Patient Braves eyeing rotation help, bench depth
Atlanta wants to add veteran starting pitcher, reliever and power potential
ATLANTA -- As many of his peers were involved in the hectic flurry of trades and free-agent signings completed this week, Braves general manager Frank Wren remained patient and focused on locating the pieces that could strengthen his club's bid to win a second straight National League East title.
The early portion of the Hot Stove season has been much quieter than normal for Wren, who has seldom shied away from making a significant early transaction. But there is certainly a chance the Braves will make some noise as the unpredictable Winter Meetings unfold in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., next week.
Over the past few weeks, the Braves have bid adieu to two veterans -- Brian McCann and Tim Hudson -- and seen the division-rival Nationals upgrade their rotation by acquiring Doug Fister from the Tigers.
Now, Wren and his staff will attempt to address the items at the top of their wish list -- acquiring a veteran starting pitcher and adding depth to both the bullpen and bench. At the same time, Atlanta will continue evaluating the possibility of trading Dan Uggla and a portion of the $26 million he is owed over the next two years.
Here is a look at what the Braves could do during this year's Winter Meetings, which will be held about a mile north of the club's Spring Training complex.
Rotation: With Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood, the Braves have the base for a solid starting rotation. But with Hudson's exit, Atlanta no longer has a pitcher who has made more than 85 career starts. At the same time, Wren could benefit from gaining some insurance for Beachy, who returned from Tommy John surgery last year and made five starts before having to undergo a "clean-up" surgery in September. Kyle Lohse and Jeff Samardzija are among the pitchers that might be available via trade.
Bullpen: As things currently stand, Luis Avilan, David Carpenter and Jordan Walden will once again be available to serve as setup men for closer Craig Kimbrel. Anthony Varvaro and the newly-acquired Luis Vasquez add to the depth of this bullpen. But one year removed from losing Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty to Tommy John surgery, Wren could be tempted to add at least one reliever, specifically, a left-hander. With Venters not expected to return until June, Avilan currently stands as the only southpaw in the projected bullpen mix. Wood could serve as a second lefty, if he is not in the rotation.
Bench: Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez worked with the luxury of a strong bench until Ramiro Pena and Evan Gattis sustained injuries that sidelined them in June. The switch-hitting Pena, who missed the season's final three months, will return to provide valuable versatility. Jordan Schafer resurrected his career last season and could return to serve as the primary backup outfielder. With Gattis likely to handle the regular catching duties, Atlanta could benefit from adding some power potential to the bench.
Who they can trade if necessary
Joey Terdoslavich: Terdoslavich gained notice, as he hit .318 with 18 home runs and a .925 OPS in the 85 games he played with Triple-A Gwinnett. He was promoted to Atlanta on July 4 and ended up batting .215 with a .581 OPS in 92 plate appearances. Terdoslavich's struggles at the big league level primarily came as a pinch-hitter. He hit .286 in the 14 games he started. While Terdoslavich might not be the centerpiece of a trade, he could serve as an attractive piece for a team that likes his offensive potential and ability to play the corner-outfield positions.
Walden: The Braves were fortunate to get a pitcher as talented as Walden in exchange for Tommy Hanson last year. Bouncing back from a rough 2012 season, Walden posted a 2.47 ERA in the 46 appearances he made before straining his groin muscle in late August. The right-handed setup man was never the same after the injury. He is set to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million as a first-year arbitration-eligible player in 2014.
Schafer: With uncertainty surrounding B.J. Upton's ability to bounce back from his miserable 2013 season, Schafer could provide valuable insurance in Atlanta. But, at the same time, there is a chance he could draw a decent return from a club that is looking to add speed to its outfield mix.
The Braves' Top 10 Prospects, per MLB.com, are pitchers Lucas Sims, J.R. Graham, Sean Gilmartin, Jason Hursh, Mauricio Cabrera, Cody Martin and Aaron Northcraft, catcher Christian Bethancourt and outfielders Todd Cunningham and Matt Lipka The Braves are obviously pitching heavy when it comes to their top prospects. Their pitching depth is further fortified by Shae Simmons and Juan Jaime, a couple of hurlers who did not make this list. This depth could certainly give Wren the comfort to shop some of these young arms on the trade market.
Rule 5 Draft
The Braves have three openings on their 40-man roster. This provides the option for them to select a player in the Rule 5 Draft, though they have seldom been active in this market. It also does not appear the club is at risk of losing any of its Minor Leaguers during the Major League phase of next Thursday's Draft.
Big contracts they might unload
As soon as the Braves left Uggla off their NL Division Series roster, they provided even more reason to believe they would attempt to trade the veteran second baseman -- with the understanding they will have to eat a significant portion of the $26 million he is owed over the next two years. Making this kind of trade is easier said than done when dealing with a player who has batted .185 with 33 home runs and a .673 OPS in the 238 games he has played dating back to June 1, 2012. Still, there is always a chance a club could be interested in taking a chance on his power potential. Uggla led the NL in walks in 2012, and Robinson Cano is the only second baseman who has hit more home runs over the past two seasons.
The Braves are expected to keep their payroll between $95 million to $100 million. Accounting for the projected salaries for each of the club's nine unsigned arbitration-eligible players, Wren has approximately $10 million to $15 million to spend.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.