This is all about Tom Glavine. If he’s ready to go on April 19th, when the Braves need the fifth starter for the first time this season, he’ll be the man. That means Glavine has 29 days, and probably five more outings on the mound, to prepare for his debut.
Saturday’s performance against the Mets was good, as he allowed only two hits in three innings with no walks and a strikeout. His velocity was low, and the Braves cautioned everyone after the game it will improve with more work. But if Glavine remains in the low-80s, he might wonder if his comeback makes sense.
If Glavine is not ready to go, whether he retires or just needs more time, the Braves will have two main options. Jo Jo Reyes has had an outstanding camp. He has allowed only three runs in four Grapefruit League games, with only three walks and six strikeouts in 13 innings. Then on the back fields at Disney Saturday against the Nationals minor league team, Reyes struck out six in 4.2 innings, with two hits and a walk.
And, of course, Tommy Hanson is a possibility. The rookie phenom has struck out 14 in 14.2 innings, with a 2.45 ERA in four Grapefruit League games. The Braves are probably leaning toward having Hanson start in Triple-A, but if Reyes were to be traded Hanson could move to the front of the line for the fifth starter’s spot.
Several questions dictate what happens in the bullpen. First, will Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan be ready to go on Opening Day? Second, if they are not ready to go, who wins the jobs and fills in? And lastly, will the Braves carry two more lefties after Mike Gonzalez?
If Soriano and Moylan are healthy, they’ll probably be in the bullpen on Opening Day. But another question for the Braves is whether they have to have both pitchers ready to pitch on back-to-back days to be in the bullpen. If the team wants to wait on that for another week or two, it could open up spots for a couple of extra pitchers.
However, the improved rotation could make them believe they will not have to use Soriano and Moylan on back-to-back days, at least early in the season. That would put the pressure on the middle relievers, who were stretched out too much early last season. The Braves would like to avoid that at all costs.
Let’s say for a moment that Soriano and Moylan are in the bullpen to start the season. That would mean Gonzalez, Soriano, and Moylan would be the top three, leaving five spots open. Remember, the bullpen will probably have eight pitchers until the fifth starter is needed on April 19th.
So who would be in those five spots? Well, you enter in the other question about the lefties. Maybe the Braves would feel okay with two additional southpaws until the 19th. Both Eric O’Flaherty (1.59 ERA) and Boone Logan (1.80 ERA) are doing very well so far this month.
You split the right-handers up between long relievers (Jorge Campillo and Buddy Carlyle) and seventh inning guys (Blaine Boyer, Jeff Bennett, Manny Acosta, and Kris Medlen). Five of the six have big league experience, while Medlen is the rookie who has captivated Bobby Cox and the coaching staff.
How many of those six can make the team? Well, they all should, really. If Moylan and Soriano are on the DL to start the season, we could see most of those six in the bullpen.
This could be solved obviously with a trade or two, and the rumors are getting louder as we move toward late March that we could see some activity from the front office. That’s probably going to be what we see happen. Even if one or two pitchers is traded, there are replacements in Triple-A (Stephen Marek, James Parr, Juan Perez, and Francisley Bueno) to be on call if needed in Atlanta.
Teams might be curious to see if Campillo or Carlyle can be in a rotation. Campillo was fairly dependable when he was thrown in Atlanta’s rotation last summer, but he’s been away for the WBC. And Carlyle continues to be outstanding. He ended last year strong and Carlyle has now yet to give up a run in spring training. The decision might come down to one of those two pitchers as the long reliever in the Atlanta bullpen.
Boyer has also been perfect so far this spring, posting a 0.00 ERA in six games with only three hits allowed in seven innings. Boyer may be battling Jeff Bennett, who was strong late last year but has a 10.80 ERA in his six games this spring.
If Soriano and Moylan are both back, the Braves may need only two right-handers in the pen. So if Boyer and Bennett both make it, that would mean Acosta and Medlen would probably head to Gwinnett. But Medlen has the attention of the coaches, and some are really pushing for him to make the team.
Again, when you have two spots that are dictated by returning injured pitchers, it’s a little difficult to know exactly how many spots you have to fill behind your closer. Mike Gonzalez is locked into his role, but after that several questions have to be answered.
Josh Anderson or Jordan Schafer?
Anderson had been struggling, but he hit another home run Saturday (his second of the spring) and has his average up to .295. Schafer continues to play well, leading the team with five stolen bases and hitting .385.
Forget the ‘clock’ argument. If the Braves feel Jordan Schafer is ready to be the starter in center field, he’ll win the job. However, with Anderson out of options, the Braves do not want to lose him. So his ability to be on the roster, or else be traded, is also involved here.
But it’s all about Schafer’s readiness to be the starter. The Braves know he’ll likely be up and be in the lineup at some point this season. If they think he can help this team from day one, Schafer will likely be the winner.
Anderson has played well, but the Braves wish he would have more stolen bases in his fourteen games. Schafer showing that he can steal bases may tempt the Braves to go ahead and put him at the top of the lineup.
Anderson is going to have value, despite being out of options. Teams frequently look for fourth outfielders this late in camp so don’t be surprised if the Braves get asked about Anderson in the next ten days. That could also push Schafer toward the Opening Day roster.
Garrett Anderson was signed to be the starter in left field, and if he’s healthy he will probably get the job. But he’s still a question mark right now. Anderson might play in a few days to test his quad, but until he does he’s still an unknown.
If Anderson were not ready, the Braves could turn to a platoon of Matt Diaz (.410) and Brandon Jones (.400), two players who have done very well this spring. Gregor Blanco is in the WBC, and his chances of making the club with Jones doing well, even if there were room, is slim.
Garrett Anderson’s availability affects this spot. If Anderson is on the DL to start the season, then Diaz and Jones would take the last two spots, with the one not starting serving as the fourth outfielder. But if Anderson is healthy and on the roster, it gets a little intriguing.
Then you look back to center field. If Schafer wins the starting job there, Josh Anderson could be the fourth outfielder. He can play all three positions and be a speedster of the bench. If Schafer heads to Triple-A and Josh Anderson wins the starting job in center, several things could happen if Garrett Anderson is in left.
First, they could give the fourth outfielder’s job to Matt Diaz, who has had a brilliant spring. If they wanted to platoon Garrett Anderson a bit, then Diaz would be the perfect fit. It’s unlikely in this scenario Brandon Jones makes the team, since he’s limited defensively even more than Diaz and he’s a left-handed hitter.
But if Diaz is the fourth outfielder, the Braves would only have Omar Infante to backup Jordan Schafer in center. Infante can do it, but his arm is weak and his range is average. Schafer is a young player, so you wouldn’t have to worry about him getting tired. But Bobby Cox does like to ease rookies into starting roles, and with no Josh Anderson there would not be a good alternative on the big league roster.
Then Gregor Blanco would be the other option down in Triple-A. Even though Cox continues to say Blanco is still in the mix, Jones and Diaz’s good springs have placed Blanco in serious jeopardy. He too could be a trade possibility in the next few weeks, as teams have certainly scouted Blanco in the WBC.
So with two weeks before Opening Day, there are still a ton of questions to be answered for the Atlanta Braves. The last few years the Braves have been looking for roster help this late in spring training, but now they’re actually looking for ways to get a few guys off the roster. Trades are a definite possibility, but the health of a few players will also determine who is in Philadelphia two weeks from tonight.
Bill Shanks will host 'The Bill Shanks Show' starting Monday, March 23rd on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon. Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.