Trade deadline nears, here’s what Braves might do

LOS ANGELES — With the countdown underway to the July 31 non-waiver trade, rumors are ramping up, but it’s become increasingly apparent the Braves aren’t likely to make the plethora of moves that some had initially predicted, or be big-time buyers or sellers. They might do a little of both but a bit more toward the selling end.

Braves are likely to trade lefty Jaime Garcia before July 31 deadline, but might not move any other significant pieces. (AP photo)

Let me explain.

The Braves, notwithstanding three losses to the Cubs in the series that ended Wednesday, have surpassed all reasonable expectations this season and are currently three games under .500 and 8 ½ games behind for the second wild-card spot, with none of the teams ahead of them in the wild-card standings particularly overwhelming.

No one in the Braves organization is predicting they will win the World Series, but it’s not unreasonable for them to think that, given their record – 39-36 since a 6-12 start, despite playing without Freddie Freeman for seven weeks during their plus-.500 stretch – and the lack of dominant NL teams outside of the Dodgers, the Braves could stay in the wild-card picture.

And you can’t dismiss the ballpark factor. The Brave are drawing much better crowds at SunTrust Park since school let out, particularly on weekends – just look what they drew for the Diamondbacks this past weekend – and they want to keep playing well and keep those people both coming back this season and looking ahead to, and thinking buying season tickets for, next season.

The worst part of the rebuilding is over and whether or not some fans believe they should keep focusing only on the future, the Braves are truly walking those two paths now that they talked about walking at the beginning of the rebuild — back when they truthfully were walking almost exclusively on the build-for-the-future path and not the be-competitive now path. Now, they’re on both of those paths and the win-now thing is important to them.

Which brings us to the trade deadline. The Braves have pursued top-of-the-rotation starters but the asking price is so high – just look what the Cubs gave up for Jose Quintana, whom the Braves pursued – that it now looks like they’ll keep Julio Teheran rather than move him and overpay for a Sonny Gray to replace him. Asking price for Gray just doesn’t jibe with the pitcher he is and has been in recent seasons.

And while they’d be willing to part with top prospects to get Chris Archer, a true ace, well, the Rays are in the thick of the AL East race and understandably can’t trade Archer now. Would make no sense for them to do that.

The Braves would only have moved Teheran if they could bring in another young standout pitcher with multiple years of contractual control, a Quintana – they were willing to give up a lot for him, just not what the Cubs gave up – or an Archer. Or even a Gray, if the price was more reasonable, his market having become inflated by the multiple contending teams seeking to add a starter and the lack of available starters on the current market.

Yes, that means the Braves could get plenty for Teheran, but again, keep in mine the win-now part of the equation. If they trade Teheran, a two-time All-Star signed for two more seasons plus an 2020 option, the Braves would have to pay a lot more on the free-agent market for his equivalent going forward, and would blow a hole in their rotation for the rest of this season with no obvious candidates to fill in this season, particularly since they’re going to probably have to bring up a starter to replace Jaime Garcia.

Yes, I think the Braves will trade lefty Garcia, because he’s a free agent after this season. That’s the key. The Braves aren’t going to pay free-agent prices to re-sign him, so I think they’ll move him in the next 11 days.

They could also trade first baseman Matt Adams, but I think at this point they’re leaning toward keeping him because Adams makes them better now, this season, as a platoon first baseman facing righties and/or a big bat off the bench. If he were eligible for free agency after this season, he’d be traded, for sure. But he’s not.

The Braves can wait till the offseason, when more teams will likely be in the market for a first baseman – very few have a need now – and they can decide then what to do with Adams, since he’ll still be a year from free agency.

As for second baseman Brandon Phillips, he has a 12-team no-trade clause and likely wouldn’t net the Braves a significant return in the form of prospect(s), given his age (36) and the big factor: he’s a free agent after this season. If he wasn’t performing the Braves might deal him for whatever, given his pending free agency, but he has played quite well despite a groin injury that nagged him for a couple of months. And Ozzie Albies is still working on his left-handed swing at Triple-A and isn’t clearly ready for the majors.

Again, the win-now part of the equation: Phillips makes the Braves better right now, and since the return on a trade to one of 18 teams that Phillips, who grew up in Stone Mountain, could be dealt to wouldn’t likely warrant opening up that position. Not when it appears Sean Rodriguez, coming off February shoulder surgery, also still has a ways to go before he’s back to being himself.

Phillips right now, with the Braves paying only $1 million of his salary and the Reds paying the rest, is more valuable to the Braves than to other teams.

Whither Jim Johnson, you ask? Yes, he’s blown seven saves, but the Braves won three of those games. And the Braves seem likely to keep him not at all because of that fact but because of what he’s done overall since this time a year ago and the fact that he’s under contract for $4.5 million in 2018. Not saying they won’t trade him if blown away by an offer in the next 11 days, but right now indications are the Braves will keep him. Trading him would open a significant hole in a bullpen that already lacks depth.

Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp? Each is signed beyond this season, so the Braves don’t have to trade-for-whatever-they-can-get rather than let them walk via free agency. Besides, Kemp’s big salary for two more seasons is a significant drawback on the trade market. And he’s performed well for the the Braves, on balance. As for Markakis, he’s a huge piece of the Braves’ winning chemistry and a solid if not spectacular performer. Lacks power, but does plenty more besides just his intangibles.

R.A. Dickey? Again, if he were a pending free agent, he’d be dealt. But given as well as he’s pitched in the past six weeks and the reasonable $8 million option on his contract for 2018, I tend to think Braves will keep him.

Catcher Kurt Suzuki is a pending free agent and thus could be moved, but I’m not sure if the Braves can get enough in return to warrant trading a guy who’s been a pretty big piece of what they’ve done this season and might be more valuable to the Braves than to other teams at this point. But again, if they do get a decent return, it could happen.

• Let’s close with this one from the late, great Merle Haggard. Man, I miss Hag.

“A FRIEND IN CALIFORNIA” by Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard

L.A. traffic is bad this time of year
But there’s a friend of yours in California
Sure wishes you were here
And as you lay your head on your pillow tonight just remember
There’s a friend of yours in California sure misses youYou’ve got a friend in California that misses you
You’ve got a friend in California that sure misses youFort Worth can get cold this time of year
But this southern California sun is warm
You should be here
And as you lay your head on your pillow tonight just remember
There’s a friend of yours in California sure misses youYou’ve got a friend in California that misses you
You’ve got a friend in California that sure misses youYou’ve got a friend in California that misses you
You’ve got a friend in California that sure misses you

 


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