McDowell’s potential departure will serve as the offseason’s first intriguing storyline

Now that the Red Sox have concluded yet another World Series in triumphant fashion, it is time to begin looking at what the Braves might do during what has the potential to be an interesting Hot Stove season.

Over the next few weeks and possibly months, the Braves will evaluate the trade market in search of an ace and a possible suitor for Dan Uggla.  But the first intriguing storyline will focus on pitching coach Roger McDowell’s future in Atlanta.

McDowell has been invited to return to Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez’s coaching staff next year.  But before signing his contract, McDowell will likely talk to the Phillies about their vacant pitching coach position.

Over the past week, it has become even more evident that McDowell is high on Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro’s wish list.  But the Phillies are not  permitted to have any formal discussions with McDowell until his current contract with the Braves expires at midnight tonight (Oct. 31).

McDowell met with Braves general manager Frank Wren this week to discuss the possibility of remaining in Atlanta.  But the meeting did not lead to an immediate resolution.

The Braves suffered a loss earlier this week when Dave Wallace ended his days as their Minor League pitching coordinator to become Baltimore’s pitching coach.  Making the jump from the Minor League level to the Majors was an easy decision for the 66-year-old Wallace, a highly-respected pitching guru who has significantly shaped and impacted McDowell’s coaching career.

The Braves would suffer a much greater loss if McDowell chose to take his expertise and knowledge of Atlanta’s system to the division rival Phillies.

McDowell stands as one of the most respected and valuable leaders on Atlanta’s coaching staff.   Along with leading a pitching staff that has produced the game’s best ERA since the start of the 2009 season, he has displayed a meticulous approach while devising scouting reports that well-traveled veteran backup catcher Gerald Laird has described as some of the best he has ever seen.

McDowell has a strong bond with Gonzalez and the many homegrown pitchers he has molded in Atlanta.  But the almighty dollar could lure him to Philadelphia.

Multiple Major League sources have said McDowell is one of the game’s lowest-paid pitching coaches.  With this in mind, the Phillies could make him an offer he can’t refuse.  But at the same time, there is always the Braves could provide a raise that would increase the odds of him remaining in Atlanta.

Regardless of what transpires, the next few days will provide a better understanding of McDowell’s immediate future.

We’ll likely have to wait a little longer to learn what the future has in store for Atlanta’s top two free agents  —  Brian McCann and Tim Hudson.

While some National League teams will show interest in McCann, it still seem much more likely that he will get his best offers from American League clubs that would be able to utilize him both as a catcher and designated hitter.  If you’re looking for an early favorite in the bidding for McCann, go with the Rangers.

Hudson’s future seems to be a little less clear as he nears the end of his recovery from the fractured right ankle that sidelined him for this season’s final two months.  Wren said he will talk to Hudson about the possibility of returning to Atlanta.   But the Royals and a number of other clubs are also expected to show some interest in signing the 38-year-old right-hander.

Since joining the Braves before the start of the 2005 season, Hudson has enjoyed the comforts of playing close to home.  He built his family’s dream house in Auburn, Ala., which is located approximately 90 minutes south of Turner Field.   There is also the allure of sticking close to his children who are beginning to participate in a variety of different activities.

But this will be yet another decision influenced by the financial aspect.  Given his age, Hudson has to look at the possibility that he could be preparing to sign the last contract of his career.  There is a chance the certainty provided by a two-year guaranteed deal could outweigh the opportunity to remain in Atlanta with a one-year,incentive-laden contract that might include an option for 2015.

In order to receive draft-pick compensation, clubs must make a qualifying offer to any of its qualifying free agents by Monday at  5 p.m. ET. The player has until Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET to accept the offer, which this year is a one-year contract valued at $14.1 million.   

While the Braves will almost definitely make a qualifying offer to McCann with the understanding he would likely not accept it, they have no reason to make the offer to Hudson, who would have plenty of reason to accept and as a result, nearly double his potential salary for next season.  

AFL Update:  Shortly after the All-Star break, a talent evaluator told me to keep an eye on Shae Simmons, a 23-year-old right-handed reliever who compiled a 1.69 ERA and limited opponents to a .263 on-base percentage in 50 combined appearances with Class A Rome and Double-A Mississippi this season.  Simmons has extended his success while compiling a 1.50 ERA and limiting opponents to four hits through the first six innings he has completed in the Arizona Fall League.

Simmons will serve as Atlanta’s only representative in the Fall Stars Game, which will be played on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.  The game will be broadcast on MLB Network and streamed live on MLB.com.

Second baseman Tommy La Stella has continued to show his offensive potential while hitting .318 with five doubles and a homer  in  the 44 at-bats he has compiled since the AFL season began.   La Stella opened some eyes this year when he hit .343 and drew more walks (37) than strikeouts (34) with Double-A Mississippi this summer.

Interest in La Stella has certainly increased because of the uncertainty surrounding Uggla, who is owed $26 million over the final two years of his contract.  The Braves will certainly try to move Uggla and at least a portion of that contract.

If Uggla is traded this winter, the favorites to begin next year as Atlanta’s second baseman would likely be either La Stella Tyler Pastornicky, who is expected to recover from his torn anterior cruciate ligament by the time Spring Training begins.  Ramiro Pena could also be a candidate.  But his presence in the lineup could weaken the value of the versatility he provides as a utility man.

 

 

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