Spring training questions: Atlanta Braves

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Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be looking at a few of the questions facing each team this spring.
1. Will Jair Jurrjens be OK for the start of the season after showing up to camp with a bum shoulder?
Jurrjens, who finished third in the NL with a 2.60 ERA last season, reported soreness immediately after reporting to spring training. An MRI turned up no structural damage, and the Braves are currently cautiously optimistic that he’ll be ready on time. Whether the story ends there will be determined over the next several weeks. Jurrjens has a clean delivery, but he’s thrown a lot of pitches for someone who just turned 24 last month. With their lack of starting pitching depth, the Braves would be hard-pressed if they lost him for any length of time.
2. Is Jason Heyward ready to take over as the everyday right fielder?
The games haven’t even started, yet the hype machine is working overtime already. Some thought that Heyward, baseball’s best position prospect, should have been given a callup in the second half of last year. He ended up hitting .323/.408/.555 in a season spent mostly at Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi. The now 20-year-old Heyward bulked up over the winter and has reportedly been crushing the ball in batting practice. He’s advanced enough as a hitter that few doubt he’d be able to hold his own in the majors right away. Whether he’s really enough of an upgrade over Melky Cabrera to make it worth carrying him on Opening Day is another question, particularly once the financial ramifications are taking into account (by keeping him in the minors for another two months, the Braves could delay his arbitration and free agency eligibility by a year).
So, yeah, I think Heyward is probably ready to be an average or maybe an above average regular for the Braves. But given that Cabrera is a pretty average regular himself, the team may want to give Heyward the Tommy Hanson treatment anyway. Hanson was kept in the minors last year just long enough to ensure that he wouldn’t be super-two eligible after 2011.
3. Will the Braves have to go get themselves one more pitcher?
This really goes along with the first two questions. As is, the Braves rotation fallbacks are disappointing left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes and right-hander Kris Medlen, who should be a key cog in the bullpen. Unlike most seasons, there aren’t any quality prospects ready to step in, though I think Medlen would do just fine if needed. Also complicating the matter is that Reyes is out of options and might be picked up by another team unless the Braves opt to carry him as a reliever.
In a perfect world, the Braves would have one more rotation option behind Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Hanson and Kenshin Kawakami. And they have a seemingly ideal trade candidate in Cabrera if they opt to make Heyward their right fielder. Should the right situation arise next month, the Braves may well use Cabrera to improve their depth elsewhere. Or it’s something they could try to do in June, though Cabrera’s value would take a hit if he plays behind Heyward.

Braves trade Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarez to the Rangers

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 20: Lucas Harrell #63 of the Atlanta Braves pitches in the second inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on July 20, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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The Braves have traded pitchers Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarez to the Rangers, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. The Rangers are sending 21-year-old infielder Travis Demeritte to the Braves, per MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan.

Harrell, 31, has made five starts for the Braves this season, posting a 3.38 ERA with a 21/12 K/BB ratio in 29 1/3 innings. The rest of his season has been spent at the minor leagues, including Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo with the Tigers, as well as Triple-A Gwinnett with the Braves.

Alvarez, 27, has an even 3.00 ERA with a 28/5 K/BB ratio in 15 innings of relief for the Braves. He throws from the left side so he’ll give a particular boost to the Rangers’ bullpen when needed.

Demeritte was taken in the first round — 30th overall — by the Rangers in the 2013 draft. This year, with Single-A High Desert, he has hit .272/.352/.583 with 25 home runs and 59 RBI in 378 plate appearances. He has played second base almost exclusively, but has also logged time at shortstop and third base in his minor league career.

Harrell will be arbitration eligible for the first time after the season. Alvarez has accrued only 61 days of service time.

Report: White Sox have made James Shields available in a trade

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 26:  James Shields #25 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field on July 26, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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Teams in need of starting pitching can call the White Sox about James Shields as the club has made him available in a trade, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports and MLB Network reports.

A trade would allow Shields to land with his third team this season. The Padres traded Shields to the White Sox in early June for pitcher Erik Johnson and minor leaguer Fernando Tatis, Jr. Things haven’t gone better for him since leaving San Diego with a 4.28 ERA. In 10 starts with the White Sox, Shields has compiled a 5.17 ERA with a 29/25 K/BB ratio in 55 2/3 innings.

Shields, 34, is owed $21 million in both 2017 and ’18, then has a $16 million club option for 2019 with a $2 million buyout.

The White Sox are teetering on the edge between being buyers and sellers. They entered play Wednesday on a four-game winning streak with a 50-50 record, eight games out of first place in the AL Central and six games out of the second AL Wild Card slot.