Bill Shanks

Braves should resist temptation of expensive starting pitcher

Jaime Garcia, left, joined the Atlanta Braves recently in a trade from St. Louis.
Jaime Garcia, left, joined the Atlanta Braves recently in a trade from St. Louis. AP

If you have a young son, please put a baseball in his hand. Do everything you can to teach him how to pitch. It might just pay off for you down the road.

On Monday, the Los Angeles Dodgers gave 37-year-old left-hander Rich Hill a three-year contract for $48 million. Hill has made 24 starts in the big leagues this decade, but a 2.12 ERA this past season in his 20 starts got him a fortune.

Charlie Morton, a former Atlanta Braves pitcher, got a two-year, $14-million-dollar deal from Houston several weeks ago. Morton made just four starts last season and has a career ERA of 4.54. But he’ll get $7 million next season to pitch with the Astros.

The cost for pitchers is out of control. When we start seeing pitchers with a shaky track records like Hill and Morton get that much money, it’s officially nuts.

But it’s not just free agents. If a team wants to trade for a pitcher who is affordable or under control for several seasons, it better back up the truck. The price will be ridiculous.

This is why the Braves are likely done adding starting pitchers. They’ve already brought in three starters this offseason. They signed old vets R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon and then last week traded three fringe prospects for Jaime Garcia, a lefty who will be a free agent next winter.

The Braves had to improve the rotation. Atlanta had the third-worst rotation ERA in baseball last season (4.87). After the All-Star Break, when the Braves were 37-35, they used 13 different starting pitchers. And when they went 20-10 in the final 30 games, the Braves used nine different starters.

Dickey, Colon and Garcia are short-term options. They’ll allow the Braves to develop young pitching prospects they’ve accumulated just a while longer. We’ll start seeing more young starters (like Sean Newcomb, Max Fried or Patrick Weigel) next summer. The three veterans will allow the Braves to not rush the kids and at the same time have a better rotation for 2017.

There is a temptation, however, to add one more. Two young, controllable pitchers are available in a trade (Chris Sale was traded from the Chicago White Sox to Boston on Tuesday): Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays and Sonny Gray of the Oakland A’s. The price for any of these three would be ridiculously high.

Tampa Bay actually asked for six players from the Braves for Archer, and that’s not going to happen. Gray’s price seems more reasonable, but it would still cost a lot.

Gray makes the most sense. He’s a Tennessee product who went to Vanderbilt. The talk is he wants to pitch for the Braves, and we’ve seen this scenario before. It would be like when the Braves got Tim Hudson (an Alabama product who went to Auburn) from the A’s 12 years ago.

Do the Braves need a pitcher like this now? Shouldn’t they wait until they are more ready to compete for the playoffs? That may still be a year away. Why gut the farm system that has been built up the past two years for a pitcher who just might not be needed yet?

Atlanta’s farm system is really good, and the longer the Braves go without making a huge trade involving major prospects the deeper it will get. Maybe there will be a deal that will just be a no-brainer, but chances are the price for these young veterans will be too high. It will be more cost-effective to have these kids show what they can do before paying a lot for an expensive starter.

The rotation is already better. It’s older, but better. The Braves have done so much to get these pitching prospects ready, and they could be special. The Braves should wait on them instead of being tempted with a pitcher who will cost too much.

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