Pitching pair at heart of Braves' agenda

Pitching pair at heart of Braves' agenda

ATLANTA -- It has been nearly a month since the Yankees captured their latest World Series championship and provided 29 other organizations the opportunity to officially mark the start of their offseason shopping sprees.

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While consumers have had the opportunity to begin the holiday shopping season with events that are known as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Major League Baseball's general managers find themselves looking toward next week's Winter Meetings, an event that has often provided them a setting to handle many of their offseason shopping needs.

When Braves general manager Frank Wren arrives in Indianapolis on Sunday to prepare for a four-day event that will conclude on Dec. 10, he'll still have some of the same needs and questions that were present when his club ended a turnaround season that took it within the brink of a postseason berth.

"I think, realistically, we're a 90-win team as we're constructed now," Wren said in reference to the makeup of his roster at the conclusion of the 86-win, 2009 regular season. "With some additions, we can hopefully do better than that."

It was pretty easy to see that the 14-win improvement the Braves realized this past season was primarily a product of a reconstructed starting rotation that will likely be without at least one of its 15-game winners when the 2010 season opens.

When this year's Meetings begin, much of the Braves-related lobby talk staged by executives, agents and reporters will likely center around Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez, last year's key offseason additions who both notched a team-high 15 victories. It still appears that at least one of these durable right-handers will be moved.

But the questions remain. Will the Braves actually find a suitor willing to trade for Lowe and the $45 million that he is owed over the next three seasons? If not, then will they truly be able to comfortably trade Vazquez, who proved to be one of the National League's top pitchers this past season?

These questions surrounding Lowe and Vazquez may not be answered until the Braves gain a better sense about how many pitching-hungry teams will be willing to make a deal for one of these front-of-the-rotation hurlers. This time may not arrive until John Lackey, this offseason's top free-agent starting pitcher, determines where he'll be playing in 2010.

The Braves are also looking to add a reliable setup man to their bullpen mix. The primary free agents they are pursuing to fill this role are Fernando Rodney, Takashi Saito and Octavio Dotel.

The Braves are also interested to see what it will cost to bring Adam LaRoche back to serve as their first baseman next year. As this year's Meetings progress, they may gain a better sense about how much interest the Mets, Giants and other clubs have in providing LaRoche an attractive multiyear contract.

If the Braves gain the sense that LaRoche will be able to gain the multiyear deal that they are seemingly hesitant to provide, then they will likely focus their search for a first baseman on the trade market.

Wren has provided indication that a majority of his attention has been aimed toward filling his offensive needs via trade.

So while attempting to move either Lowe or Vazquez to create the financial flexibility needed to fill some roster needs, the Braves will be looking for a return that could provide them an outfielder, a first baseman or bullpen help.

With highly-regarded prospect Jason Heyward waiting in the wings, Atlanta doesn't seemingly have a great need to gain an outfielder. But to gain insurance to guard against the possibility that Heyward doesn't prove to be Major League-ready coming out of Spring Training, the club will continue shopping for an outfielder.

If the Braves choose to sign a free-agent outfielder, it doesn't appear that his name will be Matt Holliday or Jason Bay. Instead, they seem more interested in the more-affordable contributions that could be provided by Marlon Byrd or Mike Cameron, who both have ties to the Atlanta area.

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