The Atlanta Braves are a team that based soley on numbers, are sitting pretty right now at five games over .500 and just five games back of the division lead. However, the numbers do not tell all. Those numbers do not tell of the Braves’ recent four-game losing streak, or of the Nationals’ current six-game winning streak. Those numbers also fail to mention the general streakiness of the Braves who killed everyone in April after losing their first four, or the Braves eight-game losing streak in June. What am I getting at here?
The Braves are not consistent enough to be serious World Series contenders right now. Early in the season, the bats carried the team despite the big buzz about the pitching staff. Now the bats have cooled off and the pitching still hasn’t come around. The pitching staff has already seen Jair Jurrjens sent to AAA after posting an ERA over 9 in April. Now Mike Minor, despite coming off of his best start of the season, has struggled overall and Randall Delgado has been average at best.
Normally a team that is five-games over .500 would just look to upgrade their problems and make a strong second half push. However, Atlanta really doesn’t have the ability to do that because there really isn’t room to move because of commitments across the board.
As far as position players go, the Braves are completely tied up in Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, Andrelton Simmons, Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, and Jason Heyward. Many people point to the addition of a backup shortstop or third baseman, but honestly, who are the Braves going to be able to add as a backup that would be an impact player?
Juan Francisco has done a decent job at third, and Prado has done even better, allowing for some good play for guys like Jose Constanza and Matt Diaz in left field. Atlanta has also scowered the corner outfield market for the last couple of years trying to find that power guy, but if you get him at the deadline for at least a middle-tier prospect, who are you going to replace? Prado and Bourn have two of the highest averages on the team and Heyward isn’t going to be benched unless he has monstrous struggles like he did last year. I say all of that to say this: There is not impact bat that the Braves can bring in for consistency. In fact, the biggest move the Braves could make is looking for a bench addition, and they seem keen on guys like Diaz, David Ross, and Eric Hinske, so I don’t see that happening either.
The real problem this season has been the pitching staff. Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson have had their fair share of trouble, but, for the most part, have been alright. The one guy that the Braves have been able to count on start after start is Brandon Beachy (who should be a Cy Young candidate). The real questions are Minor and Delgado, who have both shown brilliance at times but have been generally ineffective. People could point to the Atlanta rotation as a possible place to make additions, but the Braves don’t really have the room to make an addition here either. The Braves have already sent down Kris Medlen to stretch out his arm to join the rotation. Medlen did not pitch much last year because of Tommy John surgery, but he posted Cy Young caliber numbers the year before as a starter. That leaves Jurrjens, Julio Teheran, Minor, and Delgado to fight it out for the 5th spot in the rotation. The Braves cannot afford to trade for a rental starter and risk ruining their relationship with one of these guys for the future. Not to mention, a trade to bring in any pitcher who would make an impact would surely cost one of these guys and would only be a one year rental. So I guess the Braves COULD go out and try to get a Jake Peavy (if the White Sox struggle again) or a Zack Greinke, but it would come with the cost of ruining the relationship with 3-4 ace type arms for the future.
As far as the bullpen goes, they could stand for improvement there since Craig Kimbrel has been the only one who has been successful. However, a bullpen guy isn’t going to win you games, its his job to either mop up the messy ones or keep it close enough for the reliable Kimbrel. Once again, the Braves could upgrade here, but it really wouldn’t do them much good.
Now, the key here is what could the Braves offer by being sellers? The one big trade chip is Michael Bourn, and with the way he is hitting, the Braves could bring back a decent return for him. The biggest thing the Braves would need to try to do is bring back a future center fielder in the deal. Outside of Heyward, Atlanta doesn’t have a lot of outfield prospects.
One interesting idea if the Braves can’t find a center fielder, is maybe looking for a corner outfielder, playing Prado at third next year (especially since Joey Terdoslovich is nowhere near ready), and trying Constanza out in center. Regardless, if the Braves can bring in an upper level outfield prospect, and maybe a mid-level third baseman and pitcher, they would be getting an outstanding return for Bourn. Also important in a possible Bourn trade is potentially controlling where he ends up next season since so much has been made of the Nationals’ interest in the center fielder.
The Braves also have Hinske, Ross, and Diaz all entering free agency next season, and though they would obviously not get any incredible prospects from a deal, if they plan on replacing any of them on the roster next year, then it might be worth it to move one of them.
Now, to keep Braves fans from jumping down my throat here or calling me a traitor of any kind, I don’t want to see the Braves have to sell at the deadline. In fact, the Teixeira-Kotchman deal still burns when I think about it because selling just isn’t fun, but I need to see some consistency from this team and the way this roster is built doesn’t leave a lot of room for movement. I think that the Braves can still win this division, but they’re going to have to get more consistency from their #4 and #5 slots in the starting rotation.
As always, go Braves. Follow me on Twitter @OTRZBraves for more Atlanta Braves coverage and live tweeting during the game.