MLB Trade Deadline 2012: 12 Reasons Why the Atlanta Braves Should Go All-in

Gavin AndrewsCorrespondent IIJuly 16, 2012

MLB Trade Deadline 2012: 12 Reasons Why the Atlanta Braves Should Go All-in

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    All-in.  It's quite the gutsy move—shoving all your chips into the center of the table, flipping over your cards, and selling out to aggression.  The move says "all or nothing," and "victory or bust," and is what sets apart the men from the boys.  It even won the New York Giants Super Bowl XLVI.

    I'm not imploring that Frank Wren make a Ruben Amaro impression and deal for Hunter Pence, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay, nor am I suggesting Wren try to imitate the Miami Marlins and grab Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell.

    Still, I do ask that he go all-in at the trade deadline this year.

    The Atlanta Braves currently sit 3.0 games back of the Washington Nationals in the National League East, and hold a 2.0 game lead on the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second wild-card spot.  

    So yes, if the season ended today, the Atlanta Braves would be in the playoffs.  But that doesn't take into consideration the fact that Brandon Beachy won't be able to help the Braves for the rest of 2012, sidelined with Tommy John surgery, or that Andrelton Simmons, perhaps the best defensive shortstop in baseball, is out until mid-August.

    Wren's predecessor, John Schuerholz, seemingly went all-in every year, trading for Otis Nixon, Fred McGriff, Marquis Grissom, Denny Neagle, Kenny Lofton, Reggie Sanders, Gary Sheffield, Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, JD Drew, Tim Hudson, and Mark Teixeira (the only detrimental blockbuster trade being, of course, the Teixeira trade), and acquiring Terry Pendleton, Deion Sanders, and Greg Maddux via free agency (BR Bullpen).

    Wren has been more conservative, but has still shown an ability to make big moves, bringing in Jair Jurrjens, Nate McLouth, Javier Vazquez, Arodys Vizcaino, and Dan Uggla on the trade market (Capitol Avenue Club).

    Even so, we've yet to see Wren go all-in.  And if Atlanta wants a shot at a World Series this year, they will indeed have to go all-in.  So here's 12 reasons why Wren should go all-in at the 2012 trade deadline. 

The Starting Rotation Needs Improvement

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    The Atlanta Braves pitching staff is 12th in ERA, 18th in FIP, 13th in xFIP, and a shockingly low 24th in Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs).  Aside from the WAR stat, which suggests that the Atlanta rotation is subpar, these metrics reveal the Braves pitching staff is merely mediocre.  

    When Brandon Beachy became sidelined by injury and required Tommy John surgery, he was throwing remarkably well, posting an ERA of just 2.00.  Since his absence, the Atlanta rotation has been pedestrian.  Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson are good pitchers, but neither is having a great season.  Following Hudson and Hanson is when it gets ugly: Mike Minor (he of the 5.97 ERA), Jair Jurrjens (who has pitched well since returning from his demotion to the Minor Leagues, but is still erratic), and Randall Delgado (who has a 4.52 ERA, and walks 4.31 batters per nine innings).

    Add to that the fact that Julio Teheran, once held in high regard as a future ace, has not pitched well at Triple-A this season, and Atlanta is beckoning the services of the oft-injured Ben Sheets (to whom much credit will be given after his strong outing on Sunday against the Mets) to hold down a rotation spot in the majors, and what was once thought of as an Atlanta strength now becomes an area of need for the Braves.

    Whether or not Jair Jurrjens can continue his recent success, or if Mike Minor, the lone lefty of the bunch, can right his ship is yet to be seen.  However, it is better to be aggressive and make a move (or moves) to shore up the rotation than to sit and watch the 2012 playoffs, the victim of a failed project. 

The Market for Starting Pitchers Is Strong

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    The list of starting pitchers on the 2012 trade market is long and lush.  The names of Cole Hamels, Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Edinson Volquez, Brandon McCarthy, Zack Greinke, Francisco Liriano, and Wandy Rodriguez could all bring assistance to major league starting rotations, and it's feasible they could all be moved by August 1.

    With so many arms on the market, the value for these arms is undoubtedly lower than it would be in more barren years.  Add to that the fact that many of these pitchers are free agents immediately following the 2012 season, and the prospect-price lowers even more.

    Dempster, Volquez, McCarthy, and Liriano could be bought for a song.  And all would significantly upgrade the Braves' rotation.  I'm not sure why the Atlanta front office is hesitating here. 

    For the remainder of the slide, let me make my case for Francisco Liriano.  

    The only southpaw in the Atlanta rotation is Mike Minor.  He has an ERA near 6.00.  Since May 30, Liriano has thrown 57.1 innings in nine starts, posting a 2.83 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP, and 67 (yes, sixty-seven) strikeouts.  And he's fresh off of an eight inning, 15 strikeout performance against Oakland in which he allowed four hits and walked just one.

    Have I made my case yet?

    Liriano is a lottery ticket, but it would not cost a lot to pry him from Minnesota, he can be re-signed, and if he continues pitching the way he has recently, he would be quite an asset in the playoffs.  Imagine a staff of Hudson, Hanson, Liriano, Jurrjens, and Sheets the rest of the way.

    I'm already feeling better about the Braves.  

Atlanta Needs an Ace to Compete in October

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    If Atlanta wants to add a pitcher like Francisco Liriano to the starting rotation, I would advise them to do it.  However, that shouldn't stop the front office from going after a bona fide ace with everything they have.

    Two trades for starting pitchers?  Yes.  If it's possible, Atlanta should definitely go after a couple arms, just so long as one is Zack Greinke.

    Cole Hamels is a better fit.  He is a lefty at the very top of his game, and would be an absolutely perfect fit in the Atlanta rotation.  But the Braves can not afford to sign Hamels long term, and it is widely speculated that Hamels wants to join the Los Angeles Dodgers anyway.  

    Which is why Atlanta should go after Greinke.  The southern hospitality of the mid-market Braves would be a great destination for Greinke and his noted anxiety issues, which would allow Greinke to pitch much better than, say, in New York or Boston.  

    Another plus to adding Greinke would be that, upon the return of Andrelton Simmons, with three premier outfield defenders, a future Gold Glove shortstop in Simmons, and an above average defensive first baseman in Freeman, the Atlanta defense would be not only above average, but very good, Greinke's numbers would improve, as his FIP of 2.56 strongly suggests.  

    A true ace is needed in October baseball, when the likes of Matt Cain, C.C. Sabathia, and Jered Weaver are on the hill in Game 1, and they need to be countered with equaled firepower.  Right now, the Braves don't have that.

    With Greinke, they would.

Greinke Could Be Locked Up for Years to Come

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    The price of Zack Greinke would be, most likely, a package centered around Randall Delgado.  The reward, though, would be not only a shot at a championship, but an ace the city of Atlanta can hang its hat on for years.

    Courtesy of SB Nation, here is a report from MLB's Mark Bowman, on the Atlanta Braves:

    Barring a drastic change during this period, they will enter the All-Star break interested in the potential to land Milwaukee's Zack Greinke via a trade and then sign him before he would be eligible to hit the free agent market at the end of this season.

    With Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson currently standing as the only reliable assets in their starting rotation, the Braves will likely make landing a starting pitcher a priority before the Trade Deadline. Greinke, Matt GarzaRyan Dempster and Edinson Volquez would be among their potential targets.

    But if the Braves reach a point where they are committed to land a starting pitcher they will target Greinke, who would be the top-of-the-rotation asset that could capably replace the injured Brandon Beachy and have the ability to compete in a postseason setting.

    Basically, if the Braves want Greinke, they're going to want to sign him long-term.  Between the contracts of Michael Bourn, Matt Diaz, Chipper Jones alone, Atlanta has $23 million coming off the books next year.  That's not even counting the contracts of Chad Durbin, Eric Hinske, David Ross, and Jack Wilson, which also come off the books next year, and total another $5 million (Spotrac).  

    It's widely speculated that Greinke would sign in Atlanta long-term (see Southern hospitality comment from previous slide), and Atlanta hasn't had a true ace since John Smoltz, so it's time for Liberty Media to open its wallet and shell out enough cash for Zack Greinke to pitch all of his prime years on Peachtree Street.

Atlanta Could Use Another Arm in the 'Pen

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    Last year, the back half of the Braves 'pen was historically good.  Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and Craig Kimbrel combined to form one superhuman stopper known to the rest of the league as simply "O'Ventrel."

    They were that good.

    This year, O'Flaherty has slightly regressed (which was expected), and Craig Kimbrel has continued his dominance en route to a second All-Star selection in his very young career.  Jonny Venters, though, has had horrendously terrible luck.

    His K/9 has increased from 9.82 to 11.97, and his BB/9 has largely stayed the same, but he has given up 1.47 more HR/9 than last year, has a HR/FB ratio of nearly 43 percent (up from last year's rate of seven percent), and has a BABIP of an astounding .422.  He is giving up more fly balls than usual, but the major reason for his terrible luck is pretty plain: the fly balls he is giving up are leaving the park.

    When he returns from injury, he should be able to let the odds of probability even his stat line out, and become yet again one of the premier setup men in baseball.  If not though, Atlanta needs to have another dominant arm in the back end of their rotation.

    Maybe the front office gives Julio Teheran a call-up from Triple-A to amp up his fastball and use his dominant changeup and improved curveball to stifle eighth inning hitters.  If not, Atlanta should try and grab a power arm to setup Kimbrel such as Grant Balfour of the Oakland Athletics. 

Andrelton Simmons Could Be Hurt Until Mid-August

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    It took all of a month-and-a-half for Andrelton Simmons to become possibly the premier defensive shortstop in the league.  He was even hitting almost .300 and getting on base at a .336 clip, and slugging .452, surprising many with his astute offensive play.

    But when he fractured his pinky finger, leaving him sidelined for four-to-six weeks, the Braves traded for Paul Janish, the owner of a lifetime .289 OBP, which is only slightly better than Tyler Pastornicky's .281 OBP.  Janish may be a better replacement than Jack Wilson, who was failing to hit .170 before his injury, but nonetheless, there is now a black hole in the eighth spot of the order.

    Can Atlanta afford not having any offensive production from the eighth and ninth spots in the order?  Janish will surely shore up position No. 6, allowing the pitching staff to breath easier while Simmons is sidelined, but the lineup has still been dealt a considerable blow.

The Lineup Goes Through Slumps

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    Brian McCann is hitting .238.  Dan Uggla, .222.  There is currently a black hole at shortstop, and the Braves are getting virtually no help from the bench, minus David Ross.

    Maybe a bat would be a smart thing to pick up.  

    A big name is not needed, and while I was heavily pulling for Atlanta to make a move for Marco Scutaro, the acquisition of Paul Janish signifies that Wren is probably done adding infielders.  Ross is doing a good job filling in for McCann, so a catcher isn't needed.  But something must be done to spark the offense, and if trade rumors get the Atlanta bats hot, so be it.  

    The Braves may still need to add a bat though.  Especially since the Atlanta lineup has a propensity to go through prolonged slumps, where Uggla, McCann, Freeman, and even Heyward are simply not hitting water when they fall out of the boat. 

    McCann and Uggla will turn it around with time.  Of this, I have no doubts.  I am more concerned with the production that Eric Hinske, Matt Diaz (who is hitting lefties, but has struck out 11 times in 28 at-bats versus righties), and Jack Wilson are providing, which is minimal at best.

    Texas has gone to the World Series these past few years because of the incredible hitting depth on its roster.  Atlanta could take a lesson from Jon Daniels and flex their muscles too.

Right-Handed Bats Are Needed

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    In 486 at-bats against left-handed pitchers, Atlanta's left-handed hitters (McCann, Freeman, Bourn, and Heyward) are hitting .245 with a .297 OBP (Baseball-Reference).  Bourn is actually hitting well against lefties, but right now, McCann, Freeman, and Heyward simply cannot hit left-handed pitching.

    That's the heart of the Braves order right there.  

    Maybe Frank Wren will decide that McCann, Freeman, and Heyward will start hitting lefties better as the season progresses.  Maybe he'll decide that the best thing to do against southpaws is to hope Bourn, Prado, Chipper, Uggla, and Simmons produce enough to give the Braves a chance to win.

    Even so, Carlos Quentin may be on the market.  If he's too pricy, Chris Denorfia would fit right in at Turner Field.  Or perhaps Wren can call up Colorado and inquire about Michael Cuddyer, or even Dexter Fowler.  In Kansas City, Lorenzo Cain has been hurt all year, and Wil Myers is coming up; perhaps Cain will be cheap.  With Minnesota out of the playoff hunt, Josh Willingham may become available.  

    There are a lot of bats Atlanta could trade for.  I like the idea of Michael Cuddyer in the Atlanta lineup, who could play both outfield and first base, and wouldn't command a significant amount of playing time.  Dexter Fowler would need to play every day, but his acquisition would make the hunt for a center fielder easier if Bourn leaves.  So too would trading for Lorenzo Cain, who would not even command a ton of playing time.

    With this many bats out on the market, Wren should evaluate what he thinks Atlanta needs, and simply ask around.  Bringing in Cain or Cuddyer would do the Braves wonders. 

Justin Upton Doesn't Come Around Too Often

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    Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers is listening to offers for Justin Upton.

    I believe he is wrong to do so; Upton's value is down, and if he turns his season around, Arizona enters the playoff picture again.  But if you'll pardon the cliché, one man's trash is another man's Hall of Fame outfielder.

    Justin Upton will figure out whatever has gone wrong with his swing.  This is still the guy that went 30-20 with a .289 average and OPSed (I'm currently lobbying for OPS to become a verb.  Join me.) nearly .900, single-handedly carrying the Diamondbacks offense to the playoffs last year.  He can do that again.  Just give him time.

    Now, Buster Olney is speculating that Atlanta could offer Arizona a package of Martin Prado and a few prospects to try and pry Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks.  

    Maybe the Braves will be outbid in the Justin Upton sweepstakes.  Maybe Upton will stay in Arizona.  But a talent like Upton doesn't hit the market often at such a young age, and the long-term dividends of having Heyward in right field and Upton in left could be enormous. 

Michael Bourn Could Walk This Winter

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    Michael Bourn is having the best season of his career.  Unfortunately for the Braves, the league is so starved for elite leadoff hitters that once they hit the market, they cash in.  Big.  

    And Michael Bourn's agent is Scott Boras.

    The two most similar cases to Michael Bourn in the past couple years have been Carl Crawford and Jose Reyes.  Jose Reyes is probably the more similar player, and while his agent is Peter Greenberg and not Scott Boras, he took his 2011 season of 6.2 Wins Above Replacement, coupled with his .384 OBP and 39 steals, and translated that to a six-year, $106 million deal.

    Carl Crawford took his 2010 season of 7.6 Wins Above Replacement, a .356 OBP, and 47 steals, and garnered a seven-year, $142 million deal.

    Bourn is on track to have a season that falls somewhere in between Reyes' 2011 and Crawford's 2010 seasons, already accumulating 4.2 Wins Above Replacement, a .365 OBP, and 25 steals.   

    I know I talked about Liberty Media opening its wallet for Zack Greinke earlier, but Bourn is a different case.  If you're a speedster, unless your name is Kenny Lofton, you don't typically age well.  And if Bourn seeks Reyes money, there is no way Atlanta can afford that crippling contract.

    Bourn could give Atlanta a discount in the hopes of several shots at a World Series.  But once again, his agent is Scott Boras, so the chances of a discount are slim to none.  In other words, 2012 might be Atlanta's last shot at a World Series with Michael Bourn in center.

The Dividends Paid in Free Agency Could Be Huge

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    Let's go ahead and make some assumptions.

    1. Michael Bourn wants Jose Reyes money.  Atlanta is smart, doesn't bite, and lets Bourn walk.
    2. Atlanta makes some moves at the trade deadline and makes a serious run at the World Series.
    3. Justin Upton is not traded for, but Zack Greinke is.
    4. Chipper Jones is not Brett Favre, he retires, and his contract comes off the books.

    Atlanta now has money to play with, and is seen as an attractive destination for free agents.  The first step would obviously be to lock up Greinke long-term.  With Chipper retiring, Edward Salcedo is still a few years away, so Martin Prado could make the shift to full-time third baseman (unless Juan Francisco suddenly learns how to hit for average).  Unless Atlanta makes a move for Dexter Fowler or Lorenzo Cain, not one, but two outfield spots are open for Atlanta: center field, and left.

    According to MLB Trade Rumors, there are quite a few free agents that could help Atlanta.  Signing Kevin Youkilis would enable Martin Prado to stay in left and continue his excellent defensive play.  In the outfield, Josh Hamilton may be too expensive, and center fielders Curtis Granderson and Shane Victorino are very unlikely to land in Atlanta, but there are other options.  

    Grady Sizemore could be signed as a low-risk, high-reward option, the possibility of a healthy campaign too tantalizing of a prospect to pass up.  Cody Ross and Angel Pagan would also come very cheaply, and both could benefit the Braves in a big way.  BJ Upton could use a change of scenery, and he might finally start scraping his potential in Atlanta.  And don't forget Torii Hunter, Carlos Quentin, and Nick Swisher, veterans that could add some right-handed (or in Swisher's case, switch-hitting) pop to the heart of the Braves order.

    My favorite option?  Melky Cabrera, who has been simply unstoppable since fully committing himself to being healthy and going all-in with baseball.  He's a switch-hitter and five-tool player who could redeem himself with Braves fans as a .300 hitter and table-setter at the top of the lineup.  He won't be Bourn, but if the past two seasons are any indication of his ability, Atlanta should do everything in its power to bring the Melk Man back. 

Chipper Deserves It

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    It's been 13 years since the Braves have been to the World Series.  Only once in the past six seasons have they even been to the playoffs, and that year resulted in an early exit at the hands of the Giants.  Apologies to Royals and Pirates fans made, Braves fans have grown restless.

    And if Braves fans have grown restless, how do you think Chipper Jones feels?

    The Braves are in a very good position in which they are set up for the future while simultaneously possessing the ability to make a serious run at a World Series title right now.  Even more encouraging is the fact that the front office can vastly improve the Braves without mortgaging the future.  So if moves can be done, it's owed to Chipper to give it a serious shot this year.

    Nineteen years into a first-ballot Hall of Fame career with the same team, an extremely rare achievement that should be celebrated, Chipper doesn't deserve anything less than Frank Wren and the Braves going all-in at the trade deadline.  Especially when going all-in benefits Atlanta both now, and in the future.  

Conclusion

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    Going all-in is something that hasn't been done in Atlanta since the Schuerholz era, and in Chipper's final year, it's time for Frank Wren to shove his chips into the middle of the table, flip over his cards, and watch the hand play out.

    The trade market is unbelievably strong this year, and the Braves have a chance to upgrade their lineup, solidify their bullpen, and add a bona fide ace for years to come.  Going all-in will help Atlanta in free agency this upcoming winter, but will also give the Braves an exponentially better shot at sending Chipper out with one final World Series appearance.  

    After looking over every factor that plays into Atlanta's attitude at the deadline, I really don't see any other option than going all-in.  It's a gutsy move, but it could pay off big.

    So Mr. Wren, it's your move.  

    Go all-in this trade deadline.  You might come up aces.