As the Zack Greinke rumors begin to fly and the possibilities of bringing him aboard explored by a few bloggers, I felt it was time to take a look at what starters the Braves should seek out. I’ll try to keep this exercise reasonably realistic. Obviously, a team headed to a sub-.500 finish would still be a little hesitant giving up a team-controlled starter simply because they should be sellers. I also lack much “inside” knowledge so what I know is easily accessible and my suggestions are sometimes just desire rather than any rumors whatsoever.
Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs – Currently on the D.L., but expected to return before the All-Star Break, Dempster has often been mentioned as a target and with good reason. Dempster joined the Cubs in 2004 and both as a closer and starter, “Dumpster” has found success, including four consecutive seasons of 2.8 WAR and above. He will finish his $14M contract this season and become a free agent at 35 so a big run is the last chance to get a multi-year contract. He has full 10/5 rights so he can refuse any trade, though indications are that he would jump to join a contender. Despite an overly misleading 3-3 record, Dempster has put up a 3.25 FIP and 1.9 WAR in 12 starts. However, the Braves will need the Cubs to cover some salary and while the Cubs are willing to do that, it may take some serious prospects to do so. Trading a guy like Randall Delgado might make the top of the rotation more formidable, but it still puts a lot of the weight on Jair Jurrjens and Mike Minor. It all depends on what the Cubs are willing to take in return for covering salary, but because this isn’t a fire sale, the offers might need to be high.
Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs – A Super 2 arbitration guy, Garza is actually retain-able past this year, though it would come at a raise from his current $9.5M salary. Garza was tremendous last year, posting a 2.95 FIP and 5 WAR. He has come back to Earth so the question that needs to be raised that seems to be ignored…is Garza worth $12M in the final year of arbitration and the players the team acquiring him would have to surrender? Garza enters today with a 4.00 FIP and a 3.54 xFIP so the production level’s not terrible, but I’m not sure he fits into Atlanta’s budget for next season. I’ve mentioned Garza a few times, but I do think this idea is probably not the right direction for Atlanta.
Zack Greinke, Milwaukee – Often mentioned as a prime target, Greinke is the best available starter on the market. A true number one starter, Greinke is a free agent at year’s end so any trade would likely include a window to sign Greinke long-term. Will the Braves be willing to sacrifice a considerable package and the money toward an extension for Greinke? Well, yes, they should if the Braves can keep Julio Teheran and afford the extension. Greinke is a tremendous performer, capable of quietly posting a 5.1 WAR season like he did in the year following his 2009 9.3 WAR Cy Young season. Greinke’s FIP is sitting at 2.22 and while the package would be costly, an extension added on would make this a coup. But can the Braves compete with other teams gunning for him? Some big cities may shy from Greinke, afraid that he’s not big-city material, whatever bullshit that is. Things would have to fall right for Atlanta, but Greinke as a Brave could be the biggest move of 2012.
Luke Hochevar, Kansas City – The chances the Royals will cut bait on Hochevar are not high and since a bad start to the season, the Royals have began to turn things around, but would a chance to add a couple of reasonably ready players entice Dayton Moore to move his best starter? For those of you staring at his ERA, take a look at his FIP (3.60) and his increasing strikeout rate (7 K/9). A Super 2 arbitration guy before last season, Hochevar will have two more seasons of team-control before free agency hits and with the Braves’ luck with Scott Boras clients, chances are you are acquiring two-plus seasons of performance. If the Braves could get Moore to go for Hochevar without surrendering some of their prime prospects, he could become a nice consolation prize if the Braves do not want to meet the Cubs and Brewers’ demands for their stud starters. He’s not a first target, but I think could he could throw some quality innings in August and September.
Francisco Liriano, Minnesota – Unlike Hochevar, Liriano does have a lot of rumors beginning to swirl about him. After a terrible start to the season, Liriano has righted the ship and has a 2.84 FIP in June, a far cry from the 6.55 FIP in April. There are some legitimate concerns about Liriano, who was once one of the best young pitchers in the game. His control left him last year and until recently, had yet to return. What’s to say Liriano isn’t having one good month of success and will succumb to the struggles he had earlier this year that pushed him to the bullpen? Considering that the market might be high for him and thus, the price may be bumped up, can the Braves hope that he has found himself again? Well, it all depends on the market price. If other teams are considering packages higher than, and this is purely speculative and I’m not a prospect expert, Zeke Spruill and Todd Cunningham, then the Braves will probably have to bow out because the price is too high and the risk too great.
There are some other names, but often there are questions about their health (Brandon McCarthy, Shawn Marcum) or they are just rotation filler (Joe Saunders). The Braves should aim higher.