ORLANDO – Left-handed reliever, right-handed outfielder, utility infielder and a new team for Kenshin Kawakami. Not necessarily in that order.
Those were remaining items on the Braves’ to-do list. Considering the way things were popping Monday on a busy opening day of baseball’s four-day winter meetings, the team might be able to check an item or two off this week.
On a day when retired Braves manager Bobby Cox — here in his team advisory role — and new manager Fredi Gonzalez both spent some time relaxing and schmoozing in the crowded meetings-hotel lobby, Braves general manager Frank Wren and his band of assistants, scouts, past and present managers and assorted other team officials also spent a lot of time feeling out other teams in the pursuit of potential trade partners.
Trading Kawakami is a priority, and the Braves have had discussions with a few interested major league teams including Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. The Braves might have to cover about $5 million of his $6.67 million salary in order to move Kawakami, but are motivated to trade him and will probably end up doing whatever it takes.
The Brewers would prefer one of Atlanta’s younger starters, such as left-hander Mike Minor, but the Braves seem as reluctant to trade promising starting pitchers as the Brewers are to part with center fielder Lorenzo Cain, a speedy prospect from Valdosta.
When a rumor spread of Braves interest in Cain Monday at the winter meetings, Brewers officials felt compelled to tell reporters that the team is open-minded about moving players, but comfortable with Cain as their center fielder.
That did little to quell speculation the Braves might pursue the matter further, as they seek outfield insurance in case center fielder Nate McLouth struggles or left fielder Martin Prado has to move to third base to fill in for injury-prone Chipper Jones. (The Braves would have to give up significant young talent to have any shot at getting Cain.)
Jones is coming back from the second major left-knee surgery of his career, and Braves general manager Frank Wren said Monday that Jones’ recovery is on schedule and that strength tests done on his knee last week were encouraging.
Jones has begun swinging a bat and aims to return for spring training, but the Braves must have a backup plan in case he has setbacks before or during the season.
Prado, an All-Star second baseman, is moving to left after the acquisition of slugging second baseman Dan Uggla. The Braves would move Prado to third if anything happens to Jones, who has played as many as 135 games only once in six seasons.
In-house outfield outfield options include Jordan Schafer, who finally seems healthy after missing parts of two seasons for a fractured hand, and Matt Young, tearing up the Mexican winter league after hitting .300 with a .380 on-base percentage at Triple-A.
Another possibility might be recently signed minor league free-agent outfielder Jose Constanca, 27, who hit .319 with a .373 on-base percentage and 34 stolen bases for the Indians’ Triple-A Columbus affiliate
Cain, 25, hit .306 in 43 games last season in his first major league stint, and .317 with a .402 OBP, three homers and 26 steals in 84 games at Double-A and Triple-A.
The Braves would like to add utility-infield depth, particularly a backup shortstop. And Wren said he would ideally like to add a third lefty reliever to go with Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty, after recently trading Mike Dunn to Florida in the Uggla deal.
“I think our bullpen sets up pretty well right now,” Wren said, “but another left-handed reliever, especially in our division, never hurts. But that’s not [critical]. That’d be a nice-to-have type thing.
“We’d like to improve the bullpen a little bit, left-handed or right-handed. You get to spring training, regardless of how many guys you have, it always seems like you need more. So we’re going to try to continue to do that over the next month or so.”
– by David O’Brien, Braves blog