Atlanta Braves' Trade Deadline Big Board: Ranking the Top Targets
It is becoming harder and harder to differentiate between buyers and sellers at the trade deadline in Major League Baseball. Through early July, everyone assumed the likes of Boston and Tampa Bay would be ditching assets left and right.
However, at the All-Star break, neither sits more than 9.5 games out of first place, making the AL East the tightest division in baseball from top to bottom. The Rays have won 13 of their past 18 ballgames, which is an arbitrary sample size, but it speaks to the mini-run Tampa Bay has been on recently.
The AL East standings may not matter to Atlanta Braves fans, but they should. The fact that the entire division is within striking distance of the top spot means losing teams may be less inclined to deal away anything by the trade deadline. They may instead be looking to add pieces.
Whereas starters like Jon Lester and David Price seemed assured of moving on just a couple weeks ago, moving either guy now seems like a questionable proposition. The same goes for pieces Atlanta has been eyeing, like utility bat Ben Zobrist or lefty reliever Andrew Miller.
The Braves should still be looking to add such players, as it would certainly help their quest to win the NL East. However, a trading partner's reluctance to part with an asset has to factor into how heavily Atlanta should pursue said asset.
With that playing a part in the Braves' trade deadline shopping list, here is a list of who Atlanta's top targets should be. Also factoring into the rankings are salary considerations, flexibility and, of course, need.
While Atlanta's bullpen has performed pretty well this year according to the numbers, the team has been unable to rely on previous-year stalwarts like Luis Avilan and David Carpenter. Both have performed particularly poorly against lefties.
Because of that, Atlanta is in dire need of a strong lefty in the bullpen, or at least a LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY). Luckily, there are a number of available pitchers who fit that description and could be had prior to the trade deadline.
Playing on a club well out of the playoff race (Houston) and making just a second-year arbitration figure for a salary (1.2 million), Tony Sipp is a perfect player for the Braves to have atop their big board.
Sipp is a lefty reliever who has pitched in both the American and National League in his career. This year, for the Astros, he has been fantastic. A 36-to-6 strikeout-to-walk rate and 12.5 K's per nine are just the beginning. Sipp has allowed just eight total runs all season and has a 0.84 WHIP to boot.
He would come in and immediately be the best lefty option Atlanta has in the pen.
The run Tampa Bay has been on is unhelpful to Atlanta's cause. It is no longer a given that the Rays will be looking to shed assets. That makes acquiring a useful bat from them a much harder proposition.
Of course, with Atlanta's hitting woes, a player of Ben Zobrist's talent should still be near the top of any trade wish list.
Zobrist can play all over the diamond. He can start at second base, start in the outfield or fill in other places if guys need days off. He's also due just $7.5 million next year in a team-option year, which is good value for a player of his skill level.
Although 2014 has been a down season, Zobrist has been close to a nine-win player in past seasons. He still draws a lot of walks and limits the strikeouts. He would be a healthy upgrade in a number of spots in the Braves lineup.
Adding Zobrist would also lengthen the team's bench, as a player like Tommy La Stella or B.J. Upton could slide in as a reserve.
Much like Sipp, Glen Perkins would join this Braves bullpen and immediately be the best lefty they have. He is also having a tremendous 2014 for the Minnesota Twins, making the All-Star Game in the process.
With 49 strikeouts to just seven walks, Perkins has elite control, and his 1.92 FIP indicates he has performed even better this year than his outlying numbers would suggest.
The things that make Perkins less enticing for Atlanta, though, are direct results of him being a great pitcher for a number of years now. First, he makes more than $4 million a year and is due over $6 million per year in 2016-18. That is OK for an All-Star closer but is an awful lot to shell out for a middle reliever.
Also, because he's Minnesota's closer for at least the next four years under this contract, the Twins will be looking for a lot more in return than Atlanta would probably wish to give up.
Other Lefty Options Around the League
There are so many lefty relievers on the market right now, it is hard to differentiate them from each other. The good thing for Atlanta is many have performed very well this season, and all are coming from losing clubs looking to dump middle relievers for long-term gains.
Boston's aforementioned Andrew Miller should also be on fans' radars, as he was specifically mentioned as the guy the Braves coveted in the article mentioning Russell and Wright. However, because of Boston's place in the standings, it is no guarantee it will be as happy to deal as someone like Chicago. Miller has really been one of the Red Sox's best pitchers this year and someone they may need if they hope to make a run in August and September.
One more lefty to keep an eye on in this discussion is San Diego's Alex Torres. He's on a team looking to deal and has been very good this season, but he seems to be trending more toward being a one-out guy compared to how he was used last year.
While there are many arms available, it is certainly a bit harder to find guys who check every box.
If Ben Zobrist proves to be out of Atlanta's price range, it should instead target a cheaper option like Minnesota's Eduardo Nunez.
Nunez is not a good fielder, but he possesses great speed and bat control. He grabbed double-digit steals in three straight seasons for the Yankees as a big bench player. In fact, in 2012, he stole 11 bags with just 89 at-bats.
With close to a .300 average now for the Twins, Nunez is a good part-time player. He doesn't deserve to unseat anybody in the current Braves lineup, but he would add a weapon to the bench.
The case for Martin Prado is a bit shaky at this point. He certainly fills a need for the Braves with his flexibility and skill as both an infielder and outfielder, but he is due an awful lot of money each of the next two seasons. He has also been hitting pretty poorly this season.
Of course, Prado has long been a fan favorite in Atlanta because of the eight years he played there. He was an All-Star and made his way into MVP consideration at one point during his time as a Brave.
Arizona would surely be thrilled to rid itself of Prado, which would make trading for him rather effortless. However, Atlanta would presumably want the Diamondbacks to eat some of that contract, which defeats much of the purpose of Arizona ridding itself of him in the first place.
Chase Utley is an interesting player as teams approach the end of July. The Phillies are going nowhere, and Utley is at the tail end of his career. However, he has a no-trade clause that prevents Philadelphia from dumping him just anywhere.
Although he could surely find a place to hit for Atlanta, he is also not the batter he used to be when he was a regular All-Star and top-10 MVP candidate in the mid-2000s.
It is probably a long shot that Utley would (A) agree to be sent to the Braves, and (B) the Braves would meet Philly's asking price on top of that.