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Braves poised to wheel and deal

LaRoche's name coming up often in rumors

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Braves general manager John Schuerholz and assistant Frank Wren made an abrupt exit from a steakhouse on Monday night, one top team official was under the impression that they were close to completing a trade that would have involved both Adam LaRoche and Marcus Giles.

But as the second day of this year's Winter Meetings neared its end at Walt Disney World's Swan and Dolphin Resort on Tuesday, Giles and LaRoche were still employed by the Braves. So, too, were Andruw Jones, Tim Hudson and Horacio Ramirez.

While never indicating that he was specifically attempting to trade any of these five players, Schuerholz admitted that he was somewhat surprised by the fact that he hadn't yet made a trade. The encouragement he'd received from discussions held the previous two days had led him to believe something could have been imminent.

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"It wasn't expected," Schuerholz said. "We had a lot of momentum and a lot of conversations. We were encouraged by how those talks were going. Today's follow-up meetings slowed the process down. It doesn't stop it."

Schuerholz's comments came after he exited a Baseball America awards gala in which he was recognized as one of the 25 most influential people in baseball over the course of the past 25 years. Chosen as the most influential was agent Scott Boras, who is very well aware of any possibility that Andruw Jones would waive his no-trade clause.

While having lunch with Boras in Atlanta last week, Jones told his agent that he intended to stay in Atlanta at least until his contract expires at the end of this season. The highly successful agent relayed this sentiment to a throng of media members early Tuesday evening.

But when asked if there were any circumstances that could lead Jones to waive his no-trade clause, Boras seemingly provided some indication that the Braves could be working a deal that could cause the Gold Glove center fielder reason to weigh this decision.

"Obviously there is new information," Boras said. "In this situation, it's something that Andruw has control over. I would imagine since his home's [in Atlanta] and his family's [in Atlanta] that he will be [in Atlanta] this year."

There is some thought that Jones would potentially waive his no-trade clause if he had the opportunity to be reunited with Rafael Furcal in Los Angeles. But there's also a belief that the Dodgers would be hesitant to make this deal that seemingly would make them overwhelming favorites to win the National League West.

Still soured by the recent surprised departure of J.D. Drew, who is represented by Boras, in November, the Dodgers could be reluctant to take a chance on bringing Jones to Los Angeles and then losing him after just one season.

Late Tuesday evening, one Braves official provided indication that he doesn't see Jones being included in any trades this week.

As for LaRoche, it's a completely different story. The Orioles and Angels have both expressed their interest. But it still appears the Pirates are the most interested and, with left-handed closer Mike Gonzalez, they also have a very attractive piece.

Some officials have indicated the Pirates have rejected previous LaRoche-for-Gonzalez trade proposals. But as time passes, it appears acquiring LaRoche has become the Pirates' primary desire.

Thus, by the time these meetings end on Thursday, they may choose to deal Gonzalez, who converted each of his 24 save opportunities and posted a 2.17 ERA in 54 innings this season. Like LaRoche, he's entering his first arbitration-eligible season and will likely earn a contract in the neighborhood of $3 million.

"It may not be today," Schuerholz said in reference to all of his trade possibilities. "It may not be tomorrow. It may not be next week. But I think we can still do some things."

The Pirates are also said to be willing to trade second baseman Jose Castillo, who could also fill a Braves need. But given that the Braves' primary desire is to strengthen their pitching staff, he may only be included in a larger deal that could bring both him and Gonzalez to Atlanta.

In order for something like this to happen, the Braves would likely have to include Kyle Davies in the trade.

"We have two responsibilities -- roster reconstruction and financial roster management," Schuerholz said.

In other words, Schuerholz is attempting to once again build a championship-caliber roster within the constraints of an $80 million payroll. The constraint comes from the fact that seven players make up nearly 80 percent of that figure.

Whatever Schuerholz does in the next couple of days and weeks, he won't view it as a salary dump. In other words, if he were to make a trade that included either a high-salaried player like Jones or Hudson, he'd be seeking a return that would provide immediate dividends for this season.

"I've never made a trade for financial reasons," Schuerholz said. "I've made trades to make our club better.

"It may be a trade where we've offloaded some salary [in order to] go more aggressively toward the other piece that we have planned to get. But it's not just purely and solely financial reasons. It's all interconnected. It might provide more financial space for the time being and that allows us to be more aggressive going forward."

Two different Braves sources have indicated that the Braves were very close to completing a deal that would have sent both LaRoche and Giles to Baltimore in exchange for second baseman Brian Roberts and young right-handed pitcher Hayden Penn.

Roberts would have filled the need for a second baseman and leadoff hitter, and Penn would have further stocked the club's stable of young pitching prospects.

But it's believed Orioles owner Peter Angelos squashed this deal because he doesn't want Roberts to be shipped out of Baltimore, where he's a popular community figure.

"Sometimes it's stressful when you've worked hard and your staff has worked hard and you think you're close to doing a deal and you're getting ready to shake hands and the deal falls apart," Schuerholz said. "That's stressful, frustrating and disappointing. But that's what we all do. That's what this business is."

Business will continue through the rest of this week and beyond. The end of these meetings doesn't signal the end of the opportunities Schuerholz will have to further strengthen his team through a number of potential trades.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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