Much has been made about the Atlanta Braves not making a major acquisition this offseason. But a closer look reveals two players who will be added to the roster who could strengthen the team from last season.
Kris Medlen and Peter Moylan are expected back, and if they are healthy and pitch effectively, a bullpen already seen as great might just be one of the best ever.
The Braves’ bullpen was overworked last season. Manager Fredi Gonzalez fell in love with his top three relievers (Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty) for a couple of reasons. First, the shaky offense produced a lot of close games, especially early on in the season, and the Braves needed to have their best pitchers in at the end of the games.
And then let’s be honest, when a team has pitchers who are pitching at that level, borderline perfect, it’s hard not to call on them in a close game.
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So at the end of the season, the big three, as they are sometimes referred to, were in the top five in appearances in the NL. Venters led the way with 85 games pitched. Kimbrel was tied for second with 79, while O’Flaherty was tied for fifth with 78 appearances.
As the Braves sat around and wondered after the season how things can go better in 2012 than last year, getting help for the big three had to be at the top of their list.
That’s where Medlen and Moylan come into the conversation. Sure, the Braves could have replaced Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill, two veterans who were free agents, with other veterans. But they really didn’t need to do that with Medlen and Moylan expected back.
Medlen had Tommy John surgery on his elbow late in the 2010 season. He got back to pitch in two games, including the dreaded final game of the season against Philadelphia. But he pitched well, with 2-1/3 scoreless innings. He showed everyone enough to be confident that he can get back to his previous form before the injury.
He was a valuable member of the pitching staff in 2010, as he started 14 games in 31 appearances. Medlen was establishing himself as a starter when he got hurt.
While he would prefer to go back to that role, Medlen is going to find things much more crowded now. He might still be a candidate for the rotation, but the number of starters has increased tremendously since he got injured 17 months ago.
Even with Tim Hudson possibly out until May, the Braves still have a loaded rotation. Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens are coming back from injuries, but they seem fine. Then Atlanta has Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado.
There just might not be room for Medlen, which is why the bullpen is his likely destination this season.
Moylan is coming back from shoulder surgery, and the early reports are positive. This is a pitcher who has pitched in 80 games or more three times in his six-year career. He also has a 2.60 career ERA, which makes you believe if healthy, Moylan could again be a dominant reliever.
Cristhian Martinez is the third member of this equation. He was outstanding as a long reliever last year, with a 3.36 ERA in 46 games. But his great work late in the year must have the Braves believing he can have a more critical role this season.
Linebrink, Sherrill and Martinez combined for 161 games last season, an average of 53.7 games per reliever. What if Medlen, Moylan and Martinez could combine for maybe 180 games this season? That would be an average of 60 games per reliever, and it could provide some relief for the big three.
Maybe then Kimbrel, Venters and O’Flaherty could average 70 games between them, instead of the 80.6 games they averaged last season. And then maybe they wouldn’t be worn out at the end of the year, as they were last season.
So while it’s natural to be disappointed the Braves didn’t add acquisitions to the roster, remember Medlen and Moylan as two players who could make a huge difference this season.
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.