12/02/08 10:00 AM EST
Braves aim to leave Vegas with ace
Signing Burnett remains club's top priority at Winter Meetings
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
When Wren and his staff arrive in Las Vegas on Sunday for this year's Winter Meetings (Dec. 8-11, the Bellagio), they certainly won't be attempting to bluff anybody. They've spent the past two months attempting to reconstruct their rotation, and despite their determined efforts, they haven't been able to lure Jake Peavy, A.J. Burnett or any other veteran starting pitcher to Atlanta.
But with the bright lights of Vegas in sight, everything might soon become clearer for Wren. Amid all the rumors that will once again swirl during the Winter Meetings, he and the 29 other Major League general managers will either immediately satisfy their roster needs or at least gain a better indication of how they can.
While pitching remains Wren's primary focus, he is also hoping to find a power-hitting outfielder, likely via a trade. There was validity to the rumors that indicated the Braves had interest in Ryan Ludwick. But to get Ludwick, they aren't willing to send Kelly Johnson or Yunel Escobar to the Cardinals without at least getting one more prospect in return.
Because they aren't certain what they might need to reserve to land a top-flight starting pitcher, the Braves have had to use some caution while talking to other teams about outfielders that might be available via trade.
This was one of the primary reasons they stopped their active pursuit of Peavy on Nov. 14. Earlier that week, the Yankees acquired Nick Swisher from the White Sox, and in doing so, they essentially erased one of the players the Braves were targeting to add power to their outfield.
In order to get Swisher, the Braves would have likely had to supply the White Sox with some of the players they were offering the Padres in exchange for Peavy.
With every indication that they have still have no desire to initiate the resumption of the Peavy trade negotiations, the Braves have placed their primary focus on Burnett, who is arguably the best available free-agent starting pitcher not named CC Sabathia.
While he shares a mutual interest, Burnett doesn't share the sense of urgency possessed by the Braves. There are at least six other teams that have shown an interest in him, and the general consensus is that he's not going to sign until Sabathia determines who is going to provide him with his hefty payday.
Thus there's a good chance that Wren will arrive in Las Vegas still looking to upgrade his depleted rotation.
Entering the offseason, Wren's best-case scenario would have been to land Peavy via a trade and then sign either Burnett or Ryan Dempster. With Dempster back with the Cubs and Peavy's future still as uncertain as it was a month ago, the best-case scenario now centers around Burnett and the hope to land another starter via trade or free agency.
The key for the Braves is to do whatever is necessary to land a proven veteran to anchor their rotation. With either Burnett or Peavy in place, they could at least feel better about the potentially profitable gambles that they could place on John Smoltz or Tom Glavine, who won't begin testing their surgically repaired arms until later this month. If they prove healthy and choose to prolong their storied careers, Atlanta may welcome both of them back.
The Braves have also expressed an interest in re-signing Will Ohman. In fact, they've already provided an offer that showed the highly sought left-handed reliever that he's wanted in Atlanta.
But the biggest splash the Braves are hoping to make on the free-agent market undoubtedly centers around Burnett, who would arguably be the most significant free-agent pitcher to opt to come to Atlanta since Greg Maddux.
The free-agent market was never any kinder to the Braves than during the winter of 1992, when they landed a royal flush in the form of Maddux. Such great fortune might not be in the cards this year.
But maybe it's at least a good sign that Wren's search for pitching is taking him to Maddux's hometown of Las Vegas with the desire to land a great fortune that only an ace can bring.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.