Braves' rotation depth could produce trade

sports@macon.comJune 10, 2014 

SPORTS BBN-GIANTS-BRAVES 2 AT

Atlanta Braves pitcher Alex Wood throws against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning on Sunday, May 4, 2014, in Atlanta.

CURTIS COMPTON — MCT

Alex Wood was sent to the minor leagues Tuesday afternoon. He didn’t deserve it. He’s clearly one of the 12 best pitchers in the Atlanta organization. But, in a way, it might be the most important move of the summer for the Braves.

We all know Wood is good enough to be a starting pitcher in the big leagues. He has proven that during his 18 career starts, with his 3.18 ERA. Wood was even more impressive this season in the rotation, until a numbers game sent him to the bullpen.

The Braves have a luxury that teams can only dream of -- too much starting pitching. But Wood’s demotion Tuesday shouldn’t be looked at as that but instead as a chance for the Braves to eventually place Wood back in the rotation and get better in the process.

There was no way to predict this. Back in March, it didn’t look like the Braves would even be able to fill out the rotation. Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy got hurt, and for a few days, the Braves were worried who would even be the fourth starter.

But then everything fell into place. Ervin Santana signed and has been solid overall. Aaron Harang signed, and he has been better than anyone could have dreamed. Then Mike Minor came back from his spring training injury and regained his spot in the rotation. And finally, Gavin Floyd returned from his elbow surgery and has been very good.

So now, with Julio Teheran leading the way, the Atlanta rotation is packed. Even David Hale, who was in the rotation to start the season and might eventually find his way back there, is stuck in the bullpen.

The excess will allow the Braves to improve the team. Wood can go back to Triple-A Gwinnett and get stretched out to rejoin the Atlanta rotation. The Braves can then look around to see who needs a starter and see which teams might have a solid reliever to put in a trade. That could fill Atlanta’s biggest weakness right now.

The Braves already have the best closer in baseball with Craig Kimbrel, and getting Jordan Walden back Tuesday has to help. But there is now only one left-hander in the bullpen, and Luis Avilan has been a disappointment so far this season.

And that’s where the Braves need help.

Is there a team that needs a starting pitcher who might have a reliever to spare? Yes. Take Toronto, a team that has been linked to Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who is available. The Blue Jays need another starter. Would they take Harang or Floyd for lefty reliever Brett Cecil, who has 34 strikeouts in 23-1/3 innings this season?

The Baltimore Orioles need a starting pitcher. Would they take Floyd, who almost signed with Baltimore before signing with the Braves last December and who is from Maryland, for lefty reliever Brian Matusz? The Boston Red Sox could use some help in the rotation, and they could dangle southpaw Andrew Miller at Braves general manager Frank Wren.

That’s the type of trade the Braves need. It’s looking more and more unlikely that Jonny Venters will be able to contribute this season. Venters’ return from his second Tommy John elbow surgery is taking longer than expected. And with Eric O’Flaherty long gone, the Braves need help from the left side in the late innings.

Even if the Braves traded one of the starters, they could insert Wood back into the rotation. Then Hale would become their safety net. If one of the other starters were injured, Hale could step right in. That in itself is another luxury.

There’s little doubt the Braves want Wood back in the rotation. And while they never wanted to move him out in the first place, they had little choice. But if the opportunity presents itself to use the rotation depth to help the bullpen, Wood’s ability to come back from Gwinnett might be a huge key for the stretch drive this summer.

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 at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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