The Atlanta Braves (51-38) still hold a lead in the National League East but have seen that lead shrink from seven to five games over the last six days.
General manager Frank Wren doesn't have major holes to fill with this team, but that doesn't mean the team will sit on its hands as the July 31 trade deadline quickly approaches.
The starting rotation could still use a true No. 1 starter, but the lack of available targets or remaining contracts of potential targets will limit the ability of the Braves to acquire such a player.
This gives the Braves two major areas of need at the trade deadline—bullpen depth and a utility infielder.
On the surface, you wouldn't expect the team leading the majors with a 2.72 bullpen ERA to need more depth in the bullpen. However, the Braves are relying on players in the middle innings (Luis Avilan, Cory Gearrin and Anthony Varvaro) who have already set career highs in an MLB season for appearances.
It would be unlikely and perhaps unreasonable to expect they won't hit some rough patches as the season nears the stretch run.
Some potential targets for the Braves to relieve pressure on those guys include Steve Cishek, Kevin Gregg, Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez could plug any of these guys into the setup role or middle innings and feel confident in their ability to get the ball to closer Craig Kimbrel with the lead.
Acquiring any one of these relievers would require nothing more than a mid-level prospect and would undoubtedly help to keep the bullpen performing at a high level.
Meanwhile, finding a utility infielder has suddenly became a priority following the disappointing news of Ramiro Pena's season-ending shoulder surgery.
The Braves currently have two infielders on their bench in Paul Janish and Tyler Pastornicky. Janish plays exceptional defense but brings little to the offense, and Pastornicky swings a good bat but lacks defense to play the late innings.
The Braves should inquire about Miami Marlins' third baseman Placido Polanco. The career .297 hitter would bring more offense to the bench and could hit at the top of the order on occasion.
While not as versatile as Pena, he would bring a veteran, winning presence in the clubhouse and is more than capable as a fielder.
Last I checked, Jeffrey Loria still owns the Marlins and is willing to deal just about anybody to any team, making trading inside the division less of an issue in this instance.
While these moves aren't sexy, they would ultimately help the team win and are the type of moves the Braves tend to make at the trade deadline.
Is it worth throwing out some feelers on the market for a potential big name? Sure.
But then realize pulling off such a move is highly unlikely, and spend the majority of your time finding the right pieces.
That should be the Braves' blueprint for the trade deadline and is why the team remains a consistent team in playoff contention.
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