Mailbag: How will the rotation change?

Mailbag: How will the rotation change?

Let's say that the Braves are able to get Jake Peavy in a trade. Do you think they would then go out and get another top-notch pitcher like Derek Lowe or Ben Sheets?
--Randall L., Tampa, Fla.

Acquiring Peavy would provide the Braves an ace in a financial manner that would seemingly allow them to broaden their search for another starting pitcher who would be a cheaper gamble than some of the other hurlers included in this year's free-agent market.

Among this winter's crop of free-agent pitchers, CC Sabathia is the only pitcher that legitimately fits in the same "ace" category of Peavy. This supply-and-demand effect may allow him to gain a $20 million salary and the likes of Ryan Dempster, Lowe and A.J. Burnett to gain salaries that approach or exceed $15 million.

The Braves are certainly in a position where they may have to take a multi-year risk on the likes of Dempster, Lowe, Burnett or the chronically-injured Sheets. But if they land Peavy, they may not have to make this kind of financial gamble on the 35-year-old Lowe, Dempster, who has been a starter in just one of the past five years, or Burnett, who has a knack for becoming an ace when financial gain is around the corner.

Without Peavy in the mix, the Braves may feel the need to make a run at two of these "sub-CC Sabathia-level" free-agent starting pitchers. While landing two of these pitchers in the same year is unlikely, the cost of doing so may eat up nearly 75 percent of the $40 million that general manager Frank Wren has to spend this winter.

The better scenario would be to get Peavy (who will make $11 million in 2009) or just one of these other "higher-level" free-agent pitchers and then make a run at a cheaper free-agent option like Randy Wolf or Jon Garland.

There's no doubt that the most-pressing need in Atlanta is to land starting pitchers. But the Braves have other glaring needs that will be best satisfied with maximum available funds. Instead of devoting close to 75 percent of the available money toward starting pitching, it would be better to use some of that percentage to land a power-hitting outfielder and left-handed reliever.

My expectation is that they'll get either Peavy or one of these higher-caliber free-agent starters and then fortify their starting staff with a cheaper veteran starter, who could bridge the gap until Jair Jurrjens can comfortably fill one of the top two spots in the rotation.

Also, let's not forget that Tim Hudson could return from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in August, and if he proves healthy, the Braves could certainly exercise his $12 million option for 2010. This fact also lessens the possibility of them signing two of the "high-level" free-agent pitchers available this year.

Is there any reason to believe that with the Phillies and Mets in the same division that the Braves have any chance of making the playoffs next year?
--Dean B., Peachtree City, Ga.

My first thought was, "Was there any reason to believe with the Yankees and Red Sox in the same division that the Rays would have made the playoffs this past season." It's far too early to begin handicapping the National League East. And as the Tigers, Indians and Braves proved this year, there's really not much reason to even put much credence in prognostications made just before the start of the season.

This will be a very unique offseason for the Braves. They haven't had this many glaring needs for nearly 20 years. But at the same time, they have the means to satisfy these needs and immediately create a sense of optimism. If they are able to gain a right-handed, power-hitting outfielder to put between Chipper Jones and Brian McCann, they'll have a potentially potent lineup. If Rafael Soriano proves healthy and Peter Moylan makes a successful return from Tommy John surgery, the bullpen could be formidable.

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This once again brings us back to the starting rotation and it's obviously difficult to approach this aspect with optimism when there's a definite need to land two starters who will meet expectations. But throw Peavy, Dempster or Burnett into the mix and suddenly you'll hear some people at least wonder if the Braves can unseat the Phillies as division champs.

Has there been any discussion about moving Chipper Jones to first base? It seems like he wouldn't have as much stress placed on his body over there. The more games with his bat in the lineup the better.
--Chris K., Washington, D.C.

This was the most popular question asked this week and the simple answer is "No." Jones made the unselfish decision to change positions to accommodate Vinny Castilla earlier this decade and he has no plans or reason to make another switch now.

From a selfish standpoint, Jones has positioned himself to rank among the most offensively productive third basemen of all time and this only increases the odds that he'll land in the Hall of Fame. But more importantly, he's as good defensively as any other third baseman right now.

Moving to first base isn't necessarily going to put an end to Jones' injury woes. It can be argued that he'd have to move even more playing first base than he does while playing third base. A third baseman may have to charge more balls and make more off-balanced throws, but a first baseman is running to the bag on a regular basis and making the same kind of diving stabs that are required on the other side of the diamond.

How about Andruw Jones coming back from the Dodgers? It sounds like the fans don't like him out there and he doesn't want to be a part of that mix.
--David L., New York, N.Y.

This was the second-most popular question asked this week and the easy answer is "No." Jones has told friends that he plans to approach the Dodgers and ask them to trade him. After hiding their excitement, the Dodgers will then have to find a suitor and determine how much of the $22.1 million they still owe him that they'll have to eat.

Jones' first choice would likely be to return home to the Braves. But even at a cost of $2 million, the Braves likely aren't going to be willing to accommodate this homecoming. While hitting .158 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 75 games this past season, Jones said he was bothered by a sore knee. Members of the Braves organization said that he was bothered by the same knee discomfort during his days in Atlanta.

Some might say that could explain why he hit .222 for the Braves in 2007. But others will tell you that Jones' swing started going wrong earlier this decade and now he's facing the embarrassment that might have been avoided had he simply ended his stubborn, pull-happy ways.

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