ATLANTA -- There has certainly been reason for the Braves to do their due diligence by at least evaluating what it might take to acquire a controllable frontline starting pitcher like Chris Sale, Chris Archer or Sonny Gray.
At the same time, Atlanta has not lost sight of how one significant move could impact the potential value gained over the past two years via the massive rebuilding process that has transformed its farm system from one of the worst to one of the best.
"We've worked so hard these past two years to take our farm system from worst to first," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. "The last thing we want to do is give away the farm to add one player. If we give up young players we like, it's going to be for long-term value. We're going to try to build it the right way."
Though compiling depth is the key to any massive rebuild, the most significant move the Braves have made during this process occurred around this same time last year, when they traded Shelby Miller to the D-backs in exchange for Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair. It significantly expedited the rebuilding process and also impacted the price of pitching on the trade market.
There is no definitive need for the White Sox to trade Sale. The same could be said of the Rays with Archer and the A's with Gray. During an offseason when the free-agent market for starting pitchers is weak, it makes perfect sense for each of these teams to at least see whether it can complete its own kind of "Shelby Miller deal."
If the Braves acquired Sale, they would have control for three seasons and then hope the Florida native might choose to continue pitching in Atlanta beyond 2019. Archer is under club control through 2021, without his annual salary exceeding $11 million. Gray is preparing to enter his first arbitration-eligible season, and thus could be controlled for three seasons.
It makes sense for the Braves to at least explore the possibility of acquiring any of these three starters, each of whom could become the ace of a rotation that currently includes Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon. At the same time, they do not need to make a move at the expense of losing multiple highly regarded prospects who could also provide significant long-standing value.
Any trade for Sale, Archer or Gray would impact Atlanta's impressive crop of young pitchers. This group includes hurlers with Major League experience (Foltynewicz, Blair and Matt Wisler) and some who are still considered highly regarded prospects (Sean Newcomb, Kolby Allard and Max Fried).
Foltynewicz, Newcomb, Allard, Fried, Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint and Patrick Weigel are all among the Braves' farmhands who are capable of establishing themselves as frontline starters in Atlanta within the next few years.
At some point, the Braves will likely need to trade some of these talented young arms. Before doing so, they may opt to provide these hurlers a chance to further their development and possibly enhance their respective values while veterans like Dickey and Colon serve as short-term bridges toward the future.
"We're certainly going to have at least one, maybe two young starters in this rotation as we go forward," Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said. "It's a long season, and a lot of things happen."
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.