There's an adage in baseball that says, "You can never have too much pitching."
Some consider that to be mostly a guideline. Frank Wren, the Atlanta Braves general manager, seems to treat it as gospel or at least a federal law.
Who can blame him? Consider this:
A year ago, Jair Jurrjens was an All-Star, Tommy Hanson should have been one, and Brandon Beachy was blossoming as a solid major league starter. Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrell were the most dominant young trio of relievers in baseball. And Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, Randall Delgado and Mike Minor were the most coveted foursome of pitching prospects in the game.
Wren's phone rang every day with trade offers. But since replacing John Schuerholz as the Braves general manager, Wren has resisted all temptation to trade from his surplus of young arms to fill holes. To an extent, that has been wise. What wouldn't the Braves give to reverse the Adam Wainwright and Jason Marquis for J.D. Drew trade nine years ago, made on Schuerholz's watch? Then there was the epic bust, Schuerholz's last major deal, giving up prized arms Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz, plus shortstop Elvis Andrus and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to rent Mark Teixeira for a futile pennant stretch.
The latter trade still haunts the franchise. One wonders how good the Braves would be now with Harrison in the rotation and Feliz somewhere on staff, even though he is on the disabled list.
Wren's frugality with his treasure trove of pitching is a main reason why the Braves are steadily becoming a threat again in the National League.
But here's the irony: As the pennant races begin to heat up, the Braves find themselves one or two arms short of catching the Washington Nationals in the NL East. Wren has until Tuesday to land another starting pitcher or else take his chances with a piece-meal rotation that includes having Kris Medlen replace Jurrjens.
Think about that. Barring a change of mind by the Cubs' Ryan Dempster, who vetoed a trade to Atlanta for Delgado, the Braves' rotation after Tim Hudson consists of Hanson, Minor, a rebuilt Ben Sheets and Medlen. Hanson has been surprisingly inconsistent, especially since the All-Star break. A month ago, Minor was on the brink of a demotion to the Class AAA. Sheets missed two years with an arm injury. And this time last year, Medlen was still undergoing rehab from elbow surgery, and he has never spent a full season in the big leagues as a starter.
This is not a rotation that inspires hope going head-to-head against the Nationals, let alone in a best-of-seven series.
Beachy's elbow injury and Jurrjens' puzzling collapse to bullpen mop-up man -- and possibly a second demotion to the minor leagues -- should have been an opportunity for Teheran, their top pitching prospect, to step up. But Teheran has regressed substantially this season -- 6-5 with a bloated 5.34 ERA at Gwinnett. Vizcaino, the other coveted pitching prospect, will miss all of this season with an elbow injury.
Taking a lead into the late innings is no longer a virtual lock for a win. Venters has turned the eighth inning into a juggling knife act.
Looking at what the Angels gave up to get Zack Greinke for two months, Wren was prudent to pass. Dempster's insistence on waiting for the Dodgers to make a play is mystifying. Wren has said he wouldn't make a deal unless he could get a frontline starter in return, and the market is thin.
Wren's best play is to hold fast and hope.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independentcorrespondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.