The Braves will have some choices to make this winter

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Atlanta is still right in the thick of the wild card race, but even so, the lure of the hot stove is undeniable given their relative embarrassment of starting pitching riches. As MLB.com’s Mark Bowman notes, other teams are thinking about it too:

The Rockies and D-backs both sent scouts to watch Tim Hudson make his
return last night.  Like Hudson, these clubs are wondering whether the
Braves will bring the veteran right-hander back to Atlanta next year.  

Even
as recently as the All-Star break, it appeared the Braves weren’t going
to be willing to bring both Hudson and Javier Vazquez back next year.  

But while there’s still a chance that one of them will be gone
before the start of the 2010 season, there’s also a growing sense that 
both could return to provide Atlanta with a rotation that would be
deeper than any of the great ones it possessed during the 1990s.

Assuming they exercise their option on Hudson, Atlanta will have six good starters lined up for next year: Derek Lowe, Hudson, Vazquez, Kenshin
Kawakami, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson.  Vazquez is perhaps Atlanta’s best pitcher this year, but (a) he could bring the most in a trade; and (b) he has had trouble putting together solid back-to-back seasons.  In other words, his value may be peaking, and he might be the best bet for helping the Braves grab a much-needed corner bat.

As a Braves fan I’d like to see them keep all six. You have to expect a starting pitcher to go down at some point in the season, and it would be awful nice to have a backup, especially in a year when the Braves will have a good shot at the division.  Jason Heyward could probably play in Atlanta next year, and in light of the Adam Dunn contract this past winter, there’s no reason to think that the Braves couldn’t find a good first baseman or corner outfielder on the relative cheap without parting with starting pitching.

The most depressing possibility — but a distinct one given the Braves’ conservative corporate ownership — would be if they simply declined Hudson’s option and decided to go with the five other guys in order to save money while failing to either ensure or leverage their rotation depth.

Obviously, how Tim Hudson does in his final few starts this year may go a long way in determining what’s going to happen, but here’s hoping for a little imagination on the part of the Atlanta brain trust.

UPDATE: Donald Trump declines Nats offer to throw out the first pitch

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UPDATE: Welp, we wont’ get to see that:

Sad!

8:53 AM: It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.

2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.