One of the many questions that the Braves will deal with once the 2012 season is the future of the starting rotation. There is a lot of quantity, and while the Braves learned this season that can be an asset, decisions must be made on a number of pitchers.
For instance, do the Braves finally give Julio Teheran a spot in the major league rotation, after his two seasons in Triple-A? It’s hard to send a kid back to the International League for a third straight season, but has Teheran earned a right to be a major leaguer after his mediocre 2012 campaign?
But that decision alone will have a ripple effect. If Teheran is handed a job, someone who is currently in the rotation must go.
It is safe to assume a couple of things regarding the rotation. First, Kris Medlen has undoubtedly proven that he belongs. There is little debate about his future. He will be in the 2013 rotation after his impressive late-season run as a starter.
Second, left-hander Mike Minor has had an outstanding second half of the season. There is no reason to think the Braves would even consider selling high on Minor, considering he has five years remaining until he hits free agency. So Minor is a virtual lock to be part of the starting five next season.
If the Braves start with Medlen and Minor, that leaves three spots available. Remember, there’s a great chance Brandon Beachy will be back and could contribute in the second half of the season. It’s not a lock that he would just get his spot back automatically, but it does help to know he could be another option if needed, particularly in the final two months of the season.
To fill out those three spots, the Braves have the following pitchers as options:
We can all safely assume that Jair Jurrjens’ days in an Atlanta uniform are over. For the Braves to not even activate the veteran for the September stretch drive spoke volumes about Jurrjens’ pending departure from the organization.
Now, the Braves could buy out the 2013 options of Hudson and Maholm, and then let Sheets walk as a free agent and be quickly down to three possibilities for the last three spots. But that would eliminate the leverage they would have to possibly move one of the starters in an attempt to improve the lineup.
Hudson’s option is for $9 million. While he did have his moments, Hudson has won 15 games for the Braves and is one of the most successful starters in Atlanta history. That’s pretty reasonable for a pitcher that could give you 12-16 wins and pile up close to 175 innings if he remains healthy.
Hudson will turn 38 next July, but again, he shows no signs of slowing down. It’ll be good to have a veteran, well-respected pitcher like Hudson in a rotation that might include a few young arms.
Maholm also has an option for next season. His is for $6.5 million. While he’s had a few shaky starts for the Braves, Maholm has won 12 games and that deal is not bad for a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. The Braves will undoubtedly pick up the option. Could they still trade him? Certainly. If they decide to simply go with someone else, there should be interest in a pitcher with that type of deal that makes that type of money.
What will become of Sheets, who started out so strong and then an injury slowed him down? He’s been vague on whether he wants to even continue pitching, so the Braves will probably have to let him tell them what he wants to do before they make a decision on whether or not they want him. The chances of Sheets staying healthy are slim. He’s just never showed he can start more than 35 games in a season. So if the Braves did try to bring him back, the deal would probably be incentive-laden and not be very expensive. They have too many options to take a chance on a pitcher that might break down.
Some fans have speculated that if an existing member of the rotation is traded this winter, it could be Hanson. He’ll be eligible for arbitration this winter, so his salary will go up. Plus, the Braves might have some concern about the last two seasons, as Hanson has battled injuries.
One thing to keep in mind about Hanson: he’s the first pitcher in Atlanta history to win double-digit games in his first four seasons in the big leagues. That’s pretty impressive. But what’s a concern has been Hanson’s drop in velocity and his inconsistency.
If the Braves decide to trade Hanson, there should be a significant market. Even though all the other clubs will also know those same questions, he’s got three years left before he becomes a free agent. That is a valuable commodity for a team that may decide they need a bat instead.
Again, Teheran comes down to this: can the Braves send him back down to Triple-A for a third straight year? Is that going to kill his value? Or do they say, “Look, his time has come. He’s ready and we’re going to give him a chance.”
If they are skeptical about Teheran’s ceiling, the Braves should probably simply trade him. While his record in Gwinnett this past season could scare some teams off, the potential is still there.
And then there’s Delgado, who made 17 starts in Atlanta before being pushed out of the rotation. He got the worse run support of any Atlanta starter, and yet he was still the selection to go to Triple-A when the Braves made room for Medlen.
There are some in the organization who have always liked Delgado over Teheran. However, the Braves did almost include Delgado in a deal to the Cubs for Ryan Dempster. So have they soured on him to the point where he will be the first one traded this winter?
Here is another name to keep in mind for next season. Sean Gilmartin. He’s the left-handed pitcher who was the first round pick in 2011 out of FSU. He was very impressive in Mississippi and Gwinnett this season, and some believe he could contribute as a starter at some point this season.
If the Braves agree, he could be their designated backup in case one of the five selected starting pitchers goes down before Beachy returns from his elbow surgery. They could also go sign another Rodrigo Lopez-type of pitcher for a spring training invite, and then let them go to Triple-A if they are not needed.
Atlanta will also have several strong prospects move up to Double-A next season. Gus Schlosser, Cody Martin, Aaron Northcraft and Dimasther Delgado could join J.R. Graham in Mississippi. That group helped lead Lynchburg to a Carolina League title this season.
Also, David Hale and Zeke Spruill could move up to Gwinnett after good seasons in Double-A. They are decent prospects, and while still behind Gilmartin they deserve consideration in the discussion.
One more thing to remember – the Braves have long-been rumored to be interested in pending free agent Zack Greinke. With all the money coming off the books this winter Atlanta will have the financial resources to pursue the Angels’ right-hander. If they sign Greinke, that would only make yet another pitcher possibly available in a trade to improve other areas of the team. He could give them a young ace, much like when they acquired Hudson before the 2005 season.
So the depth is there. The Braves just have to make the tough decisions that they get paid the big bucks to make. But there is no doubt it’s certainly good to have options instead of the alternative.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on twitter @BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.