Brandon Beachy, Randall Delgado, Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran.
Those are all players currently in the running for a spot in the starting rotation next season.
While teams around the league prepare to devour the free agent market for pitchers to overpay for years to come, the Atlanta Braves enter with a sense of stability and security surrounding their pitching staff. It is certainly a position of strength throughout the organization and nothing more than a little fine-tuning should be Frank Wren's priority over the winter months.
That being said, there are certainly a few situations that must be addressed with those capable of fighting for a spot in the 2012 starting rotation. Here is a look at what may happen with some of the starters in the running for the rotation:
Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy:
If any of these three pitchers are healthy heading into Spring Training and the regular season, there is no debating they already have a spot secured with their name on it. Hudson, Hanson and Beachy have all proved their worth to the organization and they will be penciled in for Opening Day.
Mike Minor may have struggled at times in the 2011 season, but the lefty was unlucky in just about every start and deserved a better fortune. While his ERA of 4.14 is not great, an FIP of 3.39 is excellent and opposing batter's BABIP of .350 should regress a considerable amount next year. His K/9 rate of 8.38 is above-average as well and a BB/9 rate of 3.27 is serviceable assuming the strikeouts continue.
What does that mean? At just 24-years old, Mike Minor is well on his way to becoming a very solid pitcher at the Major League level and deserves to begin the season in the starting rotation. He may have to 'earn' his spot in Spring Training, but that should not be too difficult for the talented southpaw.
When I suggested the Braves should trade Jair Jurrjens at the trade deadline in July -- you know, when his trade value was at an all-time high -- outrage broke out and many scoffed at the idea of trading Jurrjens. Since Frank Wren and the front office blew their chance at striking while the iron was hot, the franchise is now somewhat handcuffed.
Jurrjens is reportedly healthy and throwing well in an Instructional League, but with injuries and regression catching up to him (and catching up to him in a hurry), his trade value now might be the lowest it has been in years. While the Braves could still elect to move the pitcher in a deal this offseason, it would be a dismal case of selling low on a player and would seem counterproductive.
Assuming his knee is healthy, Atlanta should hold on to Jurrjens and hope his trade value increases once again with a strong start to the 2012 season. That would be the optimal time to deal him, not in the offseason when the return would be minimal. Expect Jurrjens to enter camp as the likely choice for the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
Despite Fredi Gonzalez's continued support and faith in the aging veteran, Frank Wren recently told members of the media that Lowe would not be considered for a spot in the starting rotation. Instead, the club will look to deal Lowe -- a move that would require a large sum of the $15 million dollars remaining on his contract to be eaten by Atlanta -- and if they could not find a suitor, the once-closer for the Red Sox would head back to the bullpen for his final season.
The only other real alternative would be to release Lowe, which seems completely out of the question. The team is responsible for his contract either way and they might as well attempt to get value out of him as a late-inning reliever in 2012.
Kris Medlen is an interesting fellow. While most pegged him as a reliever at the Major League level, his dominance as a starter in 2010 before blowing out his elbow cannot be ignored. It may take some time to get Medlen's arm strength and stamina back to that of a starter, but it could happen should the organization place a lot of faith and confidence in the 26-year old.
While a move to the starting rotation is possible, expect Medlen in the bullpen to begin the 2012 season.
Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado:
While a trade of one of the afore mentioned candidates for a spot in the rotation could open the door for either Teheran or Delgado, these two will likely start the season in Triple-A Gwinnett as they continue to develop. This does not mean they will not be counted on throughout the season, but they will more than likely start somewhere other than Atlanta for at least a month or two.
The Braves certainly have a surplus of young, talented starting pitchers and the organization plans to use that as a building block for the foreseeable future. There is always a chance of a blockbuster trade that includes some of these pitchers, but do not be surprised if Frank Wren holds onto his assets in preparation for the oncoming season.