Braves set for post-Hall of Famers era

We can almost smell the end of the Smoltz/Glavine era of Braves baseball. Will the team survive the end of a historic run of pitching?

John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. They go together so perfectly. Even with Glavine leaving for five years, seeing them back side by side this season has made us remember what was so special about the 1990s.

And it's possible they might go out together perfectly as well.

It won't be easy to see the era of Braves Baseball come to an end, one that has produced so much winning. It is inevitable that the great Hall of Fame pitching the Braves have enjoyed will one day come to a screeching halt.

Glavine is 42 years old, while Smoltz is 41 years old. Glavine is proving he's only a six-inning pitcher, while Smoltz is having to prove once again he can still pitch at all.

The 2008 season could be the end for these two special pitchers, who epitomized the Braves' transformation from a horrible franchise in the 1980s to a perennial pennant contender in the 1990s.

The Braves brought Glavine back for a couple of reasons. They preferred to pay $8 million dollars to him for one season instead of making a long-term commitment to one of the other pitchers on the free agent list. That list, by the way, was extremely mediocre. They also thought that Glavine could provide the rotation with a solid arm, while allowing the young kids in the farm to develop a little bit more.

But the continual soreness that Smoltz is feeling makes you wonder if this is it. Could Smoltz retire at the end of this season? And would that ‘encourage' Glavine to do the same, so that both could go out together and then possibly go into the Hall of Fame together in five years?

No one wants to count Smoltz out, but we've got to be realistic here. He's trying to come back and contribute as a reliever, which makes you wonder if his days as a starter are already over. And if he comes back and has any struggle at all, you wonder if he would just hang it up at the end of the season.

The rumors of a bigger reunion continue to swirl. Might the Braves have interest in Greg Maddux? The Padres are struggling, and Maddux probably wouldn't cost very much. The Braves could use another middle-of-the-rotation starter, and the cost might make much more sense with Maddux than to overpay for a younger, more expensive pitcher.

Could the reunion of Maddux with Smoltz and Glavine hasten the retirement of all three? Might the acquisition of Maddux encourage the other two to go out together with their golf partner, which would ensure a special Hall of Fame ceremony in 2014?

And one more thing, remember that since Smoltz has left the rotation, his automatic option for 2009 is now unlikely to kick in. So his contract is up at the end of this season.

So what if this happens? What if Smoltz and Glavine do walk away? Are the Braves prepared for the end of this magical era?

The top of the rotation is already in new hands. Tim Hudson has successfully replaced Smoltz as the team's ace of the rotation. You no longer have the worry we all had two years ago about Hudson shouldering the responsibility of being an ace. And 22-year-old Jair Jurrjens is arguably the number two-starter in the rotation right now. That's not at all a bad duo.

Jo Jo Reyes is downright confusing. Is he simply going through growing pains, a la Glavine 22 years ago? Or is he the lefty version of Kyle Davies, all promise and no production? Not to compare Reyes to a future Hall of Famer, but it is wise to remind everyone what Glavine went through for three and a half years before he turned the corner in 1991. It is obvious that Reyes has talent, but we need to see some consistency.

Jorge Campillo has done well in two starts this week, but there's little reason to cement his name in the rotation for years to come. Chuck James is now on Richmond's disabled list with a back strain, but he's got a long way to go to prove he needs to even be in this discussion.

So we look elsewhere for other candidates to fill the shoes of the stud pitchers. Charlie Morton is showing he's very close with a good start to his Triple-A season. There is no denying Morton's stuff, but the Braves are curious about how he'll handle success and failure in the big leagues. Expect Morton to press the issue later this summer.

Before Morton is discarded in a deal, we must remember Adam Wainwright. Morton's stuff is similar, and both pitchers are lean and tall. The Braves did not evaluate Wainwright properly, and they can't afford to make the same mistake with Morton. It won't be easy, but they've got to correctly project how good Morton might be in a major league rotation.

Tommy Hanson is also similar to Wainwright (and Morton). Hanson is a tall right-hander with a 12-6 curveball and an improving changeup. He's now in AA Mississippi, and if he pitches well for the rest of the season Hanson could easily be in the conversation for next year's rotation. Scouts believe Hanson has the ability to be a two or three in a major league rotation.

Then you move down to Rome, where Cole Rohrbough is back after missing six weeks with shoulder tendonitis. Scouts say Rohrbough has top-of-the-rotation stuff, and it's likely he'll be moved up to Myrtle Beach by the end of June. Rohrbough could come quickly, perhaps as early as midseason 2009.

It us conceivable that both Morton and Hanson could be in the Atlanta rotation next season. Remember, guys would probably be needed in the middle and bottom of the rotation if Hudson, Jurrjens, and Reyes take up the top three spots. It might be a gamble to have two young pitchers in the rotation like that, but if they're ready, they're ready.

There will be money available for General Manager Frank Wren to spend on a free agent starting pitcher – if he wants to go in that direction. Almost $48 million, or more than half the Braves 2008 payroll, will be coming off the books with the free agents they have on the roster this season.

The pitchers that will be available this winter: A.J. Burnett (if he opts out), Paul Byrd, Jon Garland, Randy Johnson, Braden Looper, Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Jamie Moyer, Oliver Perez, Andy Pettitte, C.C. Sabathia, Ben Sheets, Brett Tomko, and Randy Wolf.

The Braves might elect to try and trade for a veteran this summer, so they can help the team try to win this season and then be around next year and beyond. That's why names like Rich Harden, Roy Oswalt, and others are being tossed around. The Braves, with all that money available next season, could afford to go after someone like that.

It's likely probable that a veteran will be added, but the impact from the farm should be significant. Morton, Hanson, and Rohrbough are the primary names, but there are other possibilities. James Parr has taken a huge step forward this season in Mississippi. Deunte Heath, Kyle Cofield, Ryne Reynoso, and Scott Diamond are four interesting pitchers in Myrtle Beach.

Rome has several young arms that could be serious options for the future. Jeff Locke, Chad Rodgers, Steve Evarts, Jose Ortegano, and Eric Barrett will be fun to watch in the coming years.

Then there's Julio Teheran, the seventeen-year-old right-hander who is drawing comparisons to Felix Hernandez. Teheran might be in the big leagues before his 21st birthday.

And don't forget the draft in a few weeks. There's a chance the Braves could select a pitcher that could figure into the conversation in a couple of years.

Pitching is what made the Braves special, and even though the era of Smoltz and Glavine (and maybe Maddux too) is possibly coming to an end, the organization seems to be set up perfectly to continue the tradition into the next decade. They may never have Hall of Famers in the rotation again, but there's reason to believe very solid pitchers will be apart of the rotation for many years to come.



Bill 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. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.


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