Braves hold hope in Hampton
Oft-injured left-hander to hit comeback trail in Mexico
ATLANTA -- As Braves general manager Frank Wren continues his attempt to bolster his starting rotation, he remains cautiously optimistic that Mike Hampton's recent progress will continue once he begins pitching in the Mexican League later this month.
Early Wednesday evening, Wren revealed that Hampton will begin pitching in Mexico around Nov. 20. The veteran left-hander, who is entering the final year of the mega, eight-year deal that he signed before the start of the 2001 season, has missed the past two seasons while recovering from separate surgical procedures performed on his left elbow.
"He's progressing very well," said Wren, who is attending this week's General Managers Meetings in Orlando, Fla.
While rehabbing near his Phoenix-area home over the past month, Hampton has reached a point where the Braves are confident that he'll be able to complete at least two and possibly three innings during his first appearance with Navojoa.
The Braves hope Hampton will be able to pitch without discomfort and regain the feel for the game that he's lost while missing most of the past three seasons. He hasn't faced live hitters in game action since August of 2005.
Hampton made just 12 starts in 2005 before encountering elbow soreness that led to Tommy John elbow ligament transplant surgery in September of that year. After missing the 2006 season, he was targeted for a return this year. But he began the season on the disabled list and learned during the first week of April that he had a torn flexor tendon that would require another season-ending surgical procedure.
For now, Wren can only view Hampton as a potential added bonus. Consequently, he's continuing his pursuit of Tom Glavine and other veteran pitchers that could potentially strengthen the starting rotation.
Wren confirmed Tuesday that he definitely has interest in bringing Glavine back to the Braves organization. If he's unable to land the veteran left-hander, who pitched in Atlanta from 1987-2002, the Braves GM says he has other options that could be landed via free agency or the trade market.
Because landing a starting pitcher is Wren's primary objective, he'd like to fill this void as simply as possible. This would allow him the opportunity to gain a sense of how much money he still has available to fill other roster needs -- primarily finding a center fielder.
While Wren has said he'll likely find Andruw Jones' replacement in center field via a trade, Ken Griffey Jr. is not on the Braves radar. Wren hasn't spoken to the Reds about a potential trade for Griffey and doesn't plan to do so.
Wren's hope is to find a center fielder who can play the position for at least a year or two. Jordan Schafer, who hasn't played above the Class A level, is regarded as the club's center fielder of the future and could be ready by the start of the 2009 season.
As for Gregor Blanco, who played center field for Triple-A Richmond this past season, the organization believes he could benefit from another year of seasoning at the Minor League level. In 124 games with Richmond this year, he hit .282 and was successful in just 23 of his 41 stolen-base attempts.
During this week's meetings, Wren has primarily looked to find a starting pitcher and center fielder. But he also is looking to find a utility infielder who can play shortstop and hoping to further solidify his strong bullpen with a left-hander.
While the Braves have interest in keeping Ron Mahay, they realize that he might prove to be too expensive. Coming off a season in which he limited opponents to a .218 batting average in 58 combined appearances with Texas and Atlanta, the 36-year-old southpaw has established himself as one of the most attractive left-handed relievers on the free-agent market.
"You'd always like to add another arm," Wren said. "But we think our bullpen is in pretty good shape with the emergence of some pretty good young guys that we had in the Majors last year and some more that are in our farm system."
While Martin Prado and Willy Aybar are both capable options to utilize as a utility infielder, neither can play shortstop. Thus Wren will be looking to find a player who can play short and at the same time, potentially prove to be a capable pinch-hitter.
Wren would also like to find a veteran backup for All-Star catcher Brian McCann. While he thinks Clint Sammons could handle the role, he believes Sammons could benefit from more seasoning at the Minor League level.
Mark Bowman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.