Braves in town to play Rockies and scout relievers
Instead of beginning this entry with talk about Derek Lowe, it seems more fitting to begin talking about some of the activity the Braves will create before this year’s Trade Deadline expires at the end of this month.
The Braves will be at Coors Field tonight to begin a four-game series against the Rockies and one of their top scouts Jim Fregosi will also be in attendance. Advance scout Bob Johnson was in Denver this past weekend to touch up some reports about this Rockies bunch that the Braves swept earlier this month in Atlanta.
Fregosi also arrived this weekend and plans to stick around for at least tonight’s game, presumably to look at any of the three right-handed relievers — Matt Belisle, Rafael Betancourt and Huston Street — the Rockies could be willing to deal.
With Street guaranteed $7.5 million next year and possessing an option for 2013, he likely doesn’t fit in the Braves’ plans. But Belisle, who was once a highly-regarded prospect in the Braves’ organization, and Betancourt could serve as the right-handed setup man who could limit the innings required from Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty down the stretch.
Belisle would be owed approximately $4.5 million through the end of 2012 and Betancourt approximately $5.25 million during this same period. It might seem like a lot, but don’t forget the Braves will likely once again paying Venters and Craig Kimbrel somewhere around $500,000 next year.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Belisle was one of those top young Braves prospects who annually had a chance to make the start in the exhibition season opener against Georgia or Georgia Tech. Now 31, he has become a pretty reliable right-handed reliever in the Rockies bullpen. He posted a 2.93 ERA in 76 appearances last year and has posted a 3.46 ERA in 44 appearances this year.
As can happen with relievers, Belisle’s statistics were severely damaged by one bad outing, when he allowed six earned runs and seven hits in just two-thirds of an inning against the Royals on July 3 at Coors Field. He has combined to allow one run and three hits in the four appearances that have followed.
When dealing with a Rockies pitcher, it’s always best to look what they have done away from the spacious Coors Field. In the 54 road appearances he has made dating back to the beginning of 2010, Belisle has posted a 2.55 ERA and allowed opponents a .230 batting average.
Betancourt seemed to be running out of gas as he posted a 9.28 ERA and allowed opponents a .375 batting average in his final appearances before the All-Star break. This should definitely be viewed as a concern, especially for a 36-year-old reliever.
So while Betancourt and Street, who has converted 26 of his 28 save opportunities, might fit the description of the kind of pitcher the Braves want to add to their bullpen. Belisle currently seems to be the most likely Rockies reliever to end up in Atlanta.
The Braves have shown some interest in the Rockies’ Ryan Spilborghs in the past and he fits the description of the versatile right-handed hitting outfielder the Braves are seeking. But Spilborghs has been inconsistent at the plate this year and it doesn’t seem like the Rockies are interested in moving him.
It also seems like the Braves and a number of other interested teams can cross Michael Cuddyer’s name off their wish list. The Twins are back in the thick of the American League Central race and it doesn’t appear they’re interested in moving Cuddyer.
So this brings us back to Lowe, who will start tonight’s series opener for the Braves. But instead of focusing on the fact he’s 3-5 with a 5.53 ERA in 10 career starts at Coors Field, it seems time to once again look at the possibility that the Braves could move Lowe before this month concludes.
(This was the entry I posted earlier today to the MLB.com Trade Deadline Blog. Check the blog for updates from our reporters.)
A recent FoxSports.com report indicated the Tigers have shown some interest in Detroit native Derek Lowe. This has obviously led some to debate whether the Braves would be able to trade Lowe before this year’s Trade Deadline.
If they could find a suitor willing to pay all or at least a significant portion of the $20 million owed to Lowe through the end of the 2012 season, the Braves would certainly be willing to move him and use the money saved to attempt to significantly upgrade their offense with a right-handed bat.
In other words, they’re taking the same approach they have most of the past two years with the veteran hurler.
After Lowe struggled through the 2009 season, the Braves diligently tried to trade him before determining they needed to instead trade Javier Vazquez. Lowe’s name wasn’t bounced around much before last year’s Trade Deadline. But that might have had something to do with the fact it’s hard to move a pitcher who carries a 4.53 ERA into July and is still owed $35 million over the final 2 1/2 seasons of his contract.
After Lowe went 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in five September starts and pitched well in last year’s postseason, the Braves were once again willing to listen to potential suitors this past winter. Now they find themselves in the same position.
There is always a chance a pitching-hungry team with financial flexibility would take a chance on Lowe with the understanding he has often pitched well down the stretch.
But the Braves have not yet had any serious talks with teams about Lowe and right now it doesn’t appear there is much reason to believe he will be traded before the end of this month.