Braves could be making some trade partners
Bucs interested in Kawakami; Brewers eyeing young hurlers?
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Braves general manager Frank Wren arrived at this year's Winter Meetings early Sunday evening, he wasn't feeling any pressure to definitely alter his projected Major League roster before the start of Spring Training.
But as this year's already fast-paced Meetings kicked into full gear early Monday morning, the Braves already found themselves intrigued by some of the chatter being staged among scouts and administrators in the lobby of Walt Disney World's Swan and Dolphin Resort.
"I don't think anything came out this morning that was earth-shattering," Wren said. "But there were a couple of things we want to pursue and see if there are any legs to them when we get to the other club."
While identifying the Pirates as one of the clubs interested in acquiring a significantly discounted Kenshin Kawakami, some members of the Braves' organization were directly informed that the Brewers had some interest in some of their young pitchers and might be willing to part ways with Lorenzo Cain, a talented 24-year-old center fielder with limited Major League experience.
As the afternoon progressed, the Braves gained a sense that the Brewers might not be as interested to move Cain as initially believed.
Cain hit .306 with a .763 OPS and seven stolen bases in 43 games with Milwaukee this past summer. The young outfielder has hit .291 with a .366 on-base percentage and .416 slugging percentage during a six-year Minor League career.
If the Braves acquired Cain, he would provide them insurance in the event that Nate McLouth's struggles continue. He would also provide the depth necessary to account for the possibility that Martin Prado might spend more time at third base than in left field this upcoming summer.
Wren said doctors have recently been impressed with the strength Chipper Jones has regained in his surgically repaired left leg. But at the same time, while planning for 2011, Wren understands he has to prepare for the possibility that Jones' leg won't cooperate and consequently alter the plans for Prado to primarily play left field.
"There's always areas where we could improve," Wren said. "I don't want to get too specific. We like the basic formation of our team. But if you can get a little better in one area or another, it's important to do it."
By re-signing Eric Hinske and acquiring right-handed reliever Scott Linebrink last week, Wren took care of his desire to improve his bench and add experience to his bullpen mix. After meeting with his advisors early Monday morning, Wren began looking at ways he might still be able to improve his roster in an affordable manner.
Wren acknowledged that he might be able to benefit from adding a left-handed reliever. The Braves are planning to enter the 2011 season with Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters serving as the only left-handers in their bullpen mix.
With Venters set to serve as either the closer or Craig Kimbrel's primary setup man, Atlanta might benefit from adding a veteran free agent such as Ron Mahay, who has previously expressed interest in returning to the Braves' organization.
Mahay posted a 2.25 ERA while making 30 appearances for the Braves in the final two months of the 2007 season. The 39-year-old southpaw limited left-handed hitters to a .219 batting average and .239 on-base percentage while pitching for the Twins in 2010.
"I think our bullpen sets up pretty well right now," Wren said. "But I think another left-handed reliever, especially in our division, never hurts. But it's not an end-all if we don't. It's a nice-to-have kind of thing. We're going to try to improve the depth of our bullpen a little bit."
The amount of money Wren has to spend on a left-handed reliever or additional utility player will depend on the amount of money he is able to save while trading Kawakami. The Pirates are interested in the 35-year-old right-hander.
But they aren't expected to be willing to assume a significant portion of the $6.67 million Kawakami is still owed as he enters the final year of his three-year, $23 million contract.
"There's been some interest," Wren said. "We've talked to every club in the last week and identified the clubs that we thought would be the most likely teams of interest. We've got some things to talk about."
Odds and ends: Former manager Bobby Cox and newcomers Lee Elia and Dave Trembley were among the members of the veteran-laden staff that Wren assembled to serve as his chief advisors this year. ... Elia, recently hired as a Major League and Minor League instructor, and Trembley, recently named Minor League Field coordinator, are commuting to this week's Meetings from their Orlando-area homes. ... New manager Fredi Gonzalez drove Cox to the Atlanta airport before they traveled Sunday afternoon. ... Wren said Prado has responded well since he was cleared to begin swinging a bat again last week. The All-Star infielder hadn't been permitted to complete any baseball exercises since he tore his left oblique muscle and suffered a hip pointer on Sept. 27.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.