Braves Have Tough Decisions Looming

Who will be the odd man out when Brandon Beachy returns?

Who will be the odd man out when Brandon Beachy returns?

In a few weeks Brandon Beachy will come off the disabled list ready to assume his role as a Braves starter.  Beachy had Tommy John surgery 11 months ago, and his rehab is a little ahead of schedule.

Beachy had a solid rookie year in 2011, and then last season in 13 starts he had one of the lowest starter ERAs in the majors at 2.00 before suffering an elbow injury and undergoing Tommy John surgery.  If Beachy picks up where he left off, he will be a top 10 starter in the National League.

So what does this mean for the 5 current starters in the Braves rotation?  Fredi Gonzalez almost certainly will not go to a 6 man rotation.  One of the current starters will have to exit.

When asked what will happen when injured players come off the disabled list and about the players now manning the positions playing well, Gonzalez has invoked the cliché that “in baseball, things always have a way to work themselves out.”  The translation is that the manager doesn’t want to speculate about what will happen with players in the future, ’cause in reality things don’t always work themselves out.  Oftentimes tough decisions have to be made.

Conventional thinking is that Julio Teheran will be sent down to AAA Gwinnett.  But will that be the right move to make?  Teheran has already had two seasons at AAA, and is now developing very nicely as a regular in the Braves rotation.  Teheran is making adjustments, and growing every start.   Will Teheran lose valuable momentum and confidence if he is optioned to Gwinnett?

I think there is risk in sending Teheran to Gwinnett with the thought of calling him back up later in the year.  Young pitchers are fragile, you don’t want to yo-yo a young guy who is just starting to find his groove and pitching well.

In Teheran’s last 3 starts he has pitched 19.1 innings, and given up only 6 runs, a 2.83 ERA.  Those three games weren’t against chumps either.  They were against the best offensive team in the National League, the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field, the defending Eastern Division champion Washington Nationals, and the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants.

The three options I think the Braves will consider are sending Teheran to Gwinnett, putting Teheran in the bullpen, and trading Paul Maholm.  The Braves will be willing to trade Maholm because his contract will expire after this season, and Maholm will command in the neighborhood of $10 to $12 million on the free agent market.  The Braves don’t want to pay that much for a fifth starter, and they would rather get something for Maholm when they can, rather than getting nothing after this season is over.

The Braves also don’t want to jettison a quality starter like Maholm until they know that Beachy is not only healthy, but is pitching at a high level.

I think what you will see is Teheran going down to Gwinnett, but he will only make 4 or 5 starts there.  I expect Beachy to pitch well, and Maholm to be traded in early to mid July.  The Braves won’t drag out Maholm trade negotiations right up to the July 31st deadline to squeeze every last bit of value out of him.  They will want to get a deal done and get Teheran back into the starting rotation.

But I’m also going to hedge my bets and say that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Braves put Teheran in the bullpen rather than sending him to Gwinnett at all.

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Jim has covered the Atlanta Braves since 2008 for local and national broadcast news organizations. He also appears regularly talking Braves baseball on WCCP-FM in Clemson, South Carolina, and the ESPN Radio affiliate, 1420 Sports in St. Augustine, Florida.

  • ozzieofsc

    Whichever of the current starting rotation has the most trouble getting past the 5th inning might be choice for the bullpen as a mid-reliever??? Don’t know who that would be.

    • http://atlantabullpen.com/members/atla6469/ Jim Hart

      Well, it was Hudson last night. The Braves have had a really solid starting pitching this season. That is what will make the decision on who to bump out of the rotation and when a difficult choice. Be interested to hear who you think should be bumped.

  • Bob Long

    As always (or almost always), I disagree with your thinking.
    When pitchers return from Tommy John surgery, the control is always the last piece to develop. I think that the Braves would benefit most in placing Beachy in the bullpen to work low leverage innings, while regaining feel for his pitches. Then, when Maholm is traded (if Beachy is pitching well), Beachy will slide into the rotation. This has two benefits in that the Braves can accurately gauge whether Beachy can pitch well enough for the stretch run and limit his innings for the season. They may well use him in relief in 2014, as well, a la Medlin.
    The bigger problem, as I see it, is who gets optioned to AAA or put on waivers when Beachy does come back? The Braves have too many good players that other teams would love to snatch on waivers!
    As I said in a previous post, this is one of those “good problem(s) to have” that could end up being a real problem.

    • http://atlantabullpen.com/members/atla6469/ Jim Hart

      Bob, the Braves have already stated that Beachy is going to go on minor league rehab assignment and will be building up his arm to start. They aren’t sending him out to work out of the bullpen in the minor leagues so he can then work in the bullpen on the major league level for a while before starting. So I didn’t really speculate or consider Beachy putching out of the Braves bullpen. It isn’t going to happen.

      As far as sending a player down, my choice would be Carpenter. I don’t see where the Braves need 12 pitchers on the staff this year. The 12th guy has hardly been used and when he is used it is mop-up duty. Teams used to keep 10 pitchers on their rosters and it worked fine. I don’t see where you need 12 pitchers, 11 is plenty.

      • ozzieofsc

        I agree…hadn’t thought about that. When someone asked @ajcbraves David O’brien why Carpenter hadn’t been used, his reply was simply, “They haven’t needed him.”

        • http://atlantabullpen.com/members/atla6469/ Jim Hart

          Probably a good reason to only keep 11 pitchers and keep a productive position player. Be interesting to see what the Braves do.

  • Bob Long

    “I didn’t really speculate or consider Beachy putching out of the Braves bullpen. It isn’t going to happen.”
    While it is true that Beachy is being “stretched out’ to be a starter, Medlin was treated similarly last year before being placed in the bullpen, again.
    Numerous starting pitchers were stretched out in spring training, only to end up in the ‘pen at the beginning of the season (most notably, the Dodgers who had 3 extra starters). Just because a pitcher is stretched out doesn’t mean that he will start. It could be to build arm or leg strength or to build stamina after a long layoff.
    Further, Carpenter will be most likely optioned when Heyward comes back.
    You may be right. However, I doubt that the Braves will take Beachy, fresh off TJ surgery and rehab and throw him in the rotation in mid-June. Besides, who else on this team has options or is expendable?

  • http://atlantabullpen.com/members/atla6469/ Jim Hart

    With the injuries in the bullpen, a starter may end up there due to necessity. Although the main need is a lefty in the pen and I doubt Maholm or Minor are candidates. Beachy is potentially the Braves best starter, a guy who could be a force in the playoffs if they Braves qualify. So I doubt he’ll end up in the pen, but we’ll see.