Braves Must Trade To Win–So Why Haven’t They


Everyone Known The Braves Must Make A Trade

Unless  you’ve been in a coma for three months you’ll know what the Braves needs are. But just in case here’s a Recap

  • High quality starting pitching
  • A bench that can hit
  • Bullpen Arm
  • Dan Uggla to remember how to hit (okay a trade can’t do that but something has to.)

The non-waiver trade deadline is a little over eight days and a few hours away yet except for rumors, all is quite on the trade front and not just for the Braves.

The New CBA

The loss of compensatory draft picks as a result of the new CBA has changed the landscape of trade deadline deals. Teams that might previously be willing to give up a high level prospect for a rental player have so far been less likely to do. At the same time teams who have sought after players still want last year’s market kind of pricing. Failing that they want a value equivalent to the draft pick they would get if they 1) kept him,  2)made a qualifying offer for arbitration and 3) had him choose to walk away. That second part is an important factor. I’ll return to it shortly.

To make things more difficult, the Braves needs are such that a B level pitcher and a Diaz-like bench bat won’t be enough.  GM Frank Wren’s options are further limited by the lack of top quality prospects to offer in return. Aside from Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado the cupboard is pretty bare. Those who immediately want to tell me otherwise need to read projections on those players first. So he’s trying to get an ace (we hope) and a good RH bat without giving up the few desirable prospects in the Braves system. His competition includes teams like the Dodgers and Rangers who have well stocked farm systems and money to spend. It’s a tough job and lots of people will have their nose out of joint whatever decisions are made. So, what’s the outlook?

A Quick Market Recap

This year it seems everyone needs exactly the same things; starting pitching and an outfield bat. The pitching market is thinner this year because the second wild card has some teams believing they are still in the race and therefore unwilling to run up the ‘wait until next year’ flag too soon. Teams out of the race are out mostly because they lack quality pitching and bats. Thus the Catch 22 of the trade deadline, those that have aren’t selling and most of those that are declared sellers don’t have a lot.

Who’s Out?

The teams definitely out at this point are easier to name than those still in. They are:

  • Chicago (NL)
  • Colorado
  • Houston
  • Milwaukee
  • New York (NL)
  • San Diego
  • Philadelphia – Yes you are
  • Kansas City
  • Minnesota
  • Seattle

Probably out as well but haven’t said so:

  • Arizona
  • Miami
  • Toronto – Sorry Jays too many Wild Card teams ahead of you

Not out  but may be next week and willing to deal good pieces to get stronger for next year: Tampa

What’s The Outlook?

Nick Cafardo was told by NL adviser that he doubts much will be done.  “Some of the demands out there are ludicrous. We asked about a lefty pitcher and they asked us for our best pitching, best hitting, and a couple of other established players. I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ That’s why I’m thinking despite all the talking, I’m not sure much is going to get done.

That shouldn’t be a surprise if you’re following the news at all which I assume most readers here are. I think deals will be done but mostly frantically in the last 72 hours. Waiting however has it’s own cost. While you can’t win a division in July you can certainly lose one.  The Braves need to be strong enough to punish the rest of the NL East and waiting until August to do that may well mean playing golf in October. If trading quickly is preferable, the question becomes with whom do you try hardest to trade; where do you have the most leverage?

Come On In Prices Reduced!

I said earlier that the qualifying offer item was important. Here’s why.  A qualifying offer this year is approximately $12.5 M.  Teams with free agents who aren’t going to get a qualifying offer will be the first to lower their demands. At some point those GMs will be ready to haggle because they aren’t going to get a draft pick and something now is better than nothing later. Barring an extension, that removes two free agent pitchers from the list of those who will haggle; Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke.  That leads us to the next decision, who to haggle with.

Matchmaker Matchmaker Make Me A Match

By now GMs know what kind of talent other teams want, they’ve been testing the waters for weeks to see who might be leaning towards selling. We can narrow that down a bit by remembering what we have to offer.  If for instance the seller wants a major league ready infielder not named Juan Francisco, the Braves are probably not going to be able to get a deal until the ‘everything must go,  give me a warm body and you can have him’ part of the sale arrives around noon on the 30th. Those deals pay off now and then so the GM has to be ready to steal something. But waiting in the hopes the right guy will be there is like going shopping the day after Black Friday and expecting that deal you read about to be there. Most of the best stuff will be gone.

On the other hand there are teams where a match exists or might be created. Those teams are where I’d suggest concentrating our efforts. For the Braves I believe that’s Tampa (they are known to want catching and prospect pitching,)  maybe Minnesota who need lots of pieces everywhere, and perhaps Boston who we reportedly checked with about Jon Lester (though I can’t figure out what that match might be,) Detroit or Miami.

The Only Constant Is Change

Teams’ needs change daily due to injury and other factors. So if for example the Angels made a deal for Greinke, Dan Haren or Ervin Santana might suddenly be excess to their needs. If the Marlins continue to be flounders (sorry couldn’t resist that) the might well have a fire sale. Rumors abound that Hanley Ramirez might go (no thanks) and they might trade Omar Infante or any one of their other contracts. Miami’s front office is not known for stability or deep thought in trades.

More Speed Less Haste

Braves fans are anxiously awaiting a move by the GM to strengthen the rotation. Fan angst alone isn’t enough to nudge him to do something quickly but the reality that this team could well fall out of the race early again should.  Braves fans remember what the the front office promised in t the John Scheurholz letter:

“. . .our performance in the month of September was unacceptable . . .to do all we can to prevent this from happening again. Our General Manager, Frank Wren, and his staff . . .will be focusing throughout the off-season on building upon the strengths of this team and repairing our weaknesses to achieve our goal.

I haven’t seen anything done that met that commitment. The GM should understand that standing pat now is simply not acceptable. Nor is a  trade that simply shifts the deck chairs on the Titanic – such as getting another number three starter no matter how good a year he’s having or signing another Greg Norton kind of bat.

If ask I’d urge him to move swiftly but prudently to patch up a deteriorating rotation by adding a James Shields. Jon Lester or Jeremy Hellickson instead of a trade and pray he signs in the fall shot with Greinke. (The ball spiking incident in Houston – the second of his career-raised a warning flag that perhaps he’s not as in control of his emotions as some want us to believe. We do not need a another over-thinking, over reacting pitcher.)  If  however we are going to make Greinke the target, while we have the Brewers  at the table we should also try to get Corey Hart. That duo might just be worth  one of the top names in our system plus a couple of small parts. While Hart’s not a spectacular name he is affordable, under control next year, can play all three outfield spots (center in a pinch I admit) as well as first base and he hits lefties pretty well. With Uggla slumping horribly we could do worse than have Hart in left and Martin Prado at second.  I’d also emphasize that getting something done sooner rather than later should be the immediate priority. We know that Frank Wren has in fact been trying . There’s been confirmed contact with the Cubs, Red Sox and Twins. The tone of his comments to Mark Bowman when discussing the approach to Boston and the trade market in general seemed less than optimistic to me.

“It’s so hard to get pitching because there are a limited amount of guys. . . (many are) not really available because teams have not determined whether they’re in or out. In some cases, they haven’t determined whether they can sign them or not. It’s really a tough market.” (my emphasis)

MLB Trade Rumors linked a report that Pirates GM Neal Huntingdon offered a different and what I consider a more positive view when he told reporters Sunday he felt there were opportunities out there.

Teams are starting to reach out with two-way logic — still looking to add but reality is starting to set in they might need to sell. There are not more clear sellers, but (more) teams that are beginning to prepare if they decide to go in that direction.

I’ve never heard a GM say it was an easy market, particularly at trade deadline time and we all know it’s a crowded sellers’ market right now. I was disappointed that the way Wren phrased his comments sounded- at least  to me – like a man preparing the fans for inaction or failure.

That’s A Wrap

A GM gets paid to swim with the sharks while avoiding becoming their main course.  It’s always a rough market, rougher when your prospect cupboard is bare.  Teams always demand too much early and deal later. This year there’s added impetus to deal later and get something rather than not deal and get nothing. GMs always have to figure out  whether a the team has a realistic chance of winning or should stand pat or sell. This team has a realistic chance this year.  It’s time for the GM to stop telling us how hard his job is and start doing it.

Tags: Corey Hart Frank Wren James Shields Jon Lester Martin Prado Matt Diaz Zack Greinke

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