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Josh Willingham

Jim Mone, Associated Press

Twins, Braves have what the other team needs

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN
  • Star Tribune
  • November 8, 2012 - 9:36 AM

INDIAN WELLS, CALIF. - Trade talks are intensifying at baseball's general managers' meetings, and it's hard to imagine two teams matching up better than the Twins and Atlanta Braves. Each side has exactly what the other side wants.

The Braves need a center fielder and leadoff hitter with Michael Bourn expected to leave as a free agent, and they want a righthanded power hitter to play left field. Hello? Paging Denard Span and Josh Willingham.

The Twins wouldn't part with either outfielder without getting major league-ready starting pitching in return. The Braves have so much of that, in so many different varieties, it's almost silly.

"We have from veteran-veterans, like Tim Hudson, all the way down to rookies that are ready to break through that are top prospects," Braves GM Frank Wren said Wednesday. "We're looking at every possible opportunity to fill out our needs the way we need to fill it."

Moments before Wren said this, Twins GM Terry Ryan was tiptoeing around a question about the Braves. Ryan refuses to detail trade discussions publicly but said: "Anybody that's got numbers [of starting pitchers] or anybody that's got a possibility maybe of having a lot of depth, then, more than likely, we have talked to them.

"They aren't just going to distribute pitching to other clubs unless they can get something back that fills a need. Some way or another, we kind of know who we match up with."

The Tampa Bay Rays also have a starting pitching surplus and need to replace free-agent center fielder B.J. Upton, but for now, it doesn't sound like they match up as well with the Twins as Atlanta does. Maybe the Braves are hungrier to make a deal after collapsing down the stretch in 2011 and losing this year's National League wild-card game to the Cardinals.

Span is the Twins' most logical trade chip because he's under contract for two more years at a team-friendly rate, and the Twins can replace him in center field with Ben Revere.

Ryan has said no player is untouchable but also knows it would be extremely tough replacing Willingham's powerful righthanded bat. Atlanta has shown interest in Willingham in the past, and the Alabama native looks even more appealing now, coming off a career season.

Willingham's contract looks like a steal, with two more years at $7 million apiece, so he would command a bigger return than Span in a trade. What can the Braves offer? Here's a snapshot look at their vast starting pitching catalog:

Virtual untouchables

• Tim Hudson (age 37): The 197-game winner is the staff leader.

• Kris Medlen (27): He went 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA this year.

• Mike Minor (25): The lefthander went 6-4 with a 2.16 ERA in the second half.

• Brandon Beachy (26): Another budding force, he had Tommy John surgery in June.

Available, at a price

• Randall Delgado (22): He went 4-9 with a 4.37 ERA this year with a fastball that averaged 92 miles per hour. Atlanta agreed to trade him to the Cubs for Ryan Dempster, but Dempster vetoed the deal.

• Tommy Hanson (26): Once considered one of the sport's best prospects, he went 13-10 with a 4.48 ERA this year with a fastball averaging 89.7 mph. He's entering his arbitration years and has Scott Boras for an agent.

• Paul Maholm (30): The Twins pursued this lefty as a free agent last year. Atlanta just picked up his $6.5 million option. He went 13-11 with a 3.67 ERA this year with a fastball averaging 87.4 mph.

• Julio Teheran (21): Baseball America listed him as the game's No. 5 prospect last winter, three spots behind Mike Trout. But Teheran posted a 5.08 ERA at Class AAA with a fastball that was 91-93 mph, down from 93-95 last year.

• Jair Jurrjens (26): He'll be non-tendered after posting a 6.89 ERA this year, so if the Twins want him, they can wait until he hits free agency. He went 13-6 with a 2.96 ERA in 2011.

• Sean Gilmartin (22): He's a Scott Diamond clone who'll be knocking on the door at Class AAA this season.

The Braves might trade Delgado or Hanson for Span, though it could take other pieces to complete the deal. If the Twins offer Willingham, they might be able to get Teheran. Atlanta needs a left fielder because Martin Prado is moving to third base, with Chipper Jones retiring.

One thing's clear: Atlanta is in position to deal from its strength.

"Any time someone says you have excess pitching, you cringe a little bit because that's not generally the case," Wren said. "But I think you have to be realistic as well. We like our pitching staff the way it's constituted. We like our young guys a lot, but as we put our team together, if something makes sense, we're open to discussing it."

Joe Christensen jchristensen@startribune.com

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