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Braves have widened their focus

Now that the Giants have Carlos Beltran and the Phillies have Hunter Pence how will the Braves answer?  While they might not make an acquisition that creates as much attention as Beltran and Pence, it seems quite certain they will add an outfielder before Sunday’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline.

When this week began, it seemed more likely that the Braves would add a right-handed hitting corner outfielder.  Their focus has widened since they  put two centerfielders  — Jordan Schafer and Nate McLouth –  and All-Star catcher Brian McCann on the disabled list this week.

The Braves’ wish list now includes the Rays’ B.J. Upton, the A’s Coco Crisp and the Astros’ Michael Bourn.  Each could play center and bat leadoff.

While the Braves and Astros have briefly discussed Bourn, it doesn’t sound like those talks have progressed past the preliminary stage.  With Crisp, the Braves have some concerns about his ability to stay healthy.

The Braves have continued to show interest in Upton, but it does not seem they are willing to get him in exchange for any of their top four pitching prospects  –  Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino and Mike Minor.

Because the Braves have a surplus of young pitching talent in their organization, fans and even some of their players (off the record) have questioned why they are not willing to deal Minor or some of their other pitching prospects.

The Braves showed some late interest in Pence but were never interested in him enough to use any of their pitching prospects to acquire him.    The Astros asked the Braves for two of their top pitching prospects in exchange for the outfielder.

The Braves were much more interested in Beltran than they were in Pence.  But they were not willing to part with their pitching prospects to simply have him in their outfield for two months.    — Mark Bowman

Injury-plagued Braves do not consider Pence a priority

The Braves have placed two centerfielders  — Jordan Schafer and Nate McLouth  — and All-Star catcher Brian McCann on the disabled list this week.  But with this year’s Trade Deadline just 48 hours away, Braves general manager Frank Wren said his focus has not changed.

After McLouth was disabled with a lower abdominal strain Friday afternoon, the Braves promoted Jose Constanza from Triple-A Gwinnett, put him on their 40-man roster and then put him in the leadoff spot for Friday night’s game against the Marlins.

“We’ve been looking for an outfielder and we’re still looking for an outfielder,” Wren said. “It really doesn’t change anything. We’re going to be thin for a while until some of these guys come back from injury.  We know that and it really doesn’t change anything.”

While there has been speculation the Braves and Phillies have been in a bidding war for Astros’ outfielder Hunter Pence, a Major League source said Friday that the Braves have not considered Pence to be a priority.

The Braves did inquire about Pence and also to see if the White Sox were interested in trading Carlos Quentin. But it seems they are more likely to acquire Rays’ outfielder B.J. Upton or Padres’ outfielder Ryan Ludwick before Sunday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline arrives.

Upton could serve as the club’s leadoff hitter and starting centerfielder.  But even with Schafer and McLouth sidelined, they may still target Ludwick, who would primarily play the corner outfield positions.  But he is athletic enough to play center field if necessary.    –  Mark Bowman

Upton or Ludwick could benefit Braves

The Braves have said their activity on the trade market will not be influenced by the fact that Brian McCann will miss at least the next couple weeks with a strained left oblique muscle.  Instead, they have said are simply continuing their pursuit to add a right-handed bat to their lineup.

While Josh Willingham and Ryan Ludwick have been suggested as options, they are certainly not viewed as having the same kind of potential impact as Rays’ outfielder B.J. Upton, who could spend the final two months of this season as Atlanta’s starting center fielder and leadoff hitter.   The Rays have had a scout in Atlanta throughout this week’s series against the Pirates.

The Braves will likely have to part ways with Mike Minor or another of their top pitching prospects to get Upton, who could make approximately $7 million during his final arbitration-eligible season next year.

The Astros are seemingly asking for much more for Hunter Pence, who could make closer to $11 million via arbitration next year.   A Major League source said he believes Pence will end up with the Phillies this weekend or possibly during the offseason.

Because he is the better defender, Ludwick seemingly fits the Braves’ needs more than Willingham.    If the Braves land either one of these right-handed hitting outfielders, they will likely platoon with Jason Heyward in right field and spend some time in left field when Martin Prado is playing third base.

With the Braves planning to give third baseman Chipper Jones regular rest down the stretch, Prado could be spending a lot of time at third base.    –  Mark Bowman

Braves weighing their options

The Braves have maintained their interest in acquiring a right-handed hitting outfielder and right-handed reliever.   But it seems unlikely that they will strike a deal before this weekend arrives.

As one long-time executive said Monday night, “the asking prices are just too high right now.”

With the  Braves, Giants, Rangers, Red Sox and Phillies all reportedly showing interest in Carlos Beltran, the Mets have no reason to currently  lessen their demands for the switch-hitting outfielder.  But as Sunday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline nears, they could certainly be  asking for less in return.

The Braves have the prospects to acquire Beltran and any of the other players currently on their wish list.  They have made it known that they would be reluctant to part ways with any of their top pitching prospects  –  Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, Randall Delgado and quite possibly Mike Minor.

But as Sunday’s deadline approaches, there is also a chance Braves general manager Frank Wren will opt to include one of these pitchers based on the confidence that he has plenty of other good young pitching in his organization.

With Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Brandon Beachy, he already has three members of his Major League rotation who are 25 years or younger.   Lesser-known prospects like Zeke Spruill and Brett Oberholtzer simply add to the organization’s pitching depth.

While the next few days will likely continue to play out like a cat-and-mouse game, Wren and his peers will be ready to make crucial decisions by the time this weekend arrives.

- Mark Bowman

Braves remain interested in Beltran

There’s no doubt the Braves have continued to show interest in acquiring Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran.  But as was mentioned earlier this week, it might prove difficult for them to make this deal with  a division rival that is looking for top pitching prospects.

The Braves have an abundance of pitching, but it does not seem like they have any interest in parting ways with their most highly-touted pitching prospects Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado or Arodys Vizcaino.   When this was brought up to a National League scout he responded with, “they remember what happened with the  (Mark) Teixeira deal.”

To get Beltran, the Braves wouldn’t have to give up nearly as much as they did for Teixeira, who was appealing enough that the Rangers received Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and a Minor League pitcher in return.

The Braves felt they would have Teixeira for at least 1 1/2 seasons and have the opportunity to make two postseason runs with him.  With Beltran being a free agent at the end of this season, he would simply be a short-term rental who would significantly improve the club’s chance to win a World Series.

While the Braves might not be willing to part ways with Teheran, Delgado or Vizcaino, they may still have enough pitching in their system to put together an attractive package that could be highlighted by Mike Minor, the seventh overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.

If the Braves acquire the switch-hitting Beltran, he would likely spend most of his time in right field and diminish the playing time of Jason Heyward.    The Braves are also looking at other right-handed hitting outfielders who could possibly platoon with Heyward in right field.

- Mark Bowman

 

 

 

 

Braves have shown interest in Beltran

The Braves are among the teams who have shown an interest in Mets outfielder  Carlos Beltran, who would certainly upgrade their lineup and serve as the versatile outfielder they are seeking.

Beltran is owed a little more than $6 million over the remainder of his contract, which expires at the end of this season.  Looking to get a significant return, the Mets have reportedly said they will cover all of this remaining salary.   This comes courtesy of ESPN New York.

While the Mets might not have a problem lending Beltran to the Braves for a couple months before the outfielder and his agent Scott Boras hit the free agent market, the Braves might not be willing to provide the necessary return for a short term rental, especially when that return could significantly help a division rival’s future.

Still like the Giants, Tigers and Phillies, the Braves are expected to continue evaluating the benefits of acquiring Beltran, a former Gold Glove centerfielder who has played right field this year to lessen the wear placed on his surgically-repaired right knee.

If the Braves acquired Beltran, there is absolutely no guarantee he would only play center field.  The Braves are happy with Jordan Schafer’s range in center and believe he is making the right progress as a leadoff hitter.

Instead Beltran could spend much of his time in right field where Jason Heyward has struggled this season.  Heyward has hit .224 this year and just .173 against left-handed pitchers.  His struggles against left-handers have led some to wonder if he should be utilized in a platoon or quite possibly sent to the Minors to fix his swing.

In other trade-related news involving the Braves, there was at least one Tigers scout in attendance to watch Derek Lowe’s start against the Rockies last night.

- Mark Bowman

Lowe’s name once again a part of trade buzz

A recent FoxSports.com report indicated the Tigers have shown some interest in Detroit native Derek Lowe.  This has obviously led some to debate whether the Braves would be able to trade Lowe before this year’s Trade Deadline.

If they could find a suitor willing to pay all or at least a significant portion of the $20 million owed to Lowe through the end of the 2012 season, the Braves would certainly be willing to move him and use the money saved to attempt to significantly upgrade their offense with a right-handed bat.

In other words, they’re taking the same approach they have most of the past two years with the veteran hurler.

After Lowe struggled through the 2009 season, the Braves diligently tried to trade him before determining they needed to instead trade Javier Vazquez.   Lowe’s name wasn’t  bounced around much before last year’s Trade Deadline.  But that might have had something to do with the fact it’s hard to move a pitcher who carries a 4.53 ERA into July and is still owed $35 million over the final 2 1/2 seasons of his contract.

After Lowe went 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in five September starts and pitched well in last year’s postseason, the Braves were once again willing to listen to potential suitors this past winter.  Now they find themselves in the same position.

There is always a chance a pitching-hungry team with financial flexibility would take a chance on Lowe with the understanding he has often pitched well down the stretch.

But the Braves have not yet had any serious talks with teams about Lowe and right now it doesn’t appear there is much reason to believe he will be traded before the end of this month.

-  Mark Bowman

Braves continue search for reliever and right-handed bat

While the Braves might not make a huge splash on this year’s trade market, they will be certainly be active in their search to land a right-handed reliever and right-handed hitting outfielder.

An American League scout proved more specific Friday when he said, “They’re looking for a right-handed hitter who can play each of the outfield positions.”

While the Braves might not necessarily find the versatile outfielder they are seeking, they would seemingly be satisfied to strengthen their bench with the right-handed equivalent of Eric Hinske.  This would provide manager Fredi Gonzalez at least another option to combat situations when opponents can attempt to take advantage of  the heavy left-handed presence in the Braves’ lineup.

The desire to add a right-handed reliever is obviously aimed toward limiting the innings compiled by top middle relievers Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty down the stretch.   The Padres’ Mike Adams has been mentioned to be on the Braves’ wish list.

Adams and his All-Star teammate Heath Bell have also reportedly been on the Phillies’ wish list, which seems to look a lot like the possessed by the Braves.

The Braves and Phillies could both benefit from the acquisition of Hunter Pence.   But the Astros’ outfielder will seemingly come at a steep price.

With the general belief being that Astros general manager Ed Wade is fighting for his job, one Major League source said earlier this week, “he’s got to make sure he clearly wins the deal if he trades Pence.”

 

- Mark Bowman

White Sox showing interest in Atlanta’s pitchers

Like many Major League clubs, the White Sox seem  interested in the Braves’ wealth of young pitching talent.  But those fans hoping this means outfielder Carlos Quentin could be headed to Atlanta should be prepared for disappointment.

White Sox advance scout Bill Scherrer was at Turner Field for this past weekend’s series against the Orioles and he stuck around for this week’s series against the Rockies.  Given the White Sox and Orioles will not meet again until Aug. 8,  Scherrer has likely focused most of his attention toward the Braves’ pitchers.

While the Braves might be in the market for an outfielder, their primary focus will likely not be aimed toward corner outfielders like Quentin.  Instead they will continue to evaluate what Jordan Schafer can provide in the leadoff spot and  determine whether they need to increase their efforts to find a proven leadoff hitter like the White Sox have in Juan Pierre.

Pierre has batted .261 with a .322 on-base percentage and been successful with just 12 of his 22 stolen base attempts.   In other words, he hasn’t been the same guy who was successful with 68 of 86 stolen base attempts last year.  But since May 1, he has hit .270 with a .340 on-base percentage and been successful with seven of his 10 stolen base attempts.

With Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado, the Braves are loaded with the non-arbitration-eligible, Major League-ready arms the White Sox are seeking.

- Mark Bowman

Kimbrel justifying comparisons to Wagner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Braves general manager first described Craig Kimbrel as a right-handed Billy Wagner, it seemed appropriate to simply smile and nod.  This young Kimbrel kid had just proven dominant in his first full professional season and he just happened to be getting ready to be introduced to Wagner, who had recently signed with the Braves.

There are countless comparisons made every day in the baseball world and they oftentimes prove comical a few years down the road.  When Kelly Johnson was adapting to the second base position, Bobby Cox said something like “he looks like Maz (Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski) out there.”  Sparky Anderson once described Barbaro Garbey as another Roberto Clemente.

Well it’s still far to early to say Kimbrel is Wagner’s right-handed equal.  But the Braves 22-year-old closer has obviously already proven the comparison won’t be deemed as ridiculous as the two mentioned in the above graph.

Any lingering doubts about Kimbrel should have been erased when he notched four strikeouts in the two perfect innings he tossed in Game 2 of last year’s National League Division Series against the Giants.  The kid showed nerves of steel while pitching in enemy territory that night.

In a far less stressful setting in front of Milwaukee’s home opener crowd yesterday afternoon, Kimbrel completed yet another jaw-dropping inning.   He needed just 15 pitches to record three strikeouts in a perfect ninth that resulted in his second save of the young season.

Kimbrel opened the first of this year’s two perfect innings by getting Adam LaRoche to end a seven-pitch at-bat with a weak fly ball to left fielder Martin Prado.   He has since struck out each of the five batters he’s faced within a span of 26 pitches.

It might not mean a lot to simply say just one of the 33 pitches Kimbrel has thrown this year has been put in play.   But I think the sample size is large enough to at least be impressed that just 7.9 percent of the 417 pitches he’s thrown in his career have been put in play.

Cubs closer Carlos Marmol set a record for all Major League pitchers in 2008, when just 12.4 percent of his pitches were put in play.

Because Kimbrel has made just 23 career appearances, it’s still a little too early to anoint him with greatness.  But while limiting opponents to a .115 batting average and allowing just one earned run, he’s certainly moving in that direction.

Kimbrel has recorded 17.9 strikeouts per nine innings in his young career. Since being rejoining Atlanta’s roster in September, he has struck out 28 of the 48 batters he’s faced and this doesn’t account for the fact that he struck out seven of the 13 batters he faced in the NLDS.

Marmol set a Major League record for relievers last year when he struck out 15.99 batters per nine innings.  Eric Gagne ranks second with the 14.98 mark he posted in 2003.  Wagner owns three of the top seven marks  –  14.95 in 1999, 14.55 in 1998 and 14.38 in 1997.

With his career now consisting of about a quarter of a third of a normal season, Kimbrel has struck out 47.9 percent of the batters he’s faced.  He’s struck out 58.3 percent of the batters he’s faced since rejoining the Braves in September.

Wagner set a Major League record for relievers in 1999 when he struck out 43.4 percent of the hitters he faced.  Gagne bettered that mark in 2003, when he retired 44.8 percent of the batters he faced via strikeouts.

Who knows what the future holds for Kimbrel.  But the present is telling us it’s at least fair to label him as a “right-handed Billy Wagner.”

Odds and ends: Chipper Jones needs four hits and seven RBIs to join Hall of Famer Eddie Murray as the only Major League switch hitters to record 2500 hits and 1500 RBIs in a career…Earlier this week, I wrote Dan Uggla has now hit his first homer in the second game of four consecutive seasons.   While he is a slow starter in Spring Training, Uggla has now totaled two homers in the first four games of two of the past three seasons.

If you haven’t seen the Braves’ funny new commercials, check them out here.   I thought the AJC’s David O’Brien was very charitable to allow them to use his car in the spot featuring Jason Heyward.

Tonight’s lineup will be posted later this afternoon.

 

 

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