Braves won't force issue in search for bullpen depth
Wren will add arm if possible, but Atlanta GM likes current makeup of relief corps
ATLANTA -- Braves general manager Frank Wren spent this week adding depth to his starting rotation and bench. There is still a chance he could add an experienced reliever to his bullpen. But it does not appear he views this as a priority.
"If we can add a quality arm and create additional depth, we will," Wren said. "But we're going to have some tough decisions in our bullpen. We're going to have guys that we can't keep in our Major League bullpen that are going to go be key pieces for other people. Anything we add right now, we're going to have to subtract. It's not like we have holes that we have to fill."
As things currently stand, the Braves feel good about that fact that Luis Avilan, David Carpenter and Jordan Walden are set to return as capable setup men for closer Craig Kimbrel. These four relievers served as the key contributors as the Braves produced a franchise-record 2.46 bullpen ERA this past season.
If Luis Vasquez lives up to the expectations he has created while pitching in the Dominican Winter League, he will join Anthony Varvaro as one of the favorites to win one of three other available bullpen spots. Vasquez, who was signed as a Minor League free agent in early November, has been impressing scouts with a sidearm delivery and a fastball that has been sitting between 95-97 mph.
"He's a real unknown among fans and many people around baseball," Wren said. "But the reports are coming in pretty strong. So we're already looking at other guys who are going to be battling it out in the spring. So if we keep adding, it creates competition, which is good. But we like our bullpen."
The Braves remain interested in the possibility that their former top setup man Eric O'Flaherty could opt to return to Atlanta for at least one more season. But it does not appear they are willing to offer a two-year deal to the veteran left-hander, who underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in May.
Even if O'Flaherty opts to return, he would likely not be available before the latter portion of May. Jonny Venters, who avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal in November, is looking at the same timetable as he attempts to return from the same procedure.
As the Braves make plans for the upcoming season, they also have to keep in mind that Alex Wood could eventually join the bullpen. Wood is the favorite to begin the season as Atlanta's fifth starter. But he will be on an innings limit during his first full Major League season, and he could be moved into a relief role once newly acquired Gavin Floyd recovers from the elbow reconstruction surgery he underwent seven months ago.
Some of the other pitchers who will come to Spring Training competing for a bullpen spot include Cory Gearrin, a sidearm right-hander who has combined to make 77 relief appearances for Atlanta over the past three seasons, Wirfin Obispo, a right-hander who caught the Braves' attention during last year's big league camp, and Juan Jaime, a hard-throwing right-hander whose fastball has been consistently clocked in the upper 90s.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.