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Braves searching for a left-handed reliever

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

Hudson disputes trade rumor

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.

Braves looking to add experience to their pen

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

Braves acquire Johnson and Maholm from the Cubs

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.

Braves more interested in Lester than Beckett

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

Braves monitoring the pitching market

Concerns about the Braves’ rotation have lessened as Ben Sheets has found success during the early stages of his comeback and Mike Minor has turned his season around.  Still general manager Frank Wren and staff have continued to evaluate the trade market for both starting pitchers and relievers.

All seemed quiet on the trade front as the Braves prepared for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Phillies.  But things could certainly heat up as Tuesday afternoon’s Trade Deadline approaches.

While many industry sources seem to doubt the possibility of Ryan Dempster ending up in Atlanta, the next 24 hours could be telling.  Dempster, who blocked a trade to the Braves last week, is scheduled to make his next start for the Cubs on Tuesday night.

There is still a chance Dempster will get his wish to be traded to the Dodgers.  But the Cubs and Dodgers have struggled to reach an agreement while discussing this possibility over the past couple of weeks.

If this continues, there is a chance Dempster could end up in Atlanta.  But if he does, the Cubs might not be compensated with Randall Delgado, the highly-regarded pitching prospect who was included in the trade the veteran pitcher blocked last week.

The Braves are among the teams that have shown interest in James Shields.  But the Rays have not yet provided clear indication that they are willing to deal Shields without getting a significant return.     —  Mark Bowman

Braves still have shopping for a starting pitcher

Fans are not the only ones excited about who might be involved in trades over the next couple of days.   When Braves general manager Frank Wren got on the team bus before Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Marlins, Chipper Jones greeted him by audibly saying “Josh Johnson” multiple times while coughing.

It seems unlikely that the Marlins would trade Johnson to any National League East club for any thing less than a king’s ransom in return. But contrary to some speculation on Friday, the Braves remain focused on attempting to find a top-flight starting pitcher before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline.

While Braves general manager Frank Wren and his staff spend the next few days evaluating their options, they will explore the possibility of improving their bench and bullpen.  But they have not lost sight of the possibility of acquiring Zack Greinke or possibly landing Ryan Dempster if he does not end up getting his desired trade to the Dodgers.

“Frank and I talk all the time and keep in touch all the time about stuff,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “You can’t help it this time of year when you watch MLB Network to notice a rumor out there or a Tweet.  But I’m to the point where whoever gets here, gets here.”

The Braves are also among the teams that have shown interest in the Rays’ James Shields and the Padres’ Edinson Volquez.  The asking price for both has been high.  But as the demands could lessen as the Deadline approaches.   –  Mark Bowman

Braves continue to evaluate Greinke and other options

As Brewers general manager Doug Melvin is making it clear Zack Greinke will be traded before Tuesday’s Trade Deadline, the Braves are paying close attention and evaluating the cost of acquiring the former Cy Young Award winner. Greinke has been at the top of Atlanta’s wish list for more than a month and they have made it known they want to sign him beyond this year.

To get Greinke, the Braves will likely have to part with top pitching prospect Julio Teheran and at least one other highly-regarded prospect. It’s an incredibly steep price for a two-month rental.  But the Braves want to keep Greinke beyond this season and if they are confident it would be a possibility, they might be willing to pay this price.  The Brewers veteran is the one available pitcher who could be considered a legitimate ace, who could match up against other top starting pitchers in October.

Greinke has provided indication that he wants to play in Atlanta and the Braves’ Spring Training headquarters are located approximately 20 minutes from where he was raised in the Orlando area.

But the Braves’ ability to sign him this winter could be influenced by the six-year, $144 million contract extension Cole Hamels received from the Phillies on Wednesday.

If the Braves do not land Greinke, there is still a chance they could land Ryan Dempster, who blocked a trade that would have brought him to Atlanta earlier this week.  Dempster is holding out hope that the Cubs will send him to the Dodgers.  If this does not happen, he could still end up with the Braves.

The Braves have interest in James Shields of the Rays.  But like the Marlins with Josh Johnson and the Padres with Edinson Volquez, the Rays are providing every indication that they will not move him unless they are blown away with an offer.

The Rangers, White Sox and Angels are among the other teams showing definite interest in Greinke.

A wealth of prospects could aid the Rangers in their pursuit of Greinke. But on Thursday there was a sense they might be showing at least equal interest in Johnson.  –  Mark Bowman


Braves move past Dempster, focus on Greinke

Braves general manager Frank Wren has not completely rule out the possibility of adding Ryan Dempster to his starting rotation before Tuesday’s Trade Deadline.  But as he prepared to watch Wednesday’s series finale against the Marlins, it appeared his clubs focus had returned to Zack Greinke and other starting pitchers that could be available via trade.

“We’ve moved on,” Wren said. “Like I told you guys last night, it’s highly unlikely that we make that (Dempster) deal.”

The Braves and Cubs agreed on Monday to a deal that would have brought Dempster to Atlanta in exchange for Randall Delgado and at least one other Minor Leaguer.  But utilizing the trade veto rights he has earned by playing in the Majors for at least 10 years and with the same team for five years, Dempster has not provided his blessing.

Because the wait extended beyond Tuesday, the framework of this deal appears to be dead.  Dempster was scheduled to start Wednesday afternoon’s game for the Cubs in Pittsburgh.

“We had certain parameters for us that expired,” Wren said. “The Cubs were fully aware of it and understood.”
Greinke has always been at the top of the Braves’ wish list and they are still evaluating the possibility of adding the former Cy Young Award winner.  Their top scout Jim Fregosi was in Philadelphia on Wednesday night to see Greinke limit the Phillies to one run and three hits in seven innings.  The veteran pitcher also homered off Cliff Lee.
Indications are that the Brewers will want top pitching prospect Julio Teheran and at least one other highly-regarded prospect in exchange for Greinke, who is set for a big payday on the free agent market this winter.
The Braves are willing to provide the five-year contract and $20-plus million annual salary that Greinke will be seeking. But the package they would be willing to provide the Brewers will be based on their confidence that Greinke would not simply be a two-month rental.

Report: Dempster still hoping to land with Dodgers

When the Cubs visited Turner Field at the beginning of this month, the Braves gained the impression Ryan Dempster wanted to play in Atlanta. But now that he has an opportunity, Dempster continues to weigh other options.

The Braves and Cubs agreed upon a trade on Monday that would send Dempster to Atlanta for right-handed pitcher Randall Delgado and at least one other Minor League player. But Dempster has the right to veto any trade because he has played at the Major League level for at least 10 seasons and with the same team for at least five seasons.

A National League source said Dempster has not yet officially exercised this right.  But as Tuesday progressed, the Braves had less reason to feel confident about this deal being completed.

According FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Dempster is holding out hope that he will eventually be traded to the Dodgers.  The Cubs and Dodgers were unable to reach an agreement when they discussed a potential trade earlier this month.

Dempster has told reporters over the past few weeks that his first preference would be to play for the Dodgers.  The Braves are believed to be second on his wish list.

If Dempster does indeed reject this trade, it is unknown whether the Braves would be receptive to trading for him if the Cubs are unable to strike a deal with the Dodgers.  Over the next couple of days, they will likely turn their attention other starting pitchers available on the trade market.

Zack Greinke has been at the top of the Braves wish list over the past month. But with hopes of potentially keeping Greinke, the Brewers are asking for a significant return that would include Julio Teheran and at least one other highly-regarded prospect.

With this kind of asking price, the Braves will be more interested in attempting to sign Greinke as a free agent this winter.