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.

Report: Rangers’ deal with Seung-hwan Oh is off

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The Rangers will not sign free agent reliever Seung-hwan Oh after all. Reports from MLB.com’s TR Sullivan indicate that negotiations were brought to a halt after a physical issue was found with the pitcher. While the specifics have yet to be released, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News says the issue was revealed on an MRI of the right-hander’s arm.

Oh was thought to be in talks with the Rangers last week, though a deal was never officially announced by the club. The 35-year-old righty is fresh off of a two-year run with the Cardinals, during which he posted a cumulative 39 saves, 2.85 ERA, 2.1 BB/9 and 10.2 SO/9 in 139 innings. He struggled with consistency in his sophomore season, however, and finished 2017 with a disappointing 4.10 ERA and 4.44 FIP in 62 appearances for the team.

While Oh hasn’t experienced any setbacks with his arm in the majors so far, he does have a history of prior injuries during his time in KBO. He sustained a shoulder injury in 2009 and underwent surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow in 2010. It’s possible that the Rangers saw an entirely different problem on the MRI, but clearly it was enough to give them strong reservations about inking the righty to a $2.75+ million deal. It’s still possible that another of Oh’s suitors will offer him a contract prior to Opening Day; the Giants were rumored to be interested in the veteran reliever, among other teams, though their recent acquisition of lefty reliever Tony Watson will likely take them out of the running now.