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Braves seeking top starter, slugger

Braves seeking top starter, slugger

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Club needs:

TOP-OF-THE-ROTATION STARTER -- With the acquisition of Javier Vazquez, the Braves solidified the middle of their rotation. Now they must find the ace that they've been seeking throughout the offseason. A.J. Burnett is the primary target and there is still a remote possibility that Jake Peavy could eventually land in Atlanta.

POWER-HITTING OUTFIELDER -- General manager Frank Wren is looking for a right-handed power-hitting outfielder to place between Chipper Jones (switch-hitter) and Brian McCann (left-handed hitter) in the middle of the lineup. The 27 homers that Braves outfielders combined to hit this past season were 10 fewer than the total compiled by Ryan Ludwick.

The Braves have shown some interest in Ludwick and have talked to the Cardinals about a trade that would include Kelly Johnson. But at the same time, they wonder if Ludwick is capable of repeating 2008's performance. Consequently, they would want the Cardinals to include another Minor League prospect.

LEFT-HANDED RELIEVER -- With Boone Logan coming to Atlanta in the Vazquez deal, the Braves have less of a need to search for a left-handed reliever. But they have said they still have an interest in re-signing Will Ohman, who has drawn great interest on the free-agent market.

Potential trade pieces:

SS Yunel Escobar -- To get Peavy, the Braves have shown they're willing to deal Escobar. But unless they are getting a Peavy-caliber player in return, they aren't likely to deal the 26-year-old shortstop, who won't be arbitration-eligible until after the 2010 season.

2Bs Kelly Johnson or Martin Prado -- Because of his experience, Johnson has gained more interest on the trade market. With Prado, who some Braves players have called the team's "second-best hitter," Atlanta seemingly has a player capable of handling the second-base duties on an everyday basis.

By trading Johnson, who is entering his first arbitration-eligible season, and deciding to use Prado as their second baseman, the Braves would realize a savings that would approach $2 million.

CFs Jordan Schafer and Gorkys Hernandez -- Schafer is a five-tool outfielder who has the potential to be a superstar. Atlanta would likely only move him in a blockbuster deal. But because Gorkys Hernandez could be ready to serve as its center fielder by the start of the 2010 season, it at least has the option to deal Schafer.

The Padres showed more interest in Hernandez and he would have been included if the Peavy deal had been completed. If this had happened, Schafer would have come to Spring Training with a chance to be Atlanta's starting center fielder.

RF Jeff Francoeur -- While some members of the Braves organization believe it's time to part ways with Francoeur, Wren seems hesitant to move the former "can't-miss superstar." After some early November rumblings, Francoeur's name hasn't been linked to any trade talks.

RHP Charlie Morton and LHP Jo-Jo Reyes -- These two hurlers could gain interest from teams looking for young starters with Major League experience. During the Peavy negotiations, the Braves gave the Padres the opportunity to choose one of those two pitchers.

Top prospects:

OF Jason Heyward, 1B Freddie Freeman, RHP Tommy Hanson, RHP Julio Teheran -- These players seemingly make up the group that Wren has deemed "untouchable."

OF Cody Johnson, RHP Kris Medlen, RHP Todd Redmond, LHP Cole Rohrbough, LHP Jeff Locke, CFs Schafer and Hernandez -- These are the prospects Wren would be more likely to deal this offseason.

Big contracts they might unload:

None. The Braves have never given any thought to entering a "rebuilding" mode. They are spending the money that was created when the large contracts possessed by Mike Hampton, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine came off the books at the end of this past season.

Arbitration-eligible:

LHP Mike Gonzalez; OF Matt Diaz; 1B Casey Kotchman; OF Francoeur, 2B Johnson, UT Omar Infante.

Among these players, Johnson appears to be the only non-tender candidate. But all indications are that the Braves will keep him to either platoon in left field or serve as a right-handed bat off the bench.

Payroll summation:

The Braves will work with a payroll of approximately $100 million in 2009. With the acquisition of Vazquez, they still have a little more than $30 million to spend this offseason.

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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{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }
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