The Atlanta Braves have already signaled they would like to add a reliever or two to their bullpen. General manager Frank Wren was clear about that when he spoke with SiriusXM radio host Jim Bowden earlier this week:
Frank Wren just told us that if he could add one piece to the team between now and the trade deadline it would be depth in bullpen XM 89— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) June 8, 2014
As the Braves seek to acquire another reliable setup man, fresh in the mind of the Atlanta front office is the predicament the team found itself in at the end of last season when Jordan Walden went down in mid-September. While he returned for the playoffs, he was rusty and ineffective, essentially leaving the Braves without their top setup man.
Walden was likely third on the setup-man depth chart to open the 2013 season. Atlanta lost Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty earlier in the year to Tommy John surgery.
This year the Atlanta front office seems to be signaling that it will not let an injury to a reliever dictate how its postseason unfolds. Acquiring another setup man for Craig Kimbrel—to supplement Jordan Walden and rookie Shae Simmons—will be a key goal for the team in the upcoming trading season.
The Braves may also want to acquire another quality reliever to address a more immediate concern:
The #Braves have already lost more games (18-6) led after the sixth as they did all of last year (71-5). 4 of these Ls have been since 5/27— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) June 9, 2014
Walden has already missed 32 games this season because of a hamstring injury. So clearly his absence from the relief staff is a factor in the Braves’ ability to close out the final innings of a game.
Atlanta added two relievers last season via trade: Luis Ayala from the Baltimore Orioles and Scott Downs from Anaheim. But neither of those two relievers could really be considered a setup man or someone who could be counted on almost every night to pitch shutdown innings.
As the Braves look to bolster this year’s pen they should also do so with an eye toward next year and beyond. While the spring training signing of Ervin Santana signaled the team is fully committed to winning this season, the endless procession of multiyear contracts the team has handed out signals that the Braves expect to contend for many years to come.
In order to acquire a reliever who could be considered an impact reliever, the Braves may have to part with some good prospects. In doing so they need to ensure whatever reliever they acquire can be useful beyond this season.
Here are three impact relievers the Braves should consider.
Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals
While Davis is underpaid for a decent starter, he is overpaid for a good reliever. That could prompt the Royals to try and move him for a more cost-effective option and/or prospects.
The tale of his career is that of two different pitchers: the lackluster starter with the 4.57 ERA and the dominant reliever with a 1.99 ERA.
The Braves could use the services of Davis in the pen this season, then give him a chance to return to starting next spring. In Atlanta he would be facing mainly National League lineups for which his 3.43 ERA vs. the NL is better than his career ERA against all major league teams of 4.12.
Alex Torres, San Diego Padres
The Padres seem to always be in rebuilding mode, and Torres might be one of those guys they want to (re)build around. They acquired him this offseason from the Tampa Bay Rays along with a prospect in exchange for a bunch of prospects.
Should San Diego be willing to trade Torres, he would satisfy two stated needs of the Atlanta pen: (1) a setup man capable of pitching important innings late in a game and (2) a left-handed reliever capable of getting out tough lefties.
The Braves would need to part with a pretty good prospect in order to acquire Torres, but Atlanta would get a reliever in return who would be under team control through the 2019 season. Torres may also be able to convert to a starting role next spring.
Jonathan Broxton, Cincinnati Reds
While Broxton offers the Reds protection against an injury to Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati may see an opportunity to fill other needs by moving him.
Yes, Broxton is having a terrific year and even closed out games when Chapman was injured early in the season, but the Reds are closer to the bottom of their division than the top. Moving a guy like Broxton could clear salary and bring back a good prospect.
The Braves could feel confident in trading a good prospect for Broxton knowing that he is signed through next season with a mutual option for 2016. He would not be just a one-year rental.
Certainly Atlanta does not want to repeat the mistakes of the 1997 Seattle Mariners who parted with several future All-Stars in order to add a few relievers. The Braves aren’t that desperate yet, but they should up the ante from their mediocre acquisitions of last season.
In order to get better relievers in a trade, Atlanta has to be more willing to give up better prospects in return. The team has already given up a first-round pick this year in exchange for Ervin Santana. The last major piece of the puzzle for this team is another setup man, and filling that void will come with a cost.