Saturday, July 28, 2012

Is There Another Target Out There?

OK, the Greinke Sweepstakes found a winner in Anaheim. We consistently heard he was THE target for Frank Wren and company. The company line is that the organization simply wasn't going to mortgage the future again for a rental. Funny thing though, Ryan Dempster was a Brave, then wasn't a Brave, and apparently doesn't want to be a Brave. However, if he DID want to be a Brave the organization wouldn't have minded grossly overpaying for him by sending Randall Delgado to Chicago.

The word making the rounds currently is that Wren's mainly looking to fortify the bench and the bullpen, yet he made no attempt to hide the fact that his main goal during the last two weeks was to upgrade the rotation. Was everything we heard erased with a third consecutive very strong start from Ben Sheets? Will another strong outing from Mike Minor tonight be enough to convince anyone that the rotation as currently constructed is going to be good enough to compete for a Title? Count me in the group that has its doubts.

Don't get me wrong - if the Ben Sheets we've seen for 18 innings is the Ben Sheets we're going to have from now until October, he and Tim Hudson can match up with just about anyone. The problem is that it's awfully tough to see any reason to feel confident that we can compete with anybody after their turns. Remember "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain" anyone???

Tommy Hanson's struggling more than he ever has at any level. Yes he's a battler and kept working incredibly hard during his last outing that reminds some of the legendary Nuke LaLoosh of Bull Durham fame (5 IP, 3 hits, 1 earned, 7 Ks, 7 BBs, and 7 SBs allowed) - but he's looked nothing like the guy the club had hoped would be Robin to Huddy's Batman when the season started. Brandon Beachy's unfortunately not even a whisper. Jair Jurrjens is done. Minor and Delgado have shown flashes of their upside, but both are battling what all young Pitchers do - inconsistency. Uber-prospect Julio Teheran is struggling mightily in Gwinnett - the company line there is that he's accomplishing everything they're asking of him (working hard on polishing his secondary offerings presumably), and the results don't reflect his progress. I'm hopeful that the evaluators that see Julio every day are right in their assessments, but it wasn't that long ago that they were saying the same things about Jurrjens.

As it stands now, Huddy and Sheets would have to go undefeated in the postseason for the team to have a chance - there's no one that currently makes you feel like they're up to the task of taking on the best teams' # 3 starters other than Kris Medlen, and he's not an option. Could "moving on" from Dempster and "not overpaying" for Greinke signal that they might entertain sending Medlen back down to get stretched back out if enough bullpen help can be acquired? Maybe, but that's not the feeling I get. If I'm right, then we still need ONE MORE starter. Maybe Tommy gets things together. Maybe Minor keeps making strides. Delgado and Teheran? We hope they're learning valuable lessons quickly. That's an awfully big gamble to take in a penant race, particularly one during Chipper Jones' last stand.

The one true difference maker that could be penciled in in the front half of a contender's rotation is still out there, and the price tag wouldn't be nearly as exorbitant as the asking prices for Greinke and Dempster. That guy is James Shields. Has he struggled for most of this season? Sure, but Shields is coming off a season where he finished 3rd in the AL Cy Young balloting. He has the ability to dominate teams when he's on, has a very team-friendly contract, and is under control through 2014. Trading for Shields would presumably leave enough financial flexibility for the team to pay market value to retain Michael Bourn as well as extend Martin Prado AND go after a LF next season even if it cost a pitching prospect or two (Justin Upton, anyone???)

Shields is owed around $2.5 million for the rest of this season, has a $9 million option for 2013, and a $12 million option for 2014. Assuming Sheets is "one and done" in Atlanta, you'd still be looking at beginning 2013 with a rotation that has Hudson, Shields, Hanson, Minor, and one of Delgado or Teheran until Beachy returns sometime after the All-Star break. One of the Pitchers (presumably Teheran is my gut feeling) could be included in a package IF the organization was willing to entertain the idea of trying to trade for someone like Upton.

Hudson, Shields, and Sheets would give this team a legitimate shot at sending Chipper out a winner. Getting Shields wouldn't compromise finances like re-signing Greinke would have, nor would it be as damaging to the stable of arms Wren's trying to hold on to. Tampa's presumably looking for a Catcher with upside and control as a part of any package for Shields (or Wade Davis or any other Pitcher they might make available). We have that piece in Christian Bethancourt. Shields' contract would also help with the flexibility the team needs to extend McCann following next season, meaning you'd have at least 2-3 more years to develop his eventual replacement.

Come on Frank, please go get that one more piece to give Chipper that one last shot - you have the pieces.

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