The Atlanta Braves have to find a replacement for injured starting pitcher Tim Hudson. And now that they have taken care of their first trade priority by landing a left-handed reliever, they will be free to test the market.

On Monday, as reported by David O’Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Braves acquired left-handed reliever Scott Downs from the Los Angeles Angels for minor league reliever Cory Rasmus.

This was a solid move to complete an already strong bullpen. 

O’Brien notes that the Braves are still are on the lookout for a left-handed bat and “possibly more pitching.” He then goes onto note that Atlanta may wait until after the non-waiver trade deadline to acquire those aspects. 

However, Atlanta would be wise to take a look at some of the top pitchers floating around on the market now.

As Atlanta beat writer Mark Bowman tweets, this is something the club has been contemplating: 

Braves starters currently have the seventh-lowest ERA in baseball at 3.70. However, losing Hudson from that group was a big blow. He is second on the team in innings pitched, and he posted a 3.97 ERA and 1.19 WHIP this season before the injury. 

To make matters worse, starter Paul Maholm was also recently placed on the 15-day disabled list. 

The Braves do have reason to think they can weather the storm without acquiring a new starter. Brandon Beachy just made his first start since Tommy John surgery, and Maholm‘s absence doesn’t figure to be a lengthy one. 

However, it is risky business counting on pitchers coming back from injury. As evidence of this, in his first start with the Braves in his return, Beachy was awful. On Monday, he lasted just 3.2 innings against the Colorado Rockies, allowing eight hits and seven earned runs.

This is not to suggest that Beachy can’t get rolling by the end of the season, but that is far from guaranteed. He certainly wouldn’t be the first pitcher to struggle after coming back from Tommy John surgery. 

Then there is Maholm. He is turning in a solid year, but at 31, the Braves have to guard against the possibility that this injury is a sign that the lefty is hitting the wall. 

These are two big question marks in the rotation, ones that the National League East leaders would be wise to address.

Bowman points out that the White Sox‘ Jake Peavy and the Royals‘ Ervin Santana are possible targets. There is no doubt that both men would allow the Braves a greater sense of confidence in their rotation as we near the postseason. However, there is the probability that it will take a ransom to land them. 

Still, as the clock ticks down on the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and these pitching targets remain on their current teams, the asking price could begin to drop. And it’s not like the Braves need to be bargain shopping.

With a nine-game lead in their division, the Braves are headed towards the postseason, barring a total meltdown. This is the first time in awhile that this team can consider mortgaging parts of its future with an eye on winning a World Series. 

With quality starters still dangling on the market, the Braves cannot turn their backs on this opportunity. 

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