DALLAS – When the Winter Meetings ended Thursday, it was uncertain who was more likely to be part of the 2012 Braves pitching staff — trade candidate Jair Jurrjens or Robert Fish?
The Braves picked Fish, a hard-throwing left-hander, from the Angels’ Triple-A roster during Thursday’s Rule 5 draft. He’s 23 and had a 2.97 ERA with 44 strikeouts and 18 walks in 33-1/3 minor league innings in 2011, 30-1/3 innings in Double A.
As a Rule 5 pick, Fish must be kept on the Braves’ 25-man roster all season in 2012 or be offered back to the Angels at half the $50,000 claiming price the Braves paid.
Meanwhile, Jurrjens’ name was bandied about frequently in the lobby of the Hilton Anatole during the four-day Winter Meetings. Cincinnati and Colorado are known to be among teams that have trade interest in Braves’ All-Star right-hander.
Now that top free agents C.J. Wilson (Angels) and Mark Buehrle (Marlins) have signed, the market for Jurrjens and other starters could firm up as pitching-needy teams that missed out make sure they get one of the proven arms still available.
Jurrjens is projected to make at least $5 million in arbitration and has missed late-season playoff drives two years in a row with right-knee injuries. The Braves would likely choose from their stockpile of prospects to fill in if they trade him.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said this week that he believed the rotation would still be strong if Jurrjens got traded. General manager Frank Wren said several times this week the Braves would only trade Jurrjens or left fielder Martin Prado if it made the team better, and that the team did not need to make any moves to trim payroll.
The Braves left Dallas without filling either of their stated needs — a backup shortstop/utility infielder and a power-hitting outfielder. Wren said they had a lot of discussions with teams and left town with a better idea where they stood.
He said once more free agents sign with teams, activity should pick up. Braves free agent shortstop Alex Gonzalez agreed to a one-year deal with Milwaukee on Thursday, pending a physical.
“There’s a lot of people leaving here with somewhat unfinished business, and they have discussions ongoing,” he said. “I believe the free agent market not breaking loose has stalled some things… We’ve got three or four open conversations that we’ll just continue to follow up and see if anything materializes.”
The Braves did add a reliever on the last day of the meetings, and Wren said Fish could be a contributor to the bullpen in 2012.
“He’s got a very good arm,” Wren said. “Our scouts saw him this summer and said he had outstanding stuff. Power breaking ball and up to 95 [mph], left-handed. Could very easily fit in as a piece of a major league bullpen.”
Fish was a Rule 5 selection for the second year in a row. Last winter the Yankees took him from the Angels, then lost him to Kansas City on waivers. When the Royals didn’t add him to their major league roster, he went back to the Angels.
The Braves could have a spot for him in place of free agent George Sherrill, who posted a 3.00 ERA in 51 appearances (36 innings) in 2011 and was on the disabled list with a sore elbow during the Braves’ September collapse.
Against Fish, right-handed batters hit .191 with a .333 on-base percentage in 2011, and lefties hit .239 with four walks and 17 strikeouts in 46 at-bats.