Sources: Braves eyeing Penny
The Braves already have made moves to augment their rotation, calling up super prospect Tommy Hanson to make his major league debut on Sunday, after summoning Kris Medlen last month. But Atlanta might not be done adding pitching.
Atlanta is one of the teams in conversation with the Boston Red Sox about veteran right-hander Brad Penny, according to sources, at a time when the Red Sox have been doing their own research on Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur.
As the Braves do their background work on Penny, this is part of what they have ascertained: The 31-year-old right-hander started horribly for the Red Sox, but he has pitched better in recent starts, allowing three earned runs or fewer in five of his past six starts.
Overall, Penny is 5-1 with a 5.63 ERA, with his velocity increasing as the season has progressed, and his penchant for generating fly balls might make him a better fit in the National League, and in a pitchers' park, such as Turner Field.
The Braves already have the makings of a good rotation, with Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens -- and now Hanson. Kenshin Kawakami has made 10 starts, mustering a 4.63 ERA. The Braves currently rank fourth in starters' ERA, at 3.90.
Atlanta's bullpen, however, has been a problem -- the Braves ranked 17th among 30 teams in relief ERA, at 4.32.
It is unclear whether Atlanta would have interest in Penny as a starter or as a reliever; if the Braves added Penny to their rotation, they could shift Kawakami into their bullpen.
Kawakami has been effective, generally, through the first 45 pitches of his starts, but opponents have an OPS of 1.042 against him in pitches 46 to 60.
The Braves have a reputation among other teams for being precise in their accounting, so it may be that they could be motivated to move Francoeur -- who is hitting .251 this year, at age 25 -- partly to free up money. He is making $3.38 million in salary this year, while Penny is making $5 million, plus incentives.
Earlier this week, the Braves released Tom Glavine, who would have earned $1 million on the first day with the team, and acquired center fielder Nate McLouth from the Pittsburgh Pirates for three prospects.
The Braves and Red Sox match up with other pieces and parts, as well, if they were to expand their conversations beyond Penny and Francoeur.
Buster Olney is a senior baseball writer for ESPN The Magazine.