will be the first of several new relievers in 2010.
It's possible the Braves will look to trade Matt Diaz for an available relief pitcher. Diaz has value, especially for an American League team. If the Braves decide Jason Heyward is close to being ready, there just simply might not be room for Diaz. And a trade for a reliever may make the most sense.
There's also a chance the Braves ship Kelly Johnson out for a reliever. He's a non-tender candidate, and the Braves may prefer instead to swap Johnson for a similar player – one that may be non-tendered later this winter. A reliever may be the easiest to acquire in that type of trade.
There are also a large number of relievers on the market as free agents. It's unlikely the Braves would give up a big draft pick for a reliever, unless it's a closer. So that would probably eliminate Darren Oliver and LaTroy Hawkins, two of the better middle relievers who are Type A free agents.
But there are four Type B free agents that could interest the Braves. Atlanta has long been rumored to be interested in David Weathers, a veteran right-hander who just turned 40 in September. Weathers is from Tennessee, and there's always been talk of him coming to play for the Braves.
Weathers has played for nine different teams, and he's been very effective since 1991. Last season Weathers pitched in 68 games between the Reds and Brewers and posted a 3.92 ERA and 21 holds.
A similar pitcher, one that's a bit younger, is Bobby Howry. The 36-year-old right-hander pitched for the Giants last season. Over the last five years Howry has been very effective as a setup man. Howry made $2.75 million last season, so he may cost something in that same neighborhood. But he could possibly be a perfect fit, especially if the Braves were to sign a left-handed closer.
Brandon Lyon is a 30-year-old right-hander who has been a closer at times, and last year was the Tigers' main setup man. Lyon made $4.25 million last season, and the only way he'll get a raise is if someone believes he can be a closer. The Braves may kick the tires on him for that role if some of their better options don't pan out.
Former Brave Russ Springer may also be an option. He's 40 now, and it's been 12 years since he pitched in Atlanta. But Springer has been pretty effective in the last few seasons.
Here are some other free agents to keep in mind, and they would not require losing a draft pick: Chad Bradford, Mark Hendrickson, Joaquin Benoit, J.J. Putz, Brendan Donnelly, and Brad Thompson.
Hendrickson is interesting because of his ability to also start. He's a veteran, with eight years in the big leagues, and he might come at a reasonable price (maybe $2 million?).
Thompson also can be a reliever or an emergency starter. He's made 32 starts in the last five years for the Cardinals. Thompson could be an inexpensive option.
Putz may be worth looking into, depending on the health of his arm. He was a dominating closer for the Mariners, and then last year Putz struggled with the Mets before going down with an injury. Putz won't get closer's money, but he could be a good bargain if the health reports are positive.
So those are just a few names to keep in mind as the Braves search for help in the bullpen this winter.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on
WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
14. Can the Braves find new relievers?
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