The Atlanta Braves currently sit in first place in the National League East with a record of 22-17. Their placement in the standings, though, is more thanks to a pedestrian beginning to the season for all members of the East division. Atlanta has just a plus-six run differential for the year, which puts it outside the top 10 in the majors.
This figure does a better job of indicating the work that still needs to be done to improve this squad and put it in a place to secure the division title. For general manager Frank Wren, president John Schuerholz and the rest of the Braves brass, there is a major hole on this team and there are players who can be targeted in trades to cover this deficiency.
The art of predicting potential deals is an inexact science, to put it mildly. It is impossible to know how opposing GMs feel about Atlanta's prospects—although we do know how experts such as Keith Law feel about them; answer: not fondly (subscription required)—or how they view their current club's chances at battling for a playoff spot, especially since the expansion of the wild card.
Because of this, it makes sense to limit some potential trade targets to teams below .500 with negative run differentials (i.e. teams that probably aren't making the playoffs) and to players who are likely to be on the block. The Braves aren't getting anyone from the Oakland A's. That team is trying to win a World Series. And they aren't getting Dustin Pedroia just because they want him; he's certainly not available.
Pedroia does fit a need for Atlanta, though, that being second base.
Dan Uggla has been one of the worst everyday players in baseball for two years now. He is currently batting .184 with just five extra-base hits. If that weren't bad enough, Uggla has also stopped walking at a reasonable rate, having drawn just six free passes all season. His disastrous fielding and nonexistent baserunning make him an all-around worthless player at this stage of his career.
While Schuerholz will have trouble stomaching his $13 million this season and $13 million next season if he's no longer on the roster, Uggla's performance deserves replacing. In fact, he is the only Braves regular who needs to be taken out of the lineup at this point in the season.
To take things a step further, second base is the only major hole on this club.
The pitching is superb. Atlanta has depth in the starting rotation, one of the best closers in baseball and a number of guys staking claim to the title of ace. With the transfer of Alex Wood to the bullpen, the Braves also have that lefty they were missing even though Wood is not strictly a matchup pitcher.
As for the everyday players, Atlanta is certainly underachieving at the plate at this stage of the season. However, the roster is filled with very good hitters. Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton are high-quality bats, Evan Gattis and Andrelton Simmons have made strides to be as well, B.J. Upton provides value with his fielding and baserunning, and Jason Heyward should turn things around any day now. He is too talented not to.
The only other regular is Chris Johnson. While his 2013 season was an aberration, he is a solid, yet underwhelming player. That brings us to the players Atlanta should be targeting in a deal by the trade deadline. If they happen to be capable of playing third base and spelling Johnson on occasion, all the better, especially if the Braves get frisky and attempt to acquire more than one of the following players.
As a reminder, these five trade targets are all players from teams currently under .500 with a negative run differential. They are also guys who have been likely to be available (subscription required) or have no future with their current club.
- Chicago Cubs utility player Emilio Bonifacio
- Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera
- San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley
- Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill
- Arizona Diamondbacks utility player Martin Prado
While each of these five players offers a different skill set and different strengths, they all would be a huge boon for the Atlanta Braves.
Besides the limitations set to hold the trade targets to feasible options, these five guys also fit the following criteria:
- At this stage of Uggla's career, they are all much better hitters than him.
- They all either play second base already or should be capable of fielding the position at least as well as Uggla does. The only players making an actual change would be Cabrera and Headley, although Cabrera has played second base before and Headley is more versatile than people give him credit for, as he's seen time at third, left field and first base.
- Other than the two Diamondbacks players, these targets are free agents in 2015, meaning their current teams would be even more likely to deal them away rather than lose them for nothing after the season.
- And in the case of Hill and Prado, Arizona would love to shed their contracts, both of which top the $10 million-per-year mark in 2015 and 2016.
It would be hard to imagine Atlanta parting with one of its young, major league-caliber starters for any of these guys. However, with other assets in the minors and trade partners who are more than willing to get something done, it would be foolhardy for the Braves not to make an improvement at the second base position before summer ends.
And if they can finagle two of these five guys away from their current employers, it would bring flexibility to the lineup, an option at third if Johnson slides and depth to the bench, not to mention could make the Atlanta Braves the favorite to win the National League pennant.
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