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Braves confident they can acquire ace

Braves confident they can acquire ace

ATLANTA -- After leaving this week's General Managers Meetings without yet securing an ace for the 2009 season, Braves general manager Frank Wren went to Arizona to watch a potential future ace that he's definitely going to keep.

Wren spent the past few days talking to the Padres about Jake Peavy, and he spoke to player representatives about free agents who could help satisfy his team's multiple needs. On Thursday, Wren traveled to watch Tommy Hanson attempt to continue his Arizona Fall League dominance.

Had Wren been willing to trade Hanson, there's a good chance he might have already completed a deal with the Padres to bring Peavy to Atlanta. But even with no intention to do so, he still exited this week's meetings confident that he has enough attractive pieces to acquire the 2007 National League Cy Young Award winner.

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"I think the meetings went as expected and maybe even better than expected," Wren said on Thursday. "We talked to a number of clubs and maybe more agents than expected. We got a little more definitive idea of what it will take to get certain players."

While a deal doesn't appear imminent, the Braves are believed to be one of the two or three teams still in the bidding for Peavy. The Cubs are also making a push for the Padres hurler with a package that includes some of their top Minor League prospects.

It appears the Yankees are out of the bidding, and one National League source said he believed the same could be said of the Angels. The Cardinals may still be trying to trying to make a push for Peavy.

San Diego general manager Kevin Towers recently told The Associated Press that Peavy's chances of returning to Padres in 2009 with nil.

"The train's kind of left the station," Towers said.

If the Braves are going to land Peavy, it looks like there's a good chance they'll have to part ways with Yunel Escobar. If this proves true, they'll gain an ace and an immediate need to go outside of their organization to find a shortstop.

Offensively, Brent Lillibridge isn't ready to compete at the Major League level and utilizing Omar Infante as the starting shortstop isn't an option.

Foxsports.com's Ken Rosenthal has reported that the Braves package for Peavy would include Escobar, Jo-Jo Reyes or Charlie Morton, and another top prospect.

There has been previous speculation that Jordan Schafer, the Braves top outfield prospect, might be included in a package for Peavy. But one San Diego source described the Padres interest in Schafer as "lukewarm".

Because he is in search of at least one more starting pitcher and a power-hitting outfielder, Wren is hoping to realize resolution with the Peavy talks as soon as possible. Fortunately, it appears Towers seems to hold a similar mind-set.

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"From my standpoint and probably Jake's standpoint, the earlier we do something, the better," Towers told The San Diego Union Tribune.

Uncertainty regarding Peavy has caused the Braves to pace their search for a power-hitting outfielder. They have interest in Ryan Ludwick and the Cardinals may be willing to deal him to strengthen their middle infield with Escobar or Kelly Johnson.

Because the 30-year-old Ludwick hit a career-high 37 homers while serving as a valuable protector for Albert Pujols in St. Louis' lineup this year, some may have wondered if the Braves would have to add another player in addition to Escobar or Johnson.

But if they were to strike this deal, the Braves may actually be the team looking for the Cardinals to sweeten this deal with a mid-level prospect. While the future appears bright for both Johnson and Escobar, there are some who wonder if Ludwick is capable of matching the surprise breakthrough season he enjoyed this year.

Ludwick is four years older than both Johnson and Escobar and he'll likely gain a larger salary than Johnson as both prepare to enter their first arbitration-eligible season. Escobar is at least one year away from being arbitration-eligible.

While they would have trouble filling Escobar's void, the Braves have reason to be confident in Martin Prado's ability to replace Johnson as their starting second baseman.

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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