Braves opting to further develop young arms with additions of veterans

One of nine pitchers under the age of 25 to start a game for the Braves in 2015, Matt Wisler, 23, had a 5.03 ERA in his 26 outings.
Steve Mitchell/Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

OXON HILL, MD. — The Braves no longer want to lean on young pitchers before they're ready for the big leagues, a point the organization's brain trust drove home with the additions of innings-eaters Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey and dealing for Jaime Garcia.

But on the flip side, those maneuvers mean fewer immediate opportunities for the organization's prized arms. One rotation spot is expected to be up for grabs, and if those prospects don't like the current state of things, … well general manager John Coppolella has a message for them.

“This may not be PC ,” he said during Monday's first full day of MLB's Winter Meetings. “If you don't like it. Get better.”

Last season the Braves led all of baseball in innings pitched by players 25 or younger, and it wasn't even close. Atlanta's 901 innings were 176 more than the Diamondbacks in second and it had 26 starts, 23 ahead of the Phillies.

That includes the 25-year-old Julio Teheran, who earned his second All-Star Game selection with a 3.21 ERA, and Mike Foltynewicz, 24, who had a 4.31 ERA overall and 11 starts in which he allowed to runs or less.

But there were also Matt Wisler (5.00 ERA), Aaron Blair (7.59), Williams Perez (6.04), Tyrell Jenkins (5.88), among others who have been dealt like Rob Whalen, John Gant and Ryan Weber.

“Are we better by pitching these guys, not standing in their way and giving them another chance or letting them develop?” said president of baseball operations John Hart. “We opted for that. Let them continue their development.”

An overhaul was a stated desire after the Braves had a collective 4.87 ERA from their starters, which was third highest in baseball and topped the National League, and they also had the second-worst FIP in the NL (4.71), topped only by the Reds (5.17).

“We don't anyone anything,” Coppolella said. “The best pitchers are going to pitch for us.”

In steps Colon, 43, who has pitched no fewer than 190 1/3 innings over the past four seasons, including 191 2/3 during an All-Star season with the Mets in 2016 and last year as was the first since 2010 that Dickey, 42, didn't hit 200 innings-plus.

Garcia, the team's first regular left-handed option in the rotation since Alex Wood in 2015, had a 4.67 ERA in 30 starts for the Cardinals last season. That was a rare healthy season for the 30-year-old, who had fewer than 10 starts in 2013 and '14.

The Braves foresee a rotation, that without any further additions via trade or the free-agent market, will include Teheran, Colon, Dickey and Garcia, with the fifth spot up for grabs. They expect Blair, Foltynewicz and Wisler among the short list of those entering spring training in that mix.

“It's OK for these guys. Let them come in and compete for one job,” Hart said. “That's how it's supposed to be, isn't it, when you're good? Let them compete for one job. Let's see.”

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, 'Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,' and 'The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.' are now available.