PHOENIX - The Braves were sprawled out on leather couches in the Chase Field visitor's clubhouse Friday, watching "SportsCenter" on a big-screen TV, when suddenly conversation came to a halt.
The subject of the show had turned to this week's biggest trade rumor: that Atlanta is in serious talks with the Texas Rangers to acquire first baseman Mark Teixeira in a deal that would send rookie Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Texas.
Heads spun toward Saltalamacchia's locker. Just then, the catcher entered from the opposite side of the room.
"See ya, Salty," pitcher Tim Hudson cracked, ending the awkward silence. "Adios, buddy."
"See ya, guys," Saltalamacchia said with a laugh.
The Braves might as well joke about the rumor, because ignoring it at this point would be difficult. If general manager John Schuerholz can pull off a deal to land Teixeira before Tuesday's non-waiver deadline, it could well be the marquee trade of 2007.
Mere talk of the trade - and that's all it was as of Friday evening - has generated excitement among players, their affection for "Salty" aside.
"I think it would be a smart move," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "[Teixeira] is a premier offensive player. Good guy. It would be awfully nice to have that big bat in the middle of the lineup."
Teixeira, 27, is a former Georgia Tech star and a first-rate switch hitter. He's been good for more than 30 home runs and more than 100 RBIs in each of the past three seasons and has won two Gold Gloves since his major-league debut in 2003.
The Braves are believed to be among the front-runners to win the Teixeira sweepstakes, with the Anaheim Angels also reportedly in the mix. On the Braves' side, the deal would be built around Saltalamacchia and could also include Class A infield prospect Elvis Andrus and/or a pitching prospect such as Class AA left-hander Matt Harrison.
In any expanded deal, the Braves would likely seek a reliever who could be used against left-handers. With Mike Gonzalez done for the season, Wil Ledezma is the team's only bullpen lefty. But Ledezma has fared worst against left-handers, who had a .317 average against him entering Friday's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
With recent encouraging performances from Chuck James and Buddy Carlyle, the bullpen has arguably surpassed the starting rotation as Atlanta's greatest area of need.
Jones said he hopes Schuerholz and company can fill that need regardless of whether they land a big bat in Teixeira.
"You're not going to win games 12-10 in the playoffs or down the stretch," Jones said. "I've said all along that losing Gonzo was a killer for us. With Delgado and Green in New York and Beltran on the right side, we really need a lefthander to get those guys out late in games."
Still, the team's pitching needs aside, a trade for Teixeira would instantly put Atlanta's offense among baseball's elite. And that alone would give the team a boost going into the final two months of the division race, players said.
"Maybe they want to go a different way and get more offense and just take what we have with pitching," said right fielder Jeff Francoeur. "When you talk about possibly getting a guy like that, he could do huge things for your lineup and your team."
There is one player trying not to think about the trade rumor, though, and it is Saltalamacchia. The 22-year-old said he has been getting calls from friends who have heard the speculation but has been a bit preoccupied.
Aside from the daily grind of baseball, his wife, Ashley, is four months pregnant with their second child. And the couple is in the midst of buying an offseason home in Florida.
"I have a lot of stuff going on, so I'm not really paying too much attention," Saltalamacchia said.
"If it happens, it happens. There's nothing I can really do about it."
Of course, as with any trade rumor, it might not happen. That's why players were reluctant to get too caught up in Teixeira talk. Plus, there's that locker they all turned to when the rumor was mentioned on TV - a locker that, for now, still reads, "18 - Saltalamacchia."
"You don't want to seem too emphatic or too elated that one guy is leaving so another guy can come in," Jones said. "Salty could be a cornerstone for a lot of organizations, including this one. We've all kind of gotten used to having him here, and it would be sad to see him go."
The Braves will play the Diamondbacks today at
3:55 p.m. at Chase Field. John Smoltz (10-5, 2.78 ERA) will start for Atlanta and will face Arizona left-hander Doug Davis (7-10, 4.13 ERA).