Talk among scouts that #Braves will listen on Venters. Braves, though, say they love depth in their bullpen, including 3 LHs with Avilan.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) March 6, 2013
OK, so the Braves will listen on reliever Jonny Venters. With hard-throwing rookie Bruce Rondon struggling to throw strikes, the Tigers are shopping for a potential closer, and possibly using Rick Porcello as trade bait. The Braves' fifth starter right now is Julio Teheran, who was awful in Triple-A last year. The Braves have bullpen depth (although Eric O'Flaherty hasn't pitched yet this spring due to a strained groin). The Tigers have Drew Smyly ready to pitch in the rotation.
How does this not make sense?
Venters was a dominant setup guy in 2010-11, posting a 1.89 ERA over 171 innings with 189 strikeouts and .190 batting average allowed. His numbers fell off in 2012 -- 3.22 ERA, 1.5 WHIP in just 58.2 innings -- raising concerns his workload from the previous two seasons had affected him. But it looks like a classic case of bad luck: He allowed a .427 BABIP in the first half. He did have some command issues on his hard sinker, allowing four home runs (all six of his home runs came in the first half). Venters fixed any issues in the second half: 1.71 ERA, no homers in 26.1 innings. He still walks more guys than you'd like, but certainly has closer stuff.
Is he worth Porcello? The right-hander is still just 24 but he has four years in the big leagues and hasn't improved from his rookie season. Sure, the Tigers' defense doesn't help the groundball specialist, but he still lacks the strikeout pitch that will vault him above being a back-end starter.
I don't really think the Tigers need to make a move right now; on paper, they're clearly the class of the division (although we said this last year and they won just 88 games and didn't pull away until the final two weeks), so they don't need to make a panic move. Guys like Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and sleeper reliever Al Alburquerque could do an adequate job closing games out until you see if you need a closer at the trade deadline, or give Rondon time in the minors to improve his control.
There's always the fear Porcello does improve and trading him thins out your starting pitching depth, but Smyly is the better pitcher and Venters would add a nice late-inning arm. Behind Craig Kimbrel, the Braves still have O'Flaherty, hard-throwing Jordan Walden, lefty Luis Avilan (impressive in 36 innings last year), reliable innings eater Cristhian Martinez and sidearmer Cory Gearrin. Even minus Venters it projects as one of the better bullpens in the majors.