Injuries force decision on Saltalamacchia

Again, this is not how I expected it to go down, but I can understand the Braves’ decision to call up top prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia yesterday.  It was also Salty’s 22nd birthday, so as an unexpected gift, he got to make his major league debut.  Jarrod went 0-for-2 with a walk and a hit by pitch.

Injuries to starter Brian McCann and backup Brayan Pena forced the Braves’ decision to call up a catcher, and it would appear that Salty has the most capable bat, even though they hat to bring him up from AA.  After a disappointing 2006, Salty was tearing it up in Mississippi with an OPS of 1.022 in 22 games, so his bat appears to have come back around.

The question is, what will they do with him when McCann and Pena are back?  We’ve already explored the options of moving him to different positions, but he could be a great trading piece for a starting pitcher or outfielder.  Here are some options:

  1. Dontrelle Willis, FLA – Willis has received the most ink as a potential acquisition for the Braves.  It’s possible that the Marlins would be willing to part with the face of their franchise for a prospect as good as Salty, but I question two things.  The first is a problem for virtually any acquisition: will the Braves be able to sign him long-term?  I’m not particularly confident in that, but hopefully the Braves wouldn’t give Salty up for a one-year rental.  Willis is making $6.45 million this year.  The other potential issue with Dontrelle is his durability.  He pitched 459 innings between ’05 and ’06, and he sits now at 854, an alarming total for a 25-year-old pitcher.  I suspect he’s a major candidate for future arm trouble, even though that type of speculation is usually a crapshoot.
  2. Adam Dunn, CIN – The Reds have been back and forth about their ability to re-sign Dunn, so it’s possible that he would be on the market in the near future.  Dunn will make $10.5M this year and has a club option for ’08 at $13M.
  3. Geoff Jenkins, MIL – The oft-injured Brewers outfielder will make $7M this year, and the team has a $9M option for 2008.  Even though Milwaukee has the best record in the majors right now, they have a glut of outfielders and the Braves have a need.  I’m not confident about Willie Harris’ long-term viability as a LF plug.
  4. Brad Wilkerson, TEX – At $4.35M, he’s a bargain, and the Rangers may hold on to him.  If they don’t, hopefully the Braves will make an offer.  The downside: it’s not yet clear if he’s over his injury troubles, and 2004 was his last great year.  Hopefully “great” isn’t a requirement for LF at this point, but perhaps the Braves could land him for a lower price than Salty.
  5. Ichiro Suzuki, SEA – I don’t think Ichiro would want to go to Atlanta, but he may not stick around in Seattle.  I see him going to one of the Yanks/Red Sox/Mets trio, possibly in the offseason, but I suppose he is an option as an impending free agent on a bad team.
  6. [UPDATE] Rich Harden, OAK – I’ve read just a little talk that the A’s may decide to ship Harden.  Despite his injuries, I don’t really understand it.  He’s only making $2M this year, $4M next year, and has a club option at $7M for ’09.  I don’t think the A’s are so down on Kurt Suzuki that they’d want their catcher of the future this bad.  Harden is an ace for a #4’s pay.

The crop of impending free agent pitchers is not impressive, at least from the standpoint of trade potential during the season.  Many of this season’s top free agents play for deep-pocketed teams (Zambrano, Clement, etc.), and even if they don’t re-sign, it’s unlikely that those guys would be dealt mid-season.  As it stands, Willis is the only good pitching option who might be on the market.  A prospect-for-prospect trade isn’t out of the question, but I don’t see teams parting with guys like Tim Lincecum, Yovani Gallardo, or Homer Bailey.

The decision to bring up Saltalamacchia will be an interesting one to watch.  He probably is the Braves’ best option while both McCann and Pena are unavailable, so it’s hard to argue with the decision from that standpoint.  If he succeeds, this could be a great showcase for a trade, or he might force himself into the lineup at another position (albeit an unfamiliar one) with some solid play.  I’m actually glad the Braves are having to consider his future now, so they might be able to maximize his value to the Braves this season, whether it’s as a member of the Braves or as a trade piece.

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