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A Warning to the Braves if no Deal is Made

I still don't buy that one pitcher's signing (Ryan Dempster) alters the Atlanta Braves course away from free agent pitchers and back towards Jake Peavy. Some people are acting as though he is our only option this winter. But while the money clouds of the Yankees are closing in on others, no one really knows who will be the ultimate winners in this market.

ESPN's Buster Olney, former Mets and Yankees beat writer, is urging the Braves to move back towards Peavy and finalize a deal, or else risk losing out on Peavy all together:

And the signing of Ryan Dempster is just the latest indication that the Braves are vulnerable to becoming the team left standing when the game of free-agent musical chairs stops. CC Sabathia is headed to the Yankees or to a California team, in all likelihood; big-money teams are bidding on A.J. Burnett; and Derek Lowe's agent is asking teams for five years, and the Yankees likely will be one of the contenders for his services. [...]

So the Braves' best shot at a free agent might be with Oliver Perez -- and with all due respect to the talented but erratic lefty, he is not the kind of consistent impact pitcher that Atlanta wants or needs. And as the free agents come off the board, and the Braves remain empty-handed, the leverage of San Diego GM Kevin Towers will rise -- not significantly, but incrementally. [...]

The Padres don't appear to have any other serious suitors for Peavy, but history tells us that circumstances can change rapidly. A player for another team can get injured in an off-field accident, setting off an unexpected chain reaction: Aaron Boone got hurt playing basketball, the Yankees voided his contract and swooped in and made a deal for Alex Rodriguez after weeks of negotiations between the Red Sox and the Rangers, at a time when Boston believed (rightly) that there were no other serious bidders for A-Rod. Stuff happens.

Olney has his moments, and nothing scares Braves fans worse than Oliver Perez (except maybe one of the Boone brothers). While it seems a foregone conclusion that the Yankees will be big money players, the Braves have, at times, not shied away from spending money on a free agent they thought would make a difference. We all get wrapped up in the "hometown discount" mantra that is trotted out there everytime one of our guys is a free agent, and while that may have worked for some, that philosophy has failed to retain the majority of Braves free agents.

We once spent lavishly on the best starting pitcher on the market. The five-year $28 million deal with an average annual value of $5.6 million for Greg Maddux was a record when we signed him away from the Cubs in December of '92. This may be the time to spend lavishly again, even on par with the Yankees. (Or could that sentiment be a pipe dream, with the Braves preferring to pursue bargains instead of bonus babies.)

While I do think it's fun to talk about this stuff, sometimes ad nauseam, I just don't see that much change ocurring from one day to the next, even in this seemingly fluid market. Olney seems to be basing his need for speed on the Aaron Boone / Alex Rodriguez example from a few years ago, but that was a rare situation, and these trade talks are very different. I continue to applaud Frank Wren for not giving in to the Padres demands, and sticking to his espoused longterm philosophy of rebuilding again from within (while still trying to put a winning club on the field this year).

My opinion is that there's still plenty of time, and that most of these guys won't sign until after Thanksgiving or until the Winter Meetings.

It could certainly be an interesting time tomorrow when Frank Wren chats with Braves fans on the official team website (3pm).

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