There will no surprises for Brian McCann or Tim Hudson once every Major League Baseball club makes its qualifying offers to their respective qualified free agents by 5 p.m. ET today. McCann will receive one and Hudson will not.
In order to receive draft-pick compensation for potential free-agent departures, clubs must make a qualifying offer to any of its qualifying free agents. The player has until 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday to accept the offer, which this year is a one-year contract valued at $14.1 million.
Hudson and McCann are Atlanta’s only free agents who qualified for this potential offer.
McCann will decline this offer, which is obviously less significant than the generous offers he is expected to receive as he stands as one of the most attractive free agents on this year’s market. The Rangers are the early favorites to sign the seven-time All-Star catcher, who will turn 30 in February. But McCann is also expected to receive attention from a handful of other clubs, most notably the Yankees and Red Sox.
Hudson will not receive a qualifying offer because his salary for the 2014 season will likely not be in the vicinity of the $14.1 million figure. But the 38-year-old veteran pitcher has been encouraged by the fact that approximately 10 teams have already contacted him. The Royals and Indians are the clubs that have shown the most interest so far.
Indians manager Terry Francona had a lengthy telephone discussion with Hudson a few days ago. Royals manager Ned Yost is expected to meet with Hudson later this week.
The Braves have already made a one-year offer to Hudson. But Hudson and his agent have not yet chosen to make a counter offer.
Hudson is nearing the end of his recovery from the fractured right ankle that sidelined him for the final two months of this season. A screw will be removed from his ankle within the next week. If everything appears to be structurally sound at that point, Hudson could be cleared to begin throwing two weeks later.
- Mark Bowman
The Braves got the left-handed reliever they have been seeking when they acquired Scott Downs from the Angels in exchange for right-handed Minor League pitcher Cory Rasmus early Monday afternoon.
Downs has compiled a 1.84 ERA in 43 appearances for the Angels this season. The 37-year-old southpaw has limited left-handed hitters to a .196 batting average and .255 on-base percentage. Right-handed hitters have batted .286 with a .385 on-base percentage against him.
Braves general manager Frank Wren’s focus over the past few weeks has been to improve the depth of his bullpen. With the acquisition of Downs, he has gained a veteran reliever who is capable of reducing the workload top setup men Luis Avilan and Jordan Walden incur during the regular season’s final two months.
Downs is owed approximately $1.6 million over the remainder of this season. He is in the final year of a three-year contract.
Rasmus has compiled a 1.37 ERA in 37 relief appearances with Triple-A Gwinnett this season. The 25-year-old right-hander made his only three Major League appearances with the Braves earlier this year. He allowed six earned runs and eight hits, including four homers, in the 6 2/3 innings that encompassed those three appearances.
- Mark Bowman
While the Braves have spent the past few days at least evaluating the possibility of acquiring a starting pitcher, it appears their focus remains on upgrading the bullpen before Wednesday’s Trade Deadline.
After losing Tim Hudson for the remainder of the season on Wednesday, the Braves began at least exploring the cost of landing a starting pitcher who would legitimately improve their starting rotation. The three pitchers that fit this category appeared to be Jake Peavy, Ervin Santana and Kyle Lohse.
There might be some lingering interest in Peavy. But the Braves have not had any conversations with the Royals about Santana, who will likely remain in Kansas City beyond this week. As for Lohse, it does not appear the Brewers would be willing to move him for a cost that that the Braves would be willing to pay.
Braves general manager Frank Wren has said he is comfortable with his starting pitching depth and would only be in the market to land a potential frontline starter. This is why the Braves have not explored the possibility of landing Houston’s Bud Norris, who is not viewed as a potential upgrade to what the club already possesses.
So with the deadline now three days away, the left-handed relievers who continue to draw interest from the Braves are the Angels’ Scott Downs and the Cubs’ James Russell. The club’s interest in Milwaukee’s Mike Gonzalez has seemingly been lukewarm at best.
There has been some recent speculation among scouts that the Braves might be among the clubs interested in acquiring Toronto’s Darren Oliver. But there are definite concerns about the 42-year-old Oliver, who has limited right-handed hitters to a .244 on-base percentage and allowed left-handed hitters to reach base at a .407 clip.
- Mark Bowman
Since losing Tim Hudson to a season-ending ankle injury on Wednesday night, the Braves have widened their focus on the trade market. While enhancing the bullpen’s depth, preferably with a left-handed reliever, still appears to be the priority, the club is now looking at the possibility of acquiring a front-line starting pitcher to fill Hudson’s void.
Braves general manager Frank Wren and his scouts will spend the next few days evaluating the small group of available starting pitchers who could legitimately upgrade the rotation. Instead of pursuing a middle-of the-rotation piece like Bud Norris, the club’s interest in this department is focused on the likes of Jake Peavy and Ervin Santana.
The Braves had a scout present to watch Peavy throw 118 pitches and complete seven innings against the Tigers on Thursday. This outing seemed to diminish any fears about the lingering effects of the fractured right rib that sidelined the White Sox right-hander from June 5-July 20.
Peavy is owed $4.8 million for the remainder of this year. The 32-year-old Alabama native’s contract also includes a $14.5 million salary for 2014 and a $15 million vesting player option for 2015. All indications are that the Braves are financially in position to make this deal.
While trading Santana would diminish the odds of the Royals achieving their goal of recording a winning season, the club understands the future benefits that could be realized by trading the 30-year-old right-hander, who will be a free agent at the end of the season.
While the Braves do not seem to have any interest in Yovani Gallardo, they might ask the Brewers about Kyle Lohse, who has compiled a 2.49 ERA in the 11 starts he has made since the end of May.
- Mark Bowman
Like many clubs, the Braves are still hoping to strengthen their bullpen before next week’s Trade Deadline. But while they are evaluating a number of relievers, it does not appear they currently have a specific target.
The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers seems to believe the Braves are the favorites to land Jesse Crain from the White Sox if the All-Star reliever comes off the disabled list within the next week and provides indication that his right shoulder is healthy. Rogers expressed this sentiment early Tuesday morning while on The Mully And Hanley Show on Chicago’s 670 The Score.
If he is healthy, Crain would arguably be the best reliever available and there is no doubt the Braves have definite interest in the 32-year-old reliever, who is in the final year of a three-year contract. He has posted a 0.74 ERA and limited opponents to a .287 on-base percentage in 38 appearances. But there is certainly reason to be cautious with any pitcher dealing with a shoulder ailment.
The Braves are still hoping left-hander Alex Wood proves effective enough to remain in the starting rotation throughout the remainder of this season. Brandon Beachy is also expected to rejoin Atlanta’s rotation next week. The expected additions of Wood and Beachy continue to fuel the belief that Kris Medlen could be moved to the bullpen within the next week.
With Medlen and Jordan Walden, the Braves would have two right-handed relievers who can neutralize left-handed hitters with their changeup. But there still seems to be a desire to add a left-handed reliever.
The Angels’ Scott Downs, the Cubs’ James Russell and the Brewers’ Mike Gonzalez are among the left-handed relievers who have all drawn some form of interest from Atlanta’s brass.
But it appears Downs, who is in the final year of his three-year contract, and Russell, who is in the midst of his first arbitration-eligible season, rank above Gonzalez on the Braves’ wish list.
- Mark Bowman
Over the past couple months, it has been apparent the Braves will attempt to gain bullpen depth before the July 31 Trade Deadline. But with all indications that Alex Wood will join Atlanta’s starting rotation before the end of the month, it now appears the team’s specific priority is to add a left-handed reliever.
The Cubs’ James Russell, the Brewers’ Mike Gonzalez and the Astros’ Wesley Wright are among the left-handed relievers on general manager Frank Wren’s wish list. While Wright is considered a candidate, it appears the Braves are more interested in the possibility of dealing for either Russell or Gonzalez.
With Wood currently preparing to make one or two Minor League starts before returning to the Majors, Luis Avilan stands as the only left-handed reliever in Atlanta’s bullpen. Avilan has proven himself as a valuable setup man. But the 24-year-old southpaw has already made a professional-high 43 appearances and his 3.38 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is not nearly as comforting as his 1.40 ERA.
There is reason to believe Wood could replace Kris Medlen in the rotation and if this proves to be true, Medlen would likely be moved back to a relief role. Like Jordan Walden, Medlen would serve as a right-handed relief option, whose changeup has provided him success against left-handed hitters.
Still the Braves would like to add a left-handed presence to their bullpen. Russell, who is currently in his first arbitration-eligible season, has limited left-handed hitters to a .189 batting average and .218 on-base percentage. Right-handed hitters have hit .316 and compiled a .400 on-base percentage against him.
Gonzalez, who served formerly served as a closer in Atlanta, has proven to be more versatile. Right-handed hitters have hit .233 with a .361 on-base percentage against him. Left-handed hitters have batted .257 with a .325 on-base percentage against him. The 35-year-old veteran would be a free agent at the end of this season.
The Braves are also looking for a backup infielder to fill the void created when switch-hitter Ramiro Pena was forced to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery last month. Paul Janish is more than capable of providing solid defense in this role. But the club would like to find a better offensive option, preferably one that can hit from the left side of the plate.
- Mark Bowman
Tim Hudson was caught off guard on Friday afternoon when some of his current Braves teammates informed him MLB Network’s Peter Gammons had just tweeted that Hudson had informed some former teammates that he felt he would be traded before the July 31 Trade Deadline.
Without being asked about the tweet, Hudson made a point to say he had never even discussed this possibility with any of his former teammates.
As a player with 10 years of Major League experience, including five consecutive with his current club, Hudson has the right to veto any potential trade. With this in mind, the veteran hurler, who will turn 38 next weekend, has no desire to play for any team other than the Braves until his contract runs out at the end of this year.
The Braves have produced the National League’s second-best bullpen ERA since losing Eric O’Flaherty to a season-ending elbow injury on May 18. But instead of continuing to roll the dice with rather inexperienced pen, they will attempt to land at least one reliever before the July 31 Trade Deadline.
Jordan Walden and Luis Avilan have proven to be a reliable setup duo while filling the voids created by the absences of O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters, who also underwent season-ending elbow surgery in May. But to lessen the workload placed on Walden and Avilan, the Braves would like to find a veteran who can provide depth in the middle relief role and occasionally work the eighth inning.
The Braves will be among the teams that show some interest in White Sox left-handed reliever Matt Thornton, who has a $6 million option and $1 million buyout for the 2013 season.
Walden’s ability to consistently handle left-handed batters with his changeup lessens the need for the Braves to look strictly for a left-handed reliever. But they would certainly like to add a lefty to their pen, which currently includes two southpaws – Avilan and top pitching prospect Alex Wood, who had no experience as a reliever before being called up from Double-A Mississippi in late May.
Along with relief help, the Braves will spend the next few weeks searching for a potential defensive upgrade at third base and a left-handed bat for their bench.
Chris Johnson has proven to be one of the team’s most consistent offensive contributors while manning the third base position. But his defensive woes have led the club to remove him for a late-inning defensive replacement over the past few weeks. Ramiro Pena was getting some starts at third base before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in early June.
Now the light-hitting Paul Janish stands as the only utility infielder the Braves can confidently place at either the shortstop or third base positions. Tyler Pastornicky’s contributions from a defensive standpoint will likely be limited to second base.
Without the switch-hitting Pena available, the only left-handed option on Atlanta’s bench is Jordan Schafer. Thus in their search to find either a starting third baseman or a more offensively-talented utility infielder who can play the left side, the Braves will likely target players with the ability to hit from the left side.
- Mark Bowman
The Braves have acquired right-handed hitting outfielder Reed Johnson and left-handed pitcher Paul Maholm from the Cubs in exchange for two Minor League pitchers.
One of those Minor League players is Arodys Vizcaino, a heralded right-handed prospect who is sidelined this year while recovering from Tommy John surgery. The other pitcher is Jaye Chapman, who has spent this season with Triple-A Gwinnett.
The Braves were able to satisfy their desires to add a starting pitcher and a right-handed hitter to strengthen their bench.
Maholm has gone 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA in the seven appearances he has made dating back to June 29. The 30-year-old left-handed pitcher has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 12 of his 21 starts this season.
Johnson has batted .307 with three home runs and a .807 OPS in 166 at-bats with the Cubs this season. The 35-year-old outfielder has been on the Braves’ radar in the past. He has batted .280 with a .743 OPS in 161 career pinch-hit at-bats.
The Red Sox called the Braves to gauge their interest in Josh Beckett. They would have likely received a different response had they asked about Jon Lester. But it does not appear Lester will be made available before Tuesday’s Trade Deadline.
Even with the possibility that the Red Sox might be willing to eat more than half of the $37 million still owed to Beckett through the end of the 2014 season, the Braves do not seem to be a fit. The veteran pitcher has experienced a decline in velocity while posting a 4.57 ERA in 17 starts last year. With a 5.78 ERA in 2010 and 2.98 ERA in 2011, Beckett is trending toward being one of those every-other-year pitchers like Javier Vazquez was during his career.
The Braves would be more interested in Lester, who is in the midst of the most disappointing season of his young career. Lester is four years younger and cheaper (owed $11.625M in 2013 and has a $13M club option with a $250,000 buyout for the 2014 season) than Beckett.
With a little more than 24 hours left before the Trade Deadline, the Braves will continue their search for a starting pitcher. Many industry sources seem to agree that the Rays are not aggressively attempting to trade James Shields. As for the Ryan Dempster situation, it remains cloudy. If the Dodgers are not able to work out the trade Dempster has been hoping for, there is still a chance the Cubs could come back to the Braves.
If the Cubs come back to the Braves, they might not get the same package that was in place before Dempster blocked a trade to Atlanta last week. In other words, there is no guarantee Randall Delgado would also be available in this package.
The Braves have also checked in on some relievers. Wade Davis has been mentioned among their targets, but the Rays also seem reluctant to move him. The Rockies have indicated former Braves top pitching prospect Matt Belisle is not available. But there is a chance they could move right-handed reliever Rafael Betancourt. — Mark Bowman