After upsetting a significant segment of the fan base with his trade of Jason Heyward to St. Louis, Braves president John Hart would ease concerns about the competitiveness of the team moving forward if he’s able to lure free agent pitcher Jon Lester to Atlanta.
It could happen. But this falls under the category of: I’ll believe it when I see it.
First, here are the two factors that favor Lester coming to the Braves:
1.) They really want him. He would anchor a starting rotation with Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Mike Minor and the recently acquired Shelby Miller, and certainly diminish the importance on the potential return of starters Kris Medlen and/or Brandon Beachy, both coming off Tommy John surgery.
2.) Location, location. Lester makes his offseason home in the Atlanta area. He values his family time. Playing for the Braves would make life a lot easier for him. Easy. Perfect. Except …
There are two major factors working against the Braves:
1.) Money problems. As David O’Brien reported, Lester will get offers from interested teams in excess of $20 million per season, maybe even as high as $25 million. Even after shedding some salary in the Heyward deal, the Braves are still carrying the fat contracts of B.J. Upton, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman, as well as long-term commitments to Teheran and Andrelton Simmons (even if their contracts are considered modest in comparison). The Braves’ payroll also includes $13 million in dead money owed to Dan Uggla. Conceivably, the Braves could heavily back-load Lester’s contract to coincide with their move into their new stadium. The question is whether he would be amenable to that. Also, having been burned by the Uggla and B.J. Upton signings, I doubt Liberty Media and/or CEO Terry McGuirk would easily sign off on another big contract unless Hart reduces payroll in other areas. Which leads me to…
2.) Are the Braves legitimate contenders? Most would say no. They’re coming off a losing season. There are holes in their lineup. The organization is an uncertain transition. Hart has suggested that building for 2017, when the team moves into a new stadium, is more important than building for next season. If that’s the case, why would Lester come here? Furthermore, if Hart has to reduce the payroll to make room for Lester, that would likely mean trading Justin Upton, which would make an already suspect lineup even worse. Even if Hart convinces another team to take B.J. Upton, the Braves will have to take back another player with a similar salary level in trade, or Hart would have to commit to paying some of Upton’s contract. Either way, it’s a financial wash.
Would Lester help the Braves? Of course. But timing isn’t necessarily working in Hart’s favor.
•A recent writer’s dozen from the digital jukebox
— AJC: Braves trade Jason Heyward and John Hart just took huge risk — MyAJC: It makes no sense but Falcons are in first — AJC: Short takes on Falcons’ win over Panthers — MyAJC: Dogs have a statement win, now hope for best with Gurley — AJC: Short takes on Georgia’s win and Gurley — MyAJC: As hoops open, Tech looks far more ready than Georgia — AJC: Weekend Predictions: Dogs, Jackets cross bridge, Falcons back to normal — MyAJC: Ladies and gentlemen Georgia vs. Georgia Tech (in basketball, yes now) — AJC: If Georgia wins out, would it sway playoff committee? — MyAJC: All eyes are on Gurley (even if you can’t find him) — AJC: Hart should deal both Uptons and Gattis — MyAJC: Falcons’ division hopes hinge on beating teams other than Bucs — AJC: Short takes on Falcons’ win over Tampa Bay — MyAJC: If Georgia Tech has come together, we’ll find out against Clemson, UGA — AJC: Short takes on Georgia Tech’s win over N.C. State — AJC: Weekend Predictions: Falcons’ find their penicillin — the Bucs — MyAJC: Amid Atlanta misery, can Hawks really be shining light? — AJC: Election Day: Vote to keep or fire coaches (polls) — MyAJC: Georgia blows it all with inexcusable performance — AJC: Short takes on Georgia’s stunning loss to Florida — AJC: Weekend Predictions: No Gurley (oooh, scary); but Dogs over Gators — AJC: Rules are dumb but that’s no excuse for Todd Gurley — MyAJC: Mark Richt deserves credit for holding Georgia together — AJC: NCAA mum but Muschamp expects Gurley to play vs. Florida — AJC: Will Arthur Blank make move with Mike Smith (and reader poll)?