Following up on yesterday's enormously successful installment, and with my finite intelligence completely exhausted, it is perhaps fitting to turn to the Atlanta Braves so that we can take a look at what they may do at the baseball trade deadline. Fans of the Braves surely hope that Frank Wren can reach into his bag of tricks and pull out something more than Paul Janish and Ben Sheets.
As with yesterday, we have to start with the primary questions:
- Are the Braves in contention? Most assuredly! Thanks to a winning streak the likes of which the Phillies have not seen since 2011, they are a mere three losses back of Washington, and they are in a dead heat with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wildcard race. As an aside, who, other than me, wouldn't want to see the Braves and Pirates relive Sid Bream's Wild Ride?
- Do the Braves have chips to trade? Of course! You have surely heard of their pitcher cloning vats on Kamino! There is a Julio Teheran (whom they would never trade) and a Randall Delgado (not perhaps truly a prospect, but tradeable), and an Arodys Vizcaino. They have non-pitcher forms of bright, shiny prospecty goodness, too, such as Christian Bethancourt, a decent defensive catcher at AA, though perhaps more likely to be a backup player since his hitting is a question mark.
- Do the Braves have the financial resources to pull a trade and sign? No -- they are unloved by the mirthless Liberty Media, leaving Braves fans, much to my delight, in a permanent financial second division in the NL East. No, the Braves are consigned to "rental only" in all likelihood.
So where does that leave the Braves strategically over the next few weeks? Jump up, jump up, and get down...
First of all, given the fact that the Braves have no money and are likely to continue to have no money, a logical response is to do what they have done: acquire and develop young talent by the boatload. Trading that young, cost-controlled talent for a short-term rental does not really fit in with the overall, long-term strategy.
The Braves are "farmers." Their farming strategy, if they continue to execute it even halfway decently, is likely to keep them in the hunt for the playoffs for at least the next few years, which is a baseball eternity. Why would they risk future success to obtain a very marginal increase in the likelihood of playoff success this season?
Liberty Media does not own the Braves to scratch a personal baseball itch. It is a business unit that is treated as a profit center, and it needs to make money now and into the future. Spare me all the "Wall Street/short-sighted owners" talking points. I honestly believe that most businesses do consider short and long term issues when making business decisions. In addition, the Braves path to success as executed recently shows that they clearly get the idea that baseball is a short and long-term game.
Therefore, I am guessing that the Braves are not run so stupidly as to think that adding a three month player that may increase their chances of a World Series victory by 0.2% is worth giving up, for instance, a career of Julio Teheran, including especially the many delicious cost-controlled years of WAR that accompany the person of the probably delightful and charming Mr. Teheran, even if it is Chipper Jones' last season. Accountants don't care about Chipper Jones' ego or fans' sentimentality, nor should they.
Secondly, the Braves have some assets that are wasting on the vine, such as Michael Bourn. The Braves likely know that lots of teams would dearly like to own a Michael Bourn for a few months. They also know that it is unlikely that they will be the highest bidder for his services in the offseason. Rather than be an acquirer, the Braves may possibly surprise many people and *sell*.
If Frank Wren had balls the size of Chipper's, he'd put out feelers and see what he could get in the form of a young, "close" centerfield option and additional parts, such as a better MLB catching option than Bethancourt, since McCann is soon going to be looking at cashing in on a big free agent contract as early as 2014 (I'm assuming the Braves pick up the 2013 option for $12 million). I guarantee Wren has considered the idea. The primary risk is that the Braves would fall slightly short of the playoffs (again!), and Wren would get crucified by the press and fans.
While maybe it is too clever by half to look at a possible Bourn deal going out, what might the Braves want to pick up to help them out?
The Braves are stacked with pitching options in the minors, they just got Jair Jurrjens back from the DL, and they vultured Ben Sheets, so it is hard to imagine them making a move for a "top line" starter at this point. It makes some of the glue-huffing predictions seen at places like this seem that much more ridiculous, especially when you consider the Braves' business plan and the resulting restrictions. Zack Greinke? My ass. Maybe another fringy guy if one can be had on the cheap, but they won't make an earth-shattering move for a starter. Sure, your source is Jayson Stark, but what's his source? And does it make any sense at all? Really?
Relievers? Are you kidding? Set, set, set.
Looking at the lineup, there may be room for a part, perhaps someone to DH in the World Series or be a bench bat, but there aren't many holes to fill. That's why they are, you know, pretty good this year, and everything.
Looking around the infield, the Braves are set at catcher, first, second, and third, pending the ever-fragile health of Chipper Jones. Don't let him play in the rain! He'll catch a chill! (But not much else at third with his range, but I digress.) They just responded to the Andrelton Simmons broken pinky by acquiring Paul Janish from the Reds as a "defense first" fill-in, and Tyler Pastornicky is still alive, I think, but he'd probably be a last resort.
In the outfield, the Braves have Jason Heyward, Michael Bourn, and Martin Prado, who has had a great year. Heyward is part of the long-term plan in Atlanta, but, as discussed above, Bourn is going to hit free agency this year and will likely leave the Braves for "greener" pastures elsewhere. Despite the potential to lose Bourn after the season, and despite my pretentions at evil geniusing, the safe answer is that the Braves are unlikely to trade him now because they are in contention.
With three solid outfielders and an infield that looks pretty set, the Braves may be in the market for a bench outfielder, but it is hard to see them looking for much else. They certainly won't (and shouldn't) part with young, talented players like Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado for a short-term fix.
Again, as with my piece on the Washington Nationals yesterday, it should be a boring trade deadline at the top of the NL East. I could easily be wrong, and perhaps I'm just trapped by the perspective through my prism that it's simply foolish to borrow against the future to try to lever extra wins in the playoffs. Getting there? Maybe that's a little different, but the Nationals are going and the Braves probably are. Neither should "sell out" to get there. That would be short-sighted, given where both clubs stand today.