Braves eye relievers as Deadline nears
Angels' Downs, Cubs' Russell among top lefty trade options
ATLANTA -- When the Braves lost Tim Hudson on Wednesday for the remainder of the season, general manager Frank Wren and his scouts evaluated the limited options to land a frontline starting pitcher with the potential to upgrade the rotation.
While the early portion of these discussions created reason to wonder if the Braves might attempt to acquire White Sox right-hander Jake Peavy or Royals right-hander Ervin Santana, it now appears Wren's focus leading up to Wednesday's Trade Deadline centers on acquiring a reliever, preferably a left-hander, and a backup middle infielder who can hit from the left side of the plate.
"I think it's the tightest market I've ever seen, and I've been at the Major League level doing this since 1991," Wren said. "So 22 years' worth, I've never seen a trade market as tight and thin, and the number of available players."
As of Sunday, the Braves had not had any discussions with the Royals regarding Santana, who will likely remain in Kansas City. Atlanta's interest in Peavy seemed to evaporate as it became more clear the cost to land the veteran was much steeper than Wren and his staff were willing to pay.
With Brandon Beachy set to return from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery on Monday and Paul Maholm expected to be activated from the disabled list in early August, the Braves believe they already have a starting rotation capable of preserving the team's comfortable lead in the National League East.
There is no doubt it would be nice to line up a proven veteran against the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw in a postseason matchup. But as the Braves have evaluated the available starting pitchers, they have not seen any that would definitively serve as an upgrade to either Julio Teheran or Mike Minor, who currently stand as the top two starters in Atlanta's rotation.
If Beachy quickly regains the successful form that helped him compile a 2.00 ERA before he was forced to undergo surgery last year, he will provide the Braves the benefit they could receive from landing a starting pitcher before the Deadline.
"I think we have the numbers to fill out our rotation and be good," Wren said. "It's just looking at the market and what makes us ultimately the best team possible."
When Maholm returns to action, possibly as early as Aug. 5, the Braves will have the chance to improve the depth of their relief corps by sending either left-hander Alex Wood or right-hander Kris Medlen to the bullpen. This seemingly reduces the urgency to add a reliever before Wednesday's Deadline.
But the club will continue to evaluate ways to aid a bullpen that has continued to be one of the game's most effective since losing top setup man Eric O'Flaherty to Tommy John surgery in May.
"There's a theory that if you're not getting a big upgrade in the starting rotation, beef up your bullpen and make that as strong as possible," Wren said.
Left-hander Luis Avilan and right-hander Jordan Walden have proven to be valuable setup men for closer Craig Kimbrel. But in an attempt to lighten the load placed on these two pitchers and to simply add to manager Fredi Gonzalez's late-inning options, the Braves have looked at a handful of relievers and will likely continue to do so though the month of August, when players can be acquired after passing through the waiver wire.
The two left-handed relievers who appear to be at the top of Atlanta's wish list are the Angels' Scott Downs and the Cubs' James Russell. Milwaukee's Mike Gonzalez has garnered lukewarm interest, at best, from Atlanta's front office.
"Payroll's not going to be the issue for us," Wren said. It's going to be the talent we have to give up, and it's also understanding how much of an upgrade a particular player is for us. It's a thin market. Are there pitchers out there that would make us better? Yes. The number of them is pretty low."
The Braves have had a desire to land a backup infielder since losing Ramiro Pena's switch-hitting presence to season-ending shoulder surgery in June. While Paul Janish has the ability to serve as a dependable defensive asset, his offensive shortcomings have led Wren and his staff to search for other infielders who would provide a reliable glove and a left-handed presence on the bench.
But like with the relief market, the Braves have found the attractive options to be limited.
"There's a few names we like, and when it gets beyond that, we may just wait for the market to increase as we get closer to September 1 and more teams fall out of it and take our chances in the waiver market."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.