When the rumors about the possible availability of Colby Rasmus, Justin Upton, and Ryan Braun stoked the Hot Stove, I’ll admit that I was starting to think that the Braves should trade some of that precious starting pitching depth in the minor leagues for a key cog in the lineup, especially considering all of the mentioned players would be around for 4+ years. Frank Wren and the Braves, however, refused to part with part of their treasure trove, and payroll flexibility was, without a doubt, a significant reason. You don’t need me to tell you that the Braves have accumulated a wealth of pitching talent. It’s outstanding, but the best part of it is that the talent is coming in waves, with major talents residing at each level. When Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson leave in the coming seasons, the Braves will have the talent to fill these spots from within, saving tens of millions of dollars to be spent elsewhere, and they’ll be able to do it without rushing anyone.
The rotation is essentially set. Hudson will probably start Opening Day with Lowe, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, and Mike Minor filling out the rest of the rotation (I’ll mention Kenshin Kawakami real quick—he won’t have anything to do with the team in 2011). Looking at the above depth chart, you can see a huge wave coming from AA, and while none of them will be ready before the second half of 2011, at best, they don’t need to be. The Braves won’t need to rush them. They will, instead, let those three build on last season’s experience in Mississippi, and each prospect will move up only once they’ve proven they can handle it. While most organizations would be impatient waiting for the pitching to arrive, the depth at the major-league level and in AAA (though Redmond is mainly just a guy) will give the Braves some peace of mind.
This is where you might see some of the talent arrive, but it’s unlikely. Lowe and Hudson are still under contract, and while they would be easier to trade with it being their last year under contract, there is enough money coming off the books with the departures of Nate McLouth ($6.5 MM), Kenshin Kawakami ($6.67 MM), Scott Linebrink ($2 MM), George Sherrill ($1.2 MM), Scott Proctor ($.75 MM), and Peter Moylan ($2 MM, hopefully) totaling almost $20 million. They don’t need to trade them. With the MLB rotation being identical to 2011’s, AAA becomes pretty backlogged with talent, but that’s a good thing. If Teheran or Delgado (even Beachy) is ready, I wouldn’t be surprised or upset to see Jurrjens traded for a similarly-aged offensive player—SS or CF, most likely, but 3B and LF are options if Chipper retires.
Here’s where holding on to these guys becomes genius. Lowe, Hudson, and the $24 million used to pay them will be gone (Hudson will have a $9 MM option, but I don’t think they’ll keep with him with the above rotation), but their departures will also result in a deficit of about 6 wins. Fortunately, Teheran and Delgado are projected to be upper-echelon starters, and even if they aren’t that quite yet, 4 wins seems reasonable between the two. In addition to the major-league rotation, the Braves will still have budding prospects Arodys Vizcaino and Brett Oberholtzer (the 4.15 ERA doesn’t look elite, but the 5.94 K/BB ratio is just awesome) waiting in AAA. You’ll also note that Brandon Beachy and JJ Hoover are no longer on the depth chart. By this point, I’ll guess that they’re in the bullpen or were traded to another team to fill other needs, but one of the two could be good enough to fill in should one of Minor/Teheran/Delgado not work out. With the depth the Braves have built up, they can withstand the usual prospect attrition while having some left over to use in trades. If Jurrjens has been traded, Hudson’s option will probably be picked up, but either way, around $9 million will be paid to Hudson or Jurrjens unless someone takes a big step forward.-----------------------------------------------------------------
I won’t go any further because I’m starting to get into fortune-telling. Things won’t happen exactly like this, and it probably won’t happen in a best-case scenario fashion. But here’s how I’m looking at it. The team already has two above-average major-league starters, and the prospects I have selected to be in the 2013 rotation have ceilings as a number two or higher (Teheran). Best-case scenario, Teheran and Hanson are aces with Jurrjens, Minor, and Delgado are solid 2 or 3 guys. More probably, Hanson is an ace, Jurrjens and Teheran are mid-rotation guys, and Minor and Delgado are filling out the back ever-so-slightly above average. Worst-case scenario, the Braves are still down a few starters and have to spend the Lowe/Hudson money on a couple more starters. Whatever the case, Wren and the Braves player development people have done an excellent job in covering the hardest, most unstable part of a team for possibly the next 6-10 years.