Mailbag: If you had just one trade ...

Mailbag: Being creative to find leadoff hitter

If you were the general manager and could make only one trade, would it be to get a true leadoff hitter? Upgrade the pitching staff with a starter or reliever? Or would it be some other move?
-- Randall C., Dallas, Ga.

Being Braves GM John Schuerholz this winter would be a daunting task. Over the past few years, he's had to make tough decisions regarding whether to bring the likes of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Gary Sheffield back to Atlanta. But with the many different decisions he has to make, I'd say this winter will be his most challenging of the past decade.

There are certainly reasons to trade Andruw Jones and Tim Hudson. There are even more to cut ties with Marcus Giles and Horacio Ramirez. And at the same time, Glavine is going to continue to leverage the Braves to get the best possible contract from the Mets.

Fortunately, you've simplified things and asked me to make just one trade, and with little surprise, I'll tell you I'm keeping both Jones and Hudson. While doing so, I'm risking losing Jones for nothing more than draft picks and knowing that another mediocre season from Hudson will mean even less trade interest heading into the 2008 season, when his back-loaded contract starts becoming loaded.

Earlier this week, I was talking to a Braves representative about trading Ramirez. Last week, I indicated it was certainly something I'd explore, and I still feel that way. But at the same time, this individual reminded me that doing this would significantly cut in the staff's starting pitching depth.

But with Lance Cormier and Oscar Villarreal both around to provide some depth if a starter should get injured, I'm going to go ahead and trade both Ramirez and Giles. Throwing an economical defensive whiz like Ryan Langerhans in the deal may allow me to get a rather healthy return.

My biggest desire is to get a leadoff hitter, but I don't know if a trade is necessary for anything more than to gain the payroll flexibility that would allow such an acquisition. Trading both Giles and Ramirez would free nearly $8 million and allow me to seek the services of a free agent like Gary Matthews Jr. or Julio Lugo, both of whom could capably fill the leadoff role.

Obviously, I'd like to get Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford. But there doesn't appear a good fit with the Rays, who wouldn't be wanting to add salaries like those possessed by both Giles and Ramirez. They'd be looking to acquire more economical commodities like Kyle Davies, Chuck James and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Knowing there's a chance for me to fill my need for a leadoff hitter without having to give up young stars and these three aforementioned top young players would keep me from making such a deal.

Acquiring Matthews may be difficult. First, the Rangers would obviously like to keep him, and there is the issue that the Braves cut him in Spring Training a few years back. Also if Andruw Jones is still around, Matthews may not be interested in playing left field.

So maybe Lugo is the best choice to acquire as a leadoff hitter who would play second base. But in order to afford his contractual demands, which would likely be around $5.5 million a year, trading guys like Giles and Ramirez is a must.

In return, I'd be looking to get top-notch prospects who could team with Davies and James to provide great hope with the starting rotation for many years to come.

What kind of season should we expect from the bullpen now that former Braves player Eddie Perez has been named the bullpen coach?
-- Joseph P., Corpus Christi, Texas

This opens the door for a true story. A few years ago when Mark DeRosa was having his defensive troubles at third base, an area reporter actually walked up to then-third-base coach Fredi Gonzalez and asked him what he was doing to help DeRosa.

After looking around to see if Ashton Kutcher and his Punk'd camera crew were around, Gonzalez just kind of smiled and tried to hold in his laughter.

This question is more legitimate. But at the same time, Perez's role as the bullpen coach doesn't mean that he'll be responsible for evaluating all of their mechanics. This is pitching coach Roger McDowell's responsibility.

But with Perez in the bullpen, relievers will be able to pick his brain and get a better idea of what to expect in certain situations. The former backup catcher is still very familiar with many opposing players' tendencies and has a keen way of keeping things relaxed.

At the same time, Perez's presence will further help the development of All-Star catcher Brian McCann. The coaching post will also improve Perez's organizational skills and allow him to make his next step toward becoming a big-league manager.

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How long can we expect John Smoltz to stick around? He's not exactly a young pitcher, so will he retire or be traded in the next two or three years?
-- John G., Atlanta

Remember when we wondered how Smoltz would do when he came back from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery? How about when he made the move to the closer's role? Or how about when he made the unconventional move from closer back to starter?

Through this we all should have learned it's not wise to put limitations on Smoltz. So while it would be easy for me to say he'll pitch two more years and retire at the age of 41, it would simply be a guess.

Smoltz has been one of the game's best starters over the past two years and has never suffered a significant injury. I'm not sure if he'll be with the Braves after this upcoming season. But my money would be on him being in a uniform during the 2008 season.

Does Chipper Jones have a chance at reaching the 500-homer mark before retirement? Is he a lock for the Hall of Fame regardless?
-- Justin G., New York

These past two years have certainly hindered Jones' chances of reaching the 500-homer mark, which would almost definitely would have earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Heading into the 2005 season, Jones had 310 homers and was just shy of his 33rd birthday. He'll enter the 2007 season 143 homers shy of the 500 mark. This means he'd need to average 25 homers per season for six seasons just to reach that mark sometime during the 2011 season, when he'd be 39 years old.

Knowing that he hit 26 homers in just 110 games this year makes this a possibility. But with his chronic foot problems, he may reach a point where he decides to retire before reaching the milestone. He provided this indication when asked the question a couple of months ago.

As for his chances of gaining entry to the Hall, they now simply hinge on the belief that he's one of the best switch-hitters to play the game. But unless he's able to put a halt to his troubling injury woes, I'd have to say he's not going to gain enshrinement.

As a longtime out-of-Atlanta Braves fan, I counted on seeing my team on TBS. However, now I hear that the only way I can get the Braves nationally will be on FOX or in the postseason. What is the television menu for the Braves and out-of-market fans?
-- Tim S., Jacksonville, Fla.

Next year, TBS will once again televise 70 Braves games. But that will be the network's final year solely covering the Braves. Beginning in 2008, the only Braves games they'll cover will be the ones that are aired as part of their weekly Sunday broadcasts. Out-of-market fans can stream live and archived games live to their computer via MLB.TV. You can get live audio on your computer or even your cell phone through's Gameday Audio.

While watching the playoffs, I thought I saw Rafael Belliard in the Tigers dugout. Going with the theme of where are they now, could you tell me what road he took to make it there?
-- Jeff F., Dacula, Ga.

Based on the number of responses I received, many of you are very interested in the "where are they now" theme. One good way to keep up with former Braves players is in ChopTalk, the club's monthly magazine.

But I'll also give you a look a one former Braves player this week. I chose Belliard because many of you did indeed notice him during the postseason while he was serving as the Tigers' infield coach.

After serving as a roving instructor in the Braves' Minor League system, Belliard took advantage of his opportunity to rejoin Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who served as his manager in Pittsburgh from 1986-90.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.