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Bullpen Shaping Up

As we enter the last week of spring, the Braves got some encouraging news about one of the relievers they thought would have to start the season on the disabled list. Blaine Boyer pitched a stellar and pain free outing on Sunday. He faced the heart of the Dodger order striking out Jeff Kent on a wicked curveball, then induced Nomar Garciaparra and Bill Mueller to ground out on a fastball and change-up, respectively. He will need to have a couple more good outings, but it now looks like Boyer will be ready for the start of the season. That sets the bullpen up like this:

CL - Chris Reistma
SU1 - Oscar Villarreal
SU2 - Joey Devine
SU3 - Blaine Boyer
SU4 - Lance Cormier
SU5 - Mike Remlinger

Cormier and Remlinger are the guys on the bubble. Cormier will probably make the team, but he is an easy candidate for an `odd man out' if anyone else gets in the mix. Rem is a lefty, but not a lefty specialist. Therefore, the pen as it shapes out above is left without a left-hander who can get out left-handers. Enter the trade scenarios.

As mentioned before, Affeldt or Gobble from KC are both possibilities, although Affeldt has been penciled in as the Royals fourth starter. A more recent rumor has us possibly interested in Steve Kline of the Giants. They apparently have extra lefties and Kline fits the bill as a lefty specialist. He had an off year last year, but has been great in the past for St. Louis and he's having a good spring. The Pirates have also been mentioned as trading partners, where left-hander Damaso Marte is a possibility. The Bucs, though, are apparently asking for too much in return. Others mentioned in the past are Detroit's Franklyn German, and an old pal from Oakland, Juan Cruz, both of whom are right-handers. Philadelphia's Rheal Cormier is also available, but that probably won't happen since they are in the same division as us. Also, the universe may actually implode if we had two Cormiers on our team.

If the Braves do not go the trade route, they certainly have plenty of pitchers that should get healthy as the season progresses. McBride should be ready in a month. Foster might take a couple of months, but because of the uncertainty surrounding his injury he shouldn't be counted on at all this season. Carlos Almanzar is a hard-throwing right-hander who should be done rehabbing by May or June and could fill a spot in the bullpen. They also have some spring surprises that could turn out to be the next Kerry Lightenberg. Guys like Ken Ray, who is a journey-man minor leaguer who seems to have found new life this spring, and Peter Moylan, the side-arming Aussie we signed out of the WBC. Anthony Lerew is also a guy who could fill a spot in the pen once he sorts out his control problems at AAA.

The immediate need, though, seems to be for a lefty specialist. Chuck James could fill that roll, and he will continue auditioning as the spring winds to an end. But we seem like we've made up our minds about trading John Thompson to open up a spot for Davies. The likely player we would get in return is a bullpen arm. It is fun to speculate, but the coming week should reveal exactly what the Braves' plans are - stay tuned!

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