The Atlanta Braves’ five-game losing streak to end the first part of the season was perfect. Yes, it was perfect. That’s exactly what the front office needed to go ahead with the plan to pursue more trades.
If the team had stuck around near first place, it might have been more difficult to make more deals. But the team showed what it is -- mediocre -- and sits seven games behind the first-place Washington Nationals in the NL East and six games out in the wild-card race.
Saturday’s injury to closer Jason Grilli was crippling, in more ways than one. He has overachieved a bit as Craig Kimbrel’s replacement, but his presence in the clubhouse has been tremendous. No one on that team is respected more than Grilli, and it was a shame his season ended with that horrible injury.
But let’s be honest -- the Braves were ready to trade Grilli. Of all the veteran players, Grilli had the most value. Relievers are always pursued, and Grilli had more value since he’s under control for at least one more season. Teams were ready to line up to make offers, but now that’s off the table.
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Grilli’s replacement, Jim Johnson, also has value. Johnson has gotten his career on track after being awful the past several seasons. But Johnson’s contract is up at the end of the season, making him a rental. The Braves won’t get as much for Johnson, but he should still fetch a solid prospect.
With Grilli gone, outfielder Cameron Maybin becomes Atlanta’s best trade chip. Maybin is under contract through next season, with even an option for 2017. The Braves could keep him, but what if a team blows them away with an offer they can’t refuse. Believe me, they won’t refuse that.
The Braves have Mallex Smith at Triple-A Gwinnett. He was outstanding at Double-A Mississippi, but he has struggled a bit so far at Triple-A. The Braves believe Smith might be ready next season to take over in center, and that could make trading Maybin a bit easier.
Plus, earlier this season the Braves had Jose Peraza playing in center with Gwinnett. He was OK, not great, but just OK. Peraza can play both second and shortstop, but the Braves are set there, or so it seems with Jace Peterson and Andrelton Simmons.
Atlanta might get a prospect rated in the 5-10 range from a team for Maybin, or maybe even more. They can get more for Maybin than the other veteran, since all of a sudden Maybin’s contract looks decent.
A.J. Pierzynski, Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe and Jonny Gomes could also be involved in trades. The Braves would love to throw Chris Johnson’s bad contract into a deal, much like they did with Melvin Upton when the San Diego Padres wanted Kimbrel before the season started. Uribe might have the most value of those rental veterans, considering his success since joining the Braves in May.
If Pierzynski is traded, the Braves could call up Christian Bethancourt, which is long overdue. Sure, Pierzynski has been great, but we all need to see if Bethancourt is the catcher of the future or not.
Expect the Braves to continue to get more young arms in these deals before the July 31 deadline. They have shown in the numerous trades (almost 20) they’ve made since the new front office took over that pitching is the priority.
At some point, they are going to need some position player prospects. But that will likely come this winter when some Atlanta pitchers are put on the trade market. It’s unlikely, with the exception of Maybin, that they can get a significant position player prospect by trading the veterans.
The Braves open the second part of the season Friday night against the Chicago Cubs. Then the Los Angeles Dodgers come to Atlanta before the Braves head out for road series in St. Louis and Baltimore. So this is going to be a tough stretch, making it even more likely that changes are coming.
And it’s all part of the process. Remember, this was a transition season. The chances of this team sticking in the race were slim. Now, the real work of continuing the organizational makeover as the front office searches for more future talent.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at email@example.com.