Atlanta Braves Trade Rumors: Why Atlanta Must Land Chicago Cubs' Ryan Dempster

Dan Kukla@@kooks13Correspondent IIIJuly 23, 2012

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 20: Starter Ryan Dempster #46 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on July 20, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Trading for Chicago Cubs veteran starting pitcher Ryan Dempster is vital for the Atlanta Braves if they want to avoid another late-summer collapse.

Atlanta's once solid starting rotation is now a source of fear and loathing for Braves fans.

Ben Sheets turned 34 on Wednesday and recently missed two entire seasons in 2011 and 2009 with elbow issues. He may be the team's most reliable arm right now.

Atlanta lost rising ace Brandon Beachy for the entire season to injury. Highly touted Mike Minor (5-6, 5.69 ERA) is falling well short of expectations during his first full season at the major league level.

Staff ace Tommy Hanson has been lit up for for 28 earned runs over his last six starts while battling a drop in velocity. Jair Jurrjens' ERA ballooned to 7.04 after surrendering 14 runs in his last two starts. Tim Hudson has been spotty at best since returning from injury.

Adding one pitcher like Dempster doesn't fix an entire rotation. The Braves, however, will sink even faster than they did in 2011 if they do nothing to plug the obvious holes.

Atlanta is lucky that Dempster is even still available. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Dempster's most desired landing spot, made an offer for the 35-year-old before the weekend. But interest from L.A. has since cooled, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. The Braves now look to be the front-runner.

They better not waste this new window of opportunity.

The Braves own a deep farm system. Its depth will be tested if they want to remain in the hunt for a division title or wild-card berth. Chicago traditionally likes to pay a large portion of an outgoing player's remaining salary to receive better prospects in return.

The good news for Atlanta is that the other top contenders to land Dempster, per Rosenthal—St. Louis and National League East-leading Washington—seem reluctant to part with the number and level of prospects the Cubs want.

Atlanta currently trails Washington by 3.5 games in the East. It holds a narrow 0.5-game lead over L.A. (two games over St. Louis) for the second wild-card spot.

It would be extremely bad news if any of these three contenders has a change in heart as the trade deadline approaches. Missing out on a quality arm and watching him pitch for a rival would be disastrous for Atlanta's postseason aspirations.

To be clear, Dempster is no savior.

St. Louis made his 33-inning scoreless streak look like a mirage just four pitches into his Sunday start en route to three first-frame runs. But the Braves could benefit greatly from the addition of a veteran pitcher capable of stabilizing a floundering rotation.

Sheets joins the group as a much-needed boost, but his fragile elbow is far from guaranteed to hold up through the dog days of August—much less October. Even if it does, he doesn't solve Atlanta's pitching woes on his own.

Sure, Dempster's impressive surface numbers (2.11 ERA, 1.05 WHIP) are due for a correction, but so are the Atlanta Braves.