Braves ‘need’ starting pitching, could consider trades to get it

If the Tampa Bay Rays are willing to trade pitcher Chris Archer, the Braves are among the teams expected to at least explore what it would take to land the 2015 All-Star. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)
If the Tampa Bay Rays are willing to trade pitcher Chris Archer, the Braves are among the teams expected to at least explore what it would take to land the 2015 All-Star. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

PHOENIX – To express the importance that the Braves have placed on adding starting pitchers this offseason and where that ranks compared to acquiring a catcher, general manager John Coppolella turned to … The Rolling Stones.

“On our hierarchy of needs, at the apex of the pyramid is starting pitching,” he said Tuesday on the first full day of the General Managers Meeetings. “We need starting pitching. That’s something we need. Improved catching is a want. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you get what you need. (Here he smiled.)

“That’s kind of where we’re at – starting pitching’s going to be our focus. If there is a good deal for a catcher that makes sense, that’s something that we’ll have to at least look at.”

That only slightly altered line from the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was one that Coppolella clearly was waiting to use, and he used it effectively.

But with apologies to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, that’s about the extent of what The Glimmer Twins can contribute to the conversation regarding the Braves’ offseason needs.

The team is committed to adding a couple of more starting pitchers, and the Braves are aiming higher than the deal they did Monday when they signed veteran starter/reliever Josh Collmenter to a one-year, $1.2 million deal on Monday.

How much higher? Word spread Tuesday that the Braves had spoken to the the Rays about Chris Archer, a 2015 All-Star who’s signed to a club-friendly contract that includes three more guaranteed years at a combined salary of $19 million followed by two team option years at $9 million in 2020 and $11 million in 2021.

Considering the scarcity of available starting pitchers on the free-agent and trade markets and the number of teams looking for starters, the Rays would require a bounty of young talent including multiple prospects in a potental trade for Archer, 28, who had his worst season in 2016 and still totaled 233 strikeouts with 67 walks in 201 1/3 innings.

The right-hander was 9-19 with a 4.02 ERA and 30 home runs allowed in 33 starts, after going 32-32 with a 3.33 ERA and .229 opponents’ average in 95 games (93 starts) over the previous three seasons. Archer, a North Carolina native, rebounded from a poor first half to post a 3.25 ERA and .215 opponents’ average in 14 starts after the All-Star break.

He debuted in July 2016 and has a 41-51 career record and 3.51 ERA in 128 games (126 starts) over five seasons.

Coppolella said before the GM meetings that the Braves were more inclined to fill needs through free agency this winter rather than trades because they weren’t ready to trade away many if any of the top prospects they’ve acquired during a flurry of trades over the first two years of their rebuild.

But after getting a feel for the free-agent market and the number of teams pursuing a small supply of starters available — Jason Hammel, Rich Hill, Ivan Nova, Doug Fister, Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Edinson Volquez head the group — he sounded more open to perhaps making a trade rather than an offers longer than a year or two for free agents. Still, it’s unclear whether the Braves would seriously consider parting with the amount of young talent it’d take to get Archer.

“Starting pitching is the main need that we have, and we want it badly,” Coppolella said. “That being said, if the numbers get crazy or the years get too long (for free agents), we’ll just stick with what we have. Or we’ll look to the trade market for short-term guys. We aren’t going to be held hostage by giving three years to somebody that we don’t really like that much.

“We’re going to look for value, whether it’s starting pitching, catching, whatever. If the market spirals too far out of control, we’ll just move on to other areas of need. Maybe build a killer bullpen and add to (an area that is) a strength already. But candidly, we’ll see. The (pitching) market, there’s not David Price of Zack Greinke or Johnny Cueto. I mean, it’s kind of a middling group of (free agents), so you’re looking more for innings than for Cy Young candidates.”

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