On September 18, 2006, the Atlanta Braves officially ended their unprecedented run of winning fourteen straight divisional titles. Since that year, the Braves have faltered and have been pushed to the brink of the dreaded "rebuilding" phase.
John Schuerholz tried to secure another World Series Ring before he moved up the proverbial ladder to become president of the organization in 2007 and traded away promising prospects Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, and Beau Jones for Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay. In 2008, the Braves needed to receive compensation for losing these players when a winning season was all but lost. The new GM on the block, Frank Wren, traded Teixeira away to the Angels for Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek.
Last season, there was a certain feel about the Braves team assembled that brought back nostalgia as well as the prospects of winning big. However, after injuries systematically put down Mike Hampton, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and even Tim Hudson, there was great reason to be concerned about the future of the starting rotation. The shrewd trade for Jair Jurrjens added an ace-in-the-waiting, but what was there behind Jurrjens? Charlie Morton and Jo-Jo Reyes provided youth and inconsistency to the rotation. Journeymen like Jorge Campillo started out effective and then faded away near the end of the season.
Not only are there legitimate problems finding legitimate frontline starters, but there is a need for a power hitting outfielder as well. Jeff Francoeur struggled mightily this past season. Both center field and right field were power drains. Once Tex left, Brian McCann and Chipper Jones were the only major power threats in that lineup.
Simply put, the Braves need at least two starting pitchers and a power threat in the lineup -- and they have more than $40 million to play with.
The Braves have been rumored to be interested in a great number of pitchers including (but not limited to) Jake Peavy, A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe, Randy Wolf, and possibly others by trade. Getting two of these pitchers would be a great success to this offseason. However, as the current prices for those like CC Sabathia and Burnett have skyrocketed, obtaining only one of the listed pitchers may be possible.
So who should the Braves sign?
The Braves should sign both of their starting pitchers here. Trading for Jake Peavy may happen, but what happens if the Braves do not agree to terms with the Padres? They cannot wait forever for Kevin Towers to make a decision. They must move forward and make the splash on the free agent market.
The Braves should sign A.J. Burnett. He has been an injury liability (as well as Ben Sheets), but there seems to be an improvement in innings recorded. Signing a lesser name like Oliver Perez or Jon Garland would also help to add stability to the rotation. If John Smoltz and/or Tom Glavine prove to be healthy enough (and effective enough) to return to pitching, then the Braves should sign them too. Mike Hampton is also a possibility, as he did well at the end of the season last year. Signing these people would make a rotation of Burnett, Perez/Garland, Jurrjens, as well as the other former Braves mentioned -- with Tim Hudson possibly returning from his Tommy John surgery in August or later.
While signing their two pitchers in free agency, the Braves still need to find a left-field power bat. They should do this via trade. Trading for an outfielder like Ryan Ludwick would add tremendous power potential to the lineup as well as solid average, run production, and on-base percentage. Ludwick has had one great year, but the potential is all there to repeat. Giving up a middle infielder in the likes of Kelly Johnson or Yunel Escobar would certainly help in the short-term before outfielder Jason Heyward arrives in the MLB. If Escobar is traded, a shortstop should be signed in free agency (Rafael Furcal, preferably). If Johnson is traded, Martin Prado would be more than a capable replacement.