For Braves, no moves but much hope
Burnett leaves Meetings without a team, but Atlanta is in hunt
LAS VEGAS -- Braves general manager Frank Wren exited the Winter Meetings on Thursday without any tangible rewards. But he still possessed some hope that he'll eventually be able to lure A.J. Burnett to Atlanta.
Wren met with Burnett's agent, Darek Braunecker, on Thursday morning and came away unwilling to concede that the coveted free-agent hurler may eventually sign with the Yankees, who are believed to have provided a five-year, $85 million offer.
"He's still available and out there," Wren said. "We still feel that we are in the mix."
In their desperate pursuit of Burnett, the Braves will likely be persuaded to make a guaranteed five-year offer to remain competitive with the Yankees. But it didn't appear that they had done so as of late Thursday morning.
If the Braves lose out in the bidding for Burnett, Wren will attempt to land one of the starters he's considered pursuing this week via free agency or trades. But none of these hurlers is of the same caliber as Burnett or Jake Peavy, who may not have the opportunity to realize his desire to pitch for the Cubs.
As the Winter Meetings were coming to a close, the Cubs announced that they had ended trade negotiations with the Padres, who consequently still find themselves with Peavy accounting for a significant portion of their slashed payroll.
This really didn't change anything for Atlanta. Wren's current focus remains on Burnett. In the event that he doesn't land the right-hander, Wren won't begin a new pursuit of Peavy, unless the Padres initiate talks with the understanding that the Braves won't be offering what they were a month ago, when they were willing to provide a package highlighted by Yunel Escobar.
Because they used Brent Lillibridge to land Javier Vazquez last week, Atlanta no longer has any intention to trade Escobar, whom one veteran Braves player considers "the best shortstop in the National League."
While putting their primary focus on landing Burnett, the Braves also spent a portion of this past week evaluating potential trades to land a power-hitting outfielder. Rick Ankiel and Corey Hart have emerged as the primary targets Atlanta will continue to pursue via talks with St. Louis and Milwaukee.
John Smoltz also generated buzz this week when his agent, Keith Grunewald, began informing teams about his client's health and potential willingness to pitch somewhere other than Atlanta next season. The Red Sox and Tigers are among the teams believed to be most interested in the veteran right-hander.
The Braves will continue to evaluate Smoltz, who has thrown off a mound just once since undergoing major right shoulder surgery in June. If he proves healthy, the Braves still have a desire to place him in their starting rotation, but they aren't currently in a position where they could responsibly make him an offer.
While keeping Smoltz on their radar, the Braves will continue their attempt to upgrade their starting rotation. If they lose out in the bidding for Burnett, they will begin a more aggressive pursuit of other free-agent pitchers, like righty Jon Garland and lefty Oliver Perez. Atlanta has also talked to the Pirates about right-hander Ian Snell.
Deals done: While Wren exited without making any acquisitions, he is confident that he might have made progress on a couple of trades that could materialize next week.
Rule 5 activity: The Braves lost outfielder Carl Loadenthal when the Mets selected him in the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 Draft.
Goals accomplished: Wren's primary goal was to land Burnett. Though this wasn't accomplished, he did have multiple meetings with Braunecker, who says the Braves are definitely still in the mix for his client.
Unfinished business: In order to compete in 2009, the Braves desperately need to land an ace or at least significantly improve their rotation with a second-level free-agent starting pitcher. In addition, they'd like to find a right-handed power-hitting outfielder to place between Chipper Jones and Brian McCann.
GM's bottom line: "I think we made headway in a number of areas. It was slow in terms of getting things done, but I do think we now know what is out there to help us fill our needs." -- Wren
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.