The Atlanta Braves are at .500 — 45 wins and 45 losses. They have gone 34-25 since falling to 11-20 on May 10. The Braves are 9 1/2 games back of the Washington Nationals, who also swept their first series after the All-Star Break against the Reds.
The intrigue is in the wild-card race, as Atlanta is now six games back of the Colorado Rockies for the second spot. The Chicago Cubs, Atlanta’s next opponents, are a half-game up on the Braves. They have also won three in a row and are at 46-45. So, while the Cubs are the defending World Series champions, they are also right with Atlanta in the wild-card race.
There are now two weeks to go before the July 31 trade deadline. As the Braves improve in the standings, the decisions to sell or buy or do both are becoming more critical. Do the Braves continue the rebuilding process and trade all the veterans? It’s unlikely, as that wouldn’t be fair to the current players who have gotten this team to .500. It’s hard to pull the plug on a team playing this well.
There are still moves that could be made, however, that could continue the process and keep the Braves competitive for the final 72 games of the season. In other words, the Braves could buy to try and stay in the wild-card race and they could sell to continue the rebuilding process.
Let’s look at the Braves players that could be impacted by potential trades.
Julio Teheran – The Braves may not be looking to move Teheran, but with the serious contenders all in the need of starting pitchers, they will listen. Houston is the perfect fit, but would the Astros include Kyle Tucker in a deal for Teheran? That would likely be the asking price. The New York Yankees should also be interested, but they reportedly don’t want to give up their top prospects. Teheran’s splits (2.53 ERA on the road, 7.58 ERA at home) should not punish the Braves in their asking price. He is still young (26) and has a great contract (potential $31 million due from 2018-2020). The Braves will still want a lot for Teheran, as they should.
R.A. Dickey – He has a 1.09 ERA in his past five starts, so some team might think Dickey could help down the stretch. The Braves aren’t trading Dickey. They’re just too close in the standings now. With more young pitchers on the way, will there be a better veteran to learn from than Dickey? Who knows how much he’s got left in the tank. He could fall off like Colon did at any time. But Dickey seems too valuable to this club to part with right now.
Jaime Garcia – He’s gone. It’s just a matter of when and what the Braves will get for him. Kansas City, the Yankees and Houston are possibilities, but what about Milwaukee and Minnesota? They need starters, as well. Garcia’s start Sunday (one run allowed on four hits in seven innings to the Arizona Diamondbacks) will help his value. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported Sunday that as many as a dozen teams have inquired about Garcia.
Lucas Sims – Once Garcia is dealt, we need to see Sims. I’ll put him ahead of Kris Medlen, who we also need to see. Sims has worked 638 minor league innings. He has done well this year (104 strikeouts and only 30 walks in 97 1/3 innings). The Braves need to see what Sims can do. If he does well, perhaps he’s a candidate for the rotation next season. If he struggles, Sims will either become trade bait or a candidate for the bullpen next year. When Sims gets his chance, he must impress.
Medlen – The numbers don’t jump off the page in Medlen’s 10 starts in the minor leagues (4.89 ERA). But it’s Medlen. Don’t ever count him out. Let’s see if he can get MLB hitters out again. It may only be as a reliever, but Medlen’s done enough to warrant another try.
Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair – We list them because they’re still around. Wisler has gotten a few chances this year and failed. Could the Braves give him another shot if they trade Teheran and/or Garcia? Or would they instead see if Blair could do something with another chance? Since May 1, Blair is 5-3 with an ERA of 4.01, 69 hits allowed in 69 2/3 innings, 31 earned runs, 30 walks and 50 strikeouts. Does that mean Blair deserves another chance?
Jim Johnson – He needs to go. The Braves need to give Arodys Vizcaino another chance at being the closer. Plus, they have A.J. Minter knocking on the door. Get out of Johnson’s $5 million deal for next season and let him be a setup man for a contender.
Vizcaino and Minter – If Johnson is dealt, these will be the first two to get the chance at being the closer. Minter is Atlanta’s best closer prospect since Craig Kimbrel. He’s healthy now, and the Braves will be tempted to give him a chance if Johnson is traded away. Vizcaino was the closer at the start of 2016 and then got hurt. He has to stay healthy to prove he can be a MLB closer.
Matt Adams – Come on, Yankees. Let’s get this done. You need Adams, and the Braves need to trade him. This seems so simple, so easy, doesn’t it? The Braves need to try others at third base. They need Freddie Freeman back at first base. No way Adams is with the Braves next year on opening day, so let’s see when they deal him away.
Brandon Phillips – He was 7-for-12 this weekend against Arizona, and if there was no Ozzie Albies, this may not be an issue. Could the Los Angeles Angels, Brewers or Tampa Bay Rays want Phillips? He’s not going to be back next year, even if Ozzie is traded. The Braves would then simply give the second base job to Johan Camargo (or maybe move Swanson to second and make Camargo the shortstop). So, if they’re offered something worthwhile for Phillips, they’ll likely trade him.
Albies – He’s hitting .317 in his past 38 games, with a .358 OBP. That’s pretty good for a 20-year-old in Triple-A. If the Braves keep winning, do they throw away a veteran like Phillips and insert a rookie in a pennant race? Teams the Braves talk with about a trade, when the Braves want a veteran, are certain to ask for Albies first. Will the presence of Camargo make Albies more expendable, make it easier for the Braves to part with Albies in a trade? Or is the curiosity still there about what an Albies-Swanson double-play combination could be in Atlanta?
Sean Rodriguez – Ah, here’s the wild card. The Braves could has gone so well Rodriguez is close to a return. Do the Braves change the look of the lineup by replacing Phillips with Rodriguez, or do they wait it out this season and just let Phillips leave as a free agent? Either way, Rodriguez gives the Braves plenty of options. He can play all over the diamond.
Camargo – Well, we never could have expected this. Camargo has hit .333 with a .359 OBP in his first 42 MLB games. He’s now a candidate for second base and third base moving forward, as Camargo is showing he might be good enough to be an everyday player. Does he make Ozzie Albies expendable? Does Camargo go in a trade instead, allowing the Braves to keep Albies? He’s now giving the Braves another option, which is critical in a rebuilding process.
Rio Ruiz – In 20 games since returning to Gwinnett, Ruiz has hit .300 with a .371 OBP, five home runs and 19 RBI. Is the light coming on for Ruiz, who now has hit 11 home runs and has 44 RBI this season between Atlanta and Gwinnett? He HAs never had that type of production before, so maybe Ruiz is getting over that hump. Don’t the Braves need to see more of him, but again, do they insert a rookie into a potential pennant race if they are still close in the standings? Or could Ruiz become trade bait, as his value must be higher now than it was before?
Nick Markakis – He is what he is — a 33-year-old solid veteran who is under contract for a respectable rate ($11 mil) next season. Markakis has hit .197 (13-66) in his PAST 18 games, lowering his season batting average to .277. An AL team may be interested in him, but it might not be until this winter. Perhaps Baltimore would like a reunion? The return would likely not be much.
Ronald Acuna – Here is why Markakis is (or will be) available. Acuna may be one of the top prospects in the game now. We’ll see how the next few weeks go for Acuna in Triple-A, but so far, he’s not slowing down much. He’s still just 19, and he’s mirroring the Andruw Jones model from 1996. If that plays out the same way, Acuna may be in Atlanta in August pushing for playing time. Either way, Acuna is close to being ready – regardless of his age. We ask again, like with Albies and Ruiz (and for that matter Camargo), would the Braves put a rookie, a 19-year-old rookie, into a pennant race if they keep winning?
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