This is truly getting exasperating. A first place club entering the easiest schedule stretch of the season. They are now 17-10 in that sequence with 4 games remaining before the schedule truly gets nasty in August. They’ll win 9 in a row, then immediately drop 4 in a row and 5 of 6. They score runs in bunches, then struggle to score at all against a team that had the third worst road record in baseball (the Marlins) – showing up in Atlanta this week.
Last night player quotes were about ‘not panicking’. Um, why are we talking about panic at all?
It’s time to face it fans: this is a mediocre club. It’s not a World Series contender. It’s frankly not even a playoff team. How do they measure up to the Dodgers? Or St. Louis? Even the Nationals right now?
Have you noticed the trade buzz? The hints of coming moves that might make a difference come Fall? There were some, but that’s evaporated. As I wrote early this week, MLB’s Mark Bowman is setting the Braves up for… nothing. As in “there is a chance they will remain quiet through the July 31 Trade Deadline“.
Go Big or Go HomeObviously the status quo is not working. This team can’t even consistently beat up on the bad competition. And frankly, even if they manage to sweep the San Diego PAAAdres this weekend, that won’t bolster my confidence.
This team needs:
- An Ace starting pitcher to rally behind
- At least two reliable bench bats
- A premium left-handed reliever
- A new center fielder… and that’s not going to happen
Odds that this list gets satisfied before the deadline next Thursday? Zero. Nobody is talking about the Braves being players for anything right now. We’re hearing that the prices for starting pitching are astronomical. Heck, even relievers are expensive: Detroit just gave up their 2nd- and 5th-best prospects (one of those a likely starting pitcher) for Joakim Soria.
Does Atlanta have the farm system to swim in those waters? No. And certainly not for the volume of pieces needed.
Blow it all up.
Yes – the Atlanta Braves should become deadline sellers. They should do what Philadelphia, the Mets, and others have refused to do: sell off their best assets in a move to fill the farm system with useful prospects for the future.
There’s two options right now – and in the immortal words of Master Yoda, those choices amount to “Do” or “Do Not”. There must be no “try” here – for “try” implies continuing on the same path of mediocrity that this squad is currently mired on. Something different must be done.
Here’s my plan:
- SELL. Mike Minor. Yes – he’s scruffling. Yes – this is a ‘sell low’ situation… somewhat. Minor has had recent success, and another pitching coach could simply correct his problems (since he’s not hurt) and he’ll be right again. Besides, he still has three years of control, with a 2014 salary of $3.85 million. He’s young, durable, and correctable. There are lots of teams who would want this, particularly since he had a 3.21 ERA just last year.
- SELL. Justin Upton. I know – you’d rather dump his whiny brother. So would I. But this is about selling value, and BJ doesn’t have any unless you need a $15m pinch runner. Justin, on the other hand, is signed through 2015 for a reasonable sum ($14.7m next year) and actually has positive production. The Yankees would kill for such a bat right now. Many would line up for him. I’d suggest ‘Seattle’, but you know how that worked out the last time somebody tried to trade Justin.
- SELL. Chris Johnson. A lot of folks – I’m actually not one of them – would say “Good! Shouldn’t have been given an extension in the first place!” Chris has started hitting again – with power, even. His trade value still isn’t great, but it’s a lot better than it was a month ago. The Braves don’t really have a replacement for him at the hot corner right now – Philip Gosselin is probably the best bet – but the idea behind moving Chris now is that it would be easier than a year or more from now when excellent farm kids come knocking on the door. That extension he signed is actually reasonably-priced, too; through 2017 (2018 with option).
SELL. Juan Jaime. Even if his control continues to be iffy, Juan is still just about as useful as Fernando Rodney… 100 mph with no idea where it’s going. For teams looking for bullpen help, there’s a lot worse out there. The Braves should rather keep guys like Shae Simmons and Chasen Shreve around. Jaime is older and it’s essentially a now-or-never situation with moving him. He also comes with multiple years of team control and the Braves are loaded with closers.
- SELL. Christian Bethancourt. Maybe. This one is conditional on whether Yenier Bello is looking like a serious major league catcher. He’s being started slowly – just two games for the Gulf Coast League Braves thus far. If Bello is the Real Deal, then Bethancourt ought to bring a ton in return. So this will have to wait for a while.
- SELL or RELEASE. Ryan Doumit and Jordan Schafer. Neither will bring anything beyond minor league filler in trade, but sometimes you can find interesting minor league filler. The most famous example of this was a kid that the Tigers didn’t think much of by the name of John Smoltz.
- SELL ONE OF: Ervin Santana or Aaron Harang. Neither of these guys will be back next year. Santana might be worth a draft pick if you want to risk offering him the $15m qualifying offer. Better to cash in one of these chips today.
- SELL. Jordan Walden. I like him, but he’s too injury-prone. At least the injuries are not arm-related, so he should still bring back a decent prospect… especially now at the trade deadline, seeing what others are getting. Oh, and he’s under control for 2 more years.
What Would This Accomplish?
- Played correctly, the Braves would have a replenished farm system… at every position. This is definitely needed.
- They would start making room for guys like Jose Peraza … if they can figure out where he’ll ultimately play.
- They would clear a significant amount of payroll space to be able to fill holes in the off-season
- They could actually flip prospects for most ‘cost-effective’ trades in December. For example, the Cubs are now being mentioned in trade rumors for David Price. Why? Because they’ve already done this – and it’s working for them! The Braves, by contrast, would be a lot more competitive next season, but the principle is still valid.
The whole point of this is the following: being mediocre sucks. If the Braves aren’t going to ‘go for it’ this year, then doing the opposite is the best idea for positioning yourself for 2015 and beyond… especially if you want to fill a new stadium in 2017. Certainly the direction they are going in is not working – and at this point they are more likely than not to finish just out of the Wild Card position.
Right now, there are a lot more ‘buyers’ than ‘sellers’. If this team cannot consistently beat the worst in baseball, then perhaps they should consider joining the ‘sellers’ and cash in on the assets they have and regroup for 2015.