The Atlanta Braves starting rotation has underwent a great deal of change this winter, and with Spring Training on the horizon, even more changes could be on the way.
The Braves have worked hard this off-season to rebuild a starting rotation that was depleted by injuries last season. The team acquired veteran right-hander Javier Vazquez from the Chicago White Sox in hopes of providing a stablizing force at the top of the rotation. Vazquez is steady if not flashy, winning at least 10 games in nine straight seasons and most importantly, pitching at least 200 innings in eight out of those nine seasons.
After adding Vazquez to the mix, the Braves continued their search for a proven ace to place atop their new look rotation. The team attempted to land Padres ace Jake Peavy via trade and also tried to sign free agent starter A.J. Burnett, but failed in both attempts.
In another shocking turn of events, Atlanta Braves pitching legend John Smoltz shocked the baseball world by leaving the only professional team he’s ever played for to sign a one-year contract with the Boston Red Sox. Many baseball experts and pundits predicted Smoltz would retire a Brave.
In the midst of the shock of Smoltz’s departure, the team finally found success in its search for more rotation help and added not one but two new starters, quelling some of teammates and fans concern.
The Braves signed Japanese free agent starter Kenshin Kawakami, making him the first Japanese player in franchise history. Kawakami spent the last 11 seasons as one of the top Japanese pitchers in the Japan’s Central League. Kawakami went 9-5 with a 2.30 ERA last season for the Chunichi Dragons before missing almost three weeks in September due to a strained back. Kawakami passed a physical before signing with the Braves and is expected to be a healthy and vital part of the Braves rotation this coming season.
In the same week that the Braves held a press conference announcing the signing of Kawakami, the Braves finally landed their much sought after ace. Atlanta increased its pursuit of Los Angeles Dodgers free agent Derek Lowe after John Smoltz officially departed for Beantown. The Braves finally got their man, inticing Lowe to sign a four year, 60-million dollar contract with the club. Lowe, 35, has proven to be one of baseball’s most reliable starters. He has averaged 15 wins and over 200 innings over the past seven seasons. Lowe, who is known for his sinkerball, will anchor a potentially strong Braves staff in 2009.
The Braves have penciled in the first four slots of their rotation for the coming season. While the order has yet to be decided, the team knows Lowe will lead a staff that will also be comprised of Vazquez, returning phenom Jair Jurrjens, who enjoyed a successful rookie season and Kawakami. The fifth slot remains up for grabs but storied Braves pitcher Tom Glavine has his eye of the spot.
At this point, Glavine’s future with the team remains up in the air. Glavine is recovering from surgery to repair the torn flexor in his pitching elbow and has yet to decide whether he will pitch another season or retire. Glavine’s rehabilitation is going well after throwing two mound sessions and the hurler has said if he does return he hopes to work out a deal to remain in Atlanta and retire a Brave.