Major Post-Deadline Moves the Atlanta Braves Could Still Make
James Russell is the lefty reliever Atlanta was coveting. Although, to be fair, that is pretty much in name only. He throws left-handed and had been on the list of available lefties who could be had prior to the deadline. However, he isn't having nearly the season as someone like Tony Sipp or Andrew Miller is. Also, and most alarmingly, Russell has not been good when facing left-handed batters.
In 2013, he was masterful at the task. In 115 at-bats, the vast majority of his duties, lefties managed just a .543 OPS against Russell. In 2014, the story is far more bleak. In 65 at-bats, roughly half of his workload, lefty opponents are walloping Russell to the tune of an .889 OPS. The difference is astounding.
The other player coming over in the deal is utility man Emilio Bonifacio. Having just returned from an extended stint on the disabled list, Bonifacio is batting .279 with 15 steals in 280 at-bats on the year. He is also capable of playing all over the diamond, which greatly helps a lineup like Atlanta's.
Of course, Bonifacio is not the stellar bat good enough to garner everyday playing time, and Russell is clearly not pitching like a shutdown, matchup lefty.
There are still a few more moves the Braves could make in August to set themselves up for a successful playoff push.
August Trade Reminder: Any player Atlanta wishes to obtain must either pass completely through waivers or not be claimed by anyone with a worse record than the Braves. If the player in question is placed on waivers from an American League club, though, he would have to be passed over by every AL team AND any NL club with a worse record in order to reach Atlanta.
Claim/Acquire a Starting Center Fielder
The troubles of B.J. Upton have been well-documented. Atlanta would be due for a significant jump in production if it was able to replace Upton in center field with someone of superior skill.
Colorado's Drew Stubbs seems like a perfect fit. First, the Rockies are out of contention and already have a glut of outfielders on their roster (assuming Carlos Gonzalez is not sidelined for an extended period again). Stubbs is arbitration-eligible next offseason, so he doesn't carry a large contract with him.
He's also in the midst of the best season of his career. He runs like the wind both in the outfield and on the basepaths, replacing anything Upton could deliver in either department. He's also currently sporting an .861 OPS. Although that figure is inflated by great home numbers, Stubbs is playing like a better version of Upton in nearly every way.
Chicago Cubs' Chris Coghlan has played center field in past seasons. Although he isn't the burner that Upton is, he brings other skills to the table. Currently batting .292 with an .844 OPS, Coghlan is having a tremendous season at the plate. The former Rookie of the Year winner should also not be in the Cubs' plans for the future, as he's already approaching 30 years old.
Marlon Byrd has been one of the lone bright spots for the Phillies this season. He is hitting for a ton of power, having already eclipsed 20 home runs for the second straight season. He's also collected more than 20 doubles already, making it six straight seasons he's accomplished that.
While Byrd has a contract in place for next season, the figures are not outrageous. The guaranteed money would also mean Atlanta would fork over less in value to acquire him in a trade situation. Like Coghlan, he also hasn't roamed center this season but has in past years.
If that ended up being a worry for the Braves, sliding Jason Heyward into the middle could also be considered. Replacing Upton in the everyday lineup would be worth pushing through the learning curve for Heyward.
Claim/Acquire a Starting Pitcher
Alarmingly, Mike Minor has been Atlanta's worst starting pitcher all season. He never caught back up to the pack after beginning the year on the disabled list. While the rest of the starters have covered the slack, their overall dominance has also come back to earth.
Julio Teheran, who looked unhittable early on, has appeared ordinary in recent weeks. The same could be said for Alex Wood, albeit on a smaller scale. Also, relying on Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana through the dog days of summer and into the fall does not breed confidence. These are two inconsistent arms over their respective careers.
Because of this, Atlanta should look to acquire a reliable starting pitcher. While the Braves didn't have the pieces to get David Price or Jon Lester, nor do they have the money to add Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels, other names are still out there who could help.
ESPN's Jayson Stark tweeted the day of the deadline that Cincinnati was shopping Latos around the league. While a big return may have been expected, the deadline came and went and no one offered enough for Latos.
Now, with Mat Latos arbitration-eligible next season and due to hit free agency the following year, the Reds may be willing to listen to other offers. He is certainly someone worth putting a claim in on. While the Braves' farm system is weak overall, they do have a number of pieces other teams may be interested in. And for a player like Latos, who the Braves could use in the rotation next year as well, it's worth exploring.
If Mat Latos is too expensive, a pretty solid pitcher who won't cost as much is San Diego's Ian Kennedy. Ever since he left the Yankees, Kennedy has been a very good pitcher in this league. He's striking out close to 10 batters per nine innings this season, a career high. He's also in the same contract situation as Latos: arbitration-eligible in 2015 and a free agent in 2016.
Make Some Impactful Lineup Changes from Within
The Braves continue to struggle to score runs. They rank in the bottom third of the league in many of the major offensive categories. However, help doesn't have to come from outside the organization by sacrificing assets.
Enough time has passed where it may be helpful for Atlanta to take some chances with moves within the organization that could pay major dividends.
This could be allowing Bonifacio to play every day at second base or in center field to see if he sparks the rest of the lineup with his activity. This could be calling up Jose Peraza and giving him regular playing time to see if his hot season in the minors carries over.
Whatever the case may be, and whether or not an addition comes into Atlanta, the Braves have their work cut out for them down the stretch of the 2014 season. The Washington Nationals are not going anywhere, and the NL wild-card race is as thick as it's ever been, with as many as five teams seriously vying for the two spots.