The rumors are flying around baseball. It must be time for the hot stove league.
That’s the time of year when teams are focusing on the next season, hoping to add a piece or two that can make a difference and make them better.
The Atlanta Braves are at the center of a number of great rumors. After the September collapse to end the 2011 season, there is plenty of work to do to get this team back on track.
Atlanta needs offense. We learned that the hard way, didn’t we? The runs were scarce in the final few weeks of the season, when the Braves blew an 8.5 game lead in the wild card race.
There are several positions locked down. We know Brian McCann will be back as the catcher. Freddie Freeman just finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, and he’ll man first base. Dan Uggla will be back at second base, hoping for a more consistent season.
Chipper Jones will return to third in what could be his final season. He’ll turn 40 years old in April, and the batteries are slowly running out. Michael Bourn was acquired in late July, and he’ll be playing center field.
Right field is a question mark. The Braves hope Jason Heyward turns it back on and reclaims the job. But it’s definitely not a given. Alex Gonzalez is gone from shortstop, and the Braves probably will go after a veteran to complement young Tyler Pastornicky, who some believe could be the starter.
Left field is the glaring position that needs to be fixed. It has needed to be fixed for years, as it has been the black hole for the Braves since Ryan Klesko, (who was really a first baseman, patrolled left for a few years in the 1990s.
A second baseman played there last year. Martin Prado is a good player, but he is a second baseman -- not a left fielder. He can play left. Heck, he can play everywhere. But Prado is not a power hitter, and he’s two years away from free agency. Now is the time to trade him since Uggla is now playing his position. Colorado and Detroit have shown the most interest so far.
The Braves also need to trade Jair Jurrjens. They have enough depth in the starting rotation to trade Jurrjens, who was a Cy Young candidate at the All-Star break last year before battling injuries in the second half of the season.
Like Prado, Jurrjens is two years away from free agency. So now is the time to deal him away. He’s represented by Scott Boras, the super-agent who will seek top dollars. With as many as seven others who could be in Atlanta’s 2012 rotation, Jurrjens is expandable.
Jurrjens should fetch a great return. His injuries the past few years will hurt his value a bit, but with teams desperately needing starting pitchers, there should be significant interest in Jurrjens.
If the Braves can take Prado and Jurrjens and spin them into several hitters -- both players who can help immediately and perhaps a prospect or two -- this organization will be better. Both players have been very good, but this is about using depth to get what the Braves need to be better.
The pitching will be good again next season. Sure, Tommy Hanson has to be healthy. But the potential addition of Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado will make the rotation better. Plus, don’t forget about Kris Medlen coming back in 2012.
The Braves have to fix the offense. They have to have as many options for the lineup as they do for the rotation and bullpen. And the best way to do that is to trade Prado and Jurrjens in the next few weeks.
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.