Jul 20, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Marlon Byrd (3) hits a solo home run as Atlanta Braves catcher Gerald Laird (11) looks on in the ninth inning of their game at Turner Field. The Braves won 8-2. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves Trade Rumors: Shopping for the Bench

The non-waiver trade deadline is Thursday afternoon.  It’s time to get serious about trade talk and trade targets, and now an awesome Hall of Fame weekend is now done, the Atlanta Braves will certainly be doing that.

We’ve said a lot here about strategies and pitching ideasincluding one that got everyone’s dander up… but what we haven’t talked about so much is how to fix the bench.  Let’s look at some viable ideas for doing just that.

 

The Motivation

This is easy:  the bench hitting on this club has been so bad in 2014 that I’m pretty sure Fredi Gonzalez has considered letting his bullpen hit for itself at times.  Here’s their slash lines (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS):

One spot has now been filled – that being Philip Gosselin, who has taken Dan Uggla‘s … position (and is in the starting lineup today at second base).  Gosselin will undoubtedly be better than all three of these guys above.

 

Who to Add?

There are several reasonable candidates… and one that requires considerable ‘out of the box’ thinking:

  • Jul 23, 2014; Chicago Cubs center fielder Emilio Bonifacio (64) lays down a sacrifice bunt. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    Emilio Bonifacio (Cubs).  A lot of TomahawkTake.com writers like him.  I am personally lukewarm about him since he tends to be streaky… and that suggests less production to me if he’s in a bench role.  .268/.310 with 14 steals.  CONTRACT:  1 year/$2.5m.  Very affordable.  Oh, and he can bunt.

  • Justin Ruggiano (Cubs).  Not the speed guy that Boni is, but he’s hitting better in limited action:  .293/.358 OBP, 4 HR.  Could be the next Reed JohnsonCONTRACT:  He’s still arbitration eligible, but on a $2m deal for 2014, so the Cubs might want more for him (by the way – Reed Johnson is probably available, too).
  • Chris Coghlan (Cubs).  May as well inquire on all Cub/ex-Marlin outfielders.  .273/.352 with 5 HR in 200 PA.  The Marlins cut him loose for his 1st arbitration year (2014) and the Cubs grabbed him.  He’s 29 and likely cheaper than Ruggiano.  CONTRACT:  uncertain – can’t be more than $1m… $700K likely.
  • Seth Smith (Padres).  Hits RHP well… not so much LHP.  In fact, it’s pretty much RHP or bust.  CONTRACT:  this is probably a show-stopper.  The Padres just inked him to a 4 year deal that goes through 2016… 2017 on a team option.  It’s affordable, but I think he wants to be in San Diego, and that’s why he was signed:  to stay.
  • Michael Cuddyer (Rockies).  There is the ‘Coors Effect’, but he is hitting over .400 vs. LHP…no matter whether at home or the road.  He’s also better than most every other option vs. RHP.  CONTRACT:  He’s at the end of his deal with the Rockies ($10.5m) which is exactly why I think he’s moveable.  Now will the Braves be willing to pay him the $4m left on that deal?  Maybe – particularly since they’d ask the Rockies to split the difference, depending on the return in prospects.
  • Josh Willingham (Twins).  .273 vs. LHP and 3HR, but high OBP.  I hesitate to add Josh, because when you’re looking for a bench bat, you want somebody to get hits, not just to take a walk.  But bench guys are not the all-stars, either, so you take what you can get.  CONTRACT:  At the end of his own 3 year deal that pays $7m in 2014.  He’s still due about $3m.
  • Marlon Byrd (Phillies).  Probably the best bench bat target (.266/.316/.478/.794, 20HR), he’s gotten a lot of interest… which raises price expectations for Philadelphia.  CONTRACT:  Ah, here’s the wrinkle.  He is signed through age 38 (if the vesting option) kicks in.  So he’s owed $8m for sure in 2015, about $3.5m for the rest of this year, and $8m in 2016 if he’s anything like a full-time player in 2016… though a trade could sabotage that.   UPDATE:  if traded (he has a lengthy no-trade list), Byrd wants the 2016 option picked up in exchange for his agreement.
  • Jonny Gomes (Red Sox).  6 HR with a .240 BA, .333 OBP.  Hits LHP a ton (.315).  Not so much vs. RHP (.151).  Has to be viewed as a specialist, but we do need such a hitter.  CONTRACT:  2 years, $10m, expiring after this seasonWould be a good target, particularly if we’re already talking about Andrew Miller.
  • Mike Carp (Red Sox).  Has not been playing enough, nor hitting enough.  But he wants out of Boston and the Red Sox will likely accommodate him.  CONTRACT:  dirt cheap.  Could probably be had for literally nothing in return, though as a LHH vs. RHP, his use would be limited.  If I picked him up, I think I might wait until August 31st.

 

Out of that Box

Jul 25, 2014; Alex Rios. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

I promised a different thought:  that thought is Alex Rios of the Texas Rangers.  His contract expires at the end of this year – save for an option year at $13.5m with a $1m buyout.  So right away, I’d have to say that he is “quasi-affordable.”

Rios is hitting .299 with a .328 OBP and .754 OPS.  The average is good, but the rest is kinda mediocre.  The Rangers would probably let him walk without asking for too much in return.  The interesting thing would be whether the Braves would be interested in taking him, given how they’d have to use him:

Rios is a right-fielder.  He also hits lefties very well.  Like .372 well.  Turns out he’s not half bad vs. RHP either (.278).  There would be two options for his use, then:

  • (1) Platoon him with BJ Upton depending on the starting pitching arm du jour.  Against LHP, Rios starts in RF with Jason Heyward in Center.  Against RHP, start BJ in Center and Jason in RF.
  • (2) Go with Jason in CF and Rios in RF for the foreseeable future and use BJ Upton from the bench.

The presence of Rios would also put Jason Heyward back to the leadoff position, as Rios is not a base-stealing threat… nor a high enough OBP guy to justify in the lead-off role.

Overall, I seriously doubt this would happen, but it’s something to consider.

 

Who to Subtract?

This will depend on who could be added, but my thinking is that Ryan Doumit is the one most at risk here.  Jordan Schafer still has value as the best extra outfielder (defensively) on the team, plus he can run.  Once September arrives, the need for a third catcher – sketchy as that may be anyway – will be erased since Christian Bethancourt can/will be called up as part of the roster expansion.  He also was hitting better than Doumit.

If a second bench player is obtained, though, then the Braves would likely replace part-for-part:  an infielder might signal the release of Ramiro Pena; an outfielder could mean the end of the line for Schafer.  Either way, I would think that getting two bench bats is a long shot.

 

The trade deadline is now roughly 78 hours away… time to get serious.

 

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