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Braves ready for moves to improve

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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The Braves are up to something. How can they not be after their historic collapse in September?

No one should be immune from trade discussions. And, apparently, no one is.

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Yes, the Braves would move right-hander Jair Jurrjens and left fielder Martin Prado, the two players whose names surfaced in trade discussions with the Royals, according to Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star.

Heck, the Braves would trade just about anyone for the right price — and moving Jurrjens, in particular, could make sense.

Jurrjens, who turns 26 on Jan. 29, was a candidate to start the All-Star Game last season, but he made only seven starts after the break because of a right knee injury. He also missed time with an oblique problem at the start of last season and nearly two months with a strained left hamstring in 2010 — and, lest anyone forget, he had a shoulder scare in the spring of ’10 and other shoulder issues in ’06 and ’07.

Injuries, though, are not the main reason the Braves would trade Jurrjens.

No, the Braves would simply be dealing from a position of strength with a pitcher who has produced ERAs below 3.00 in two of the past three seasons.

They also would be confronting the reality that Jurrjens, who is represented by agent Scott Boras, probably would be with the team for only two more seasons — two high-priced seasons, as he enters his final two years of arbitration.

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Trading Jurrjens on top of dealing right-hander Derek Lowe to Cleveland would save the Braves about $10 million — money that could be redirected to a big right-handed hitter who would help balance a heavily left-handed lineup.

The flip side?

Without Jurrjens and Lowe, the Braves would need to fill two rotation spots behind right-handers Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Brandon Beachy, presuming the team did not acquire another starter.

Well, lefty Mike Minor and righties Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran all pitched in the majors last season and could play significant roles in 2012. The Braves, if they wanted, also could sign a low-budget veteran as insurance.

The danger, of course, is that the loss of Jurrjens could prove haunting if one or more of the youngsters develops slower than expected. The Braves are wary of that possibility — Hanson, remember, had shoulder trouble at the end of last season. Thus, Jurrjens will be moved only for a sizable return.

Would Royals center-field prospect Lorenzo Cain constitute such a return? Perhaps. The Braves tried to acquire him twice last offseason, first from the Brewers, then from the Royals. Many of the same names were in play in the Braves-Brewers talks — Beachy-for-Cain was discussed, as was Jurrjens-for-Brett Lawrie. But, ultimately, the teams could not agree and Cain went to the Royals in the Zack Greinke deal.

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Cain, who will be 26 next season, could be the Braves’ long-term replacement for Michael Bourn, a Boras client who is entering his free-agent year. But the Braves, sources said, would not agree to the trade suggested by the Kansas City Star — Jurrjens and Prado, two proven major leaguers, each under two more years of control, for Cain and Wil Myers, two highly regarded outfield prospects.

Heck, the Royals probably wouldn’t do it, either.

Cain, even if he proves only a No. 8 or No. 9 hitter, is valuable to the Royals because of his defense in center — and his cost-controlled status as a 0-to-3-year player. If anything, the Royals are more likely to trade Melky Cabrera, who is due a big raise from his $1.25 million salary. Myers, who turns 21 on Dec. 10, also is unlikely to be dealt. He is considered the Royals’ most promising youngster.

The Braves operate at a different financial level and, sources say, intend to increase their payroll from $87 million, their Opening Day figure last season. They already have about $60.1 million committed for ‘12, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, including the $10 million they sent to the Indians with Lowe. But to do something bigger, they will need more payroll flexibility.

Both Prado and Jurrjens stand to earn about $5 million in arbitration. Bourn, Hanson and left-hander Eric O’Flaherty also are arbitration-eligible. The Braves could bring all of them back and still have money to spend. But trading one or more of those players would enable them to spend more.

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Prado, who was considered so valuable only a year ago, has become something of a square peg in a round hole. His best position, second base, is occupied by Dan Uggla. His second-best position, third base, belongs to Chipper Jones. Prado also is coming off a poor second half, but the Braves attribute that to the staph infection in his right knee that sidelined him from June 10 to July 15. Prado could not work out at all during that time.

If the Braves were to trade Prado, they again would be looking for a left fielder, presuming they didn't get one back in the deal. They also would lose a potential long-term replacement for Jones, who will be 40 next season. As with Jurrjens, a trade is something they would rule out but also not something they are necessarily eager to do.

One thing is certain: The Braves aren’t standing pat. They can’t stand pat, not after the way they collapsed in the final month of the season.

Tagged: Indians, Royals, Brewers, Braves, Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Martin Prado, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Lorenzo Cain

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