Even with a disappointing showing on the National League All-Star Game roster, the Atlanta Braves are feeling good. Winners of nine of its past 10 ballgames heading into Monday night, Atlanta has hung on to its NL East division lead over the equally hot Washington Nationals.
Of course, there is still a lot of work to do for Atlanta to sit atop the division at season's end as well.
The easiest way for a team to get better midseason is to make a big trade. The Oakland Athletics were the first team to take the plunge in 2014, trading a couple of their very best prospects for arguably the top two starting pitchers available on the market.
This move was bad news for all other trade-market buyers for two reasons.
First, the A's grabbed the most attainable pitching assets on the market in Chicago's Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Both men were pitching phenomenally before the move, even with one of the poorer teams in the league playing behind them.
After those two, the starting pitching market is much more worrisome. David Price may get traded; Cliff Lee is probably available if someone wants to eat a lot of money. Maybe someone could tear Jon Lester away from Boston if the Sox don't plan on re-signing him anyway. There just aren't a lot of guys certain to be moved now.
And the other problem the A's brought to the doorsteps of competitors was setting the price for pitching. By giving up their top minor league asset, as well as two other useful pieces, Oakland raised the bar for what every other seller is looking to obtain now.
Luckily for Atlanta, starting pitching is not a specific target for the trade deadline. Although Gavin Floyd is lost for the year, Alex Wood has slid in to replace him, just as he did to start the season. Depth is no longer a luxury, but the Braves do also still have David Hale in the majors as a sixth starting option.
Where this team needs to make its mark is in the bullpen. Shae Simmons has been fantastic since being called up earlier this season, but the rest of the bullpen has not lived up to expectations.
A trade for a bullpen arm can come from anywhere and shouldn't cost very much. The San Diego Padres have multiple pieces in the pen that are expendable for a team not going anywhere this season. Other scuffling teams will also be looking to move relievers in an attempt to grab extra assets.
Based on need, availability and what it will cost, the likelihood of Atlanta trading for a reliever is very high. Call it 70 percent.
Of course, the lineup may be a bigger place of need than even the bullpen is. Despite scoring in double figures twice during this recent streak, Atlanta currently has one of the worst offenses in baseball.
It is easy to see why.
Other than Freddie Freeman, the rest of this team has been questionable. Evan Gattis, the only other player who has consistently hit this season, is on the disabled list; Jason Heyward and Tommy La Stella cannot even slug .370; Chris Johnson, B.J. Upton and Andrelton Simmons each have an OPS sitting well below .700.
Maybe the call-up of prospect Christian Bethancourt will spark this team for the long haul, but based on his minor league hitting numbers, that seems highly unlikely.
Instead, the Braves need to make a move to add a bat. Fortunately for them, there are myriad options on the trade market to fill lineup holes...if the Braves are willing to bite the bullet on certain parameters.
With the realization that at least one or all out of Johnson, the elder Upton and La Stella are not everyday players, Atlanta has room to add either an infielder or an outfielder (or preferably both).
The targets come in the form of versatile veterans on losing clubs: Martin Prado in Arizona (still owed $22 million after this season), Aaron Hill in Arizona (owed $24 million more after this year), Emilio Bonifacio in Chicago (currently injured with no timetable for his return), Chase Headley in San Diego (having perhaps his worst season as a pro), Ben Zobrist in Tampa (will cost a ransom to obtain).
The list goes on. There are the likes of Chase Utley, Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins in Philadelphia. Any type of bat Atlanta desires could be had if the Braves meet the demands from the other side.
With the combination of so many trade possibilities and the anemic performance by the team's offense, the likelihood of Atlanta trading for a bat is comfortably high. However, because it will cost more than obtaining a reliever, either in what will have to be given up or in what will be taken back monetarily, the chances are only 55 percent.
If it was always easy to fill every hole a team has, there would be no excitement this time of year.
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