Chipper's Last Stand
A lot of decisions loom on the horizon for Major League Baseball GMs as the 2011 trade deadline approaches. Pennants, wild cards, and trophies can be won or lost each year based on what happens after the All-Star break. The Atlanta Braves, and specifically GM Frank Wren, have been out-thought and out-worked at this point in the season in the past. Hopefully this year will mark turning point for him and the Braves. This article will focus on 9 likely options for the Braves at the trade deadline. Hopefully accompanied by some sound facts, I will break down these scenarios and give Braves fans some insight into what may happen with our team in the next few weeks
This does not spell success or probability for the Braves. Lowe’s $15 million a year contract makes him a red flag for potential suitors. At the time of this posting, he is 5-7 with a 4.30 ERA. The Braves have plenty of young pitchers with Julio Tehran, Randall Delgado, Mike Minor, and Brandon Beachy on deck. All have minor league/major league experience that rivals/matches/trumps the highest paid player on the Braves roster. While Lowe’s career second half and post-season prowess leave promise for the 2011 season, he is overpaid and probably out of gas. However, don’t discount Lowe’s ability. He has proven that he can be counted on, so we will give him that chance. Couple Lowe’s salary with the cash short market and this trade is a no go. Even with Detroit’s recent history of bad trades, they will smell this one from a mile away. Derrick Lowe is one of 2 active Atlanta Braves with a World Series ring, and his experience into the post-season will be valuable as a leader if nothing else. No team will pull the trigger on this deal, and it should work out well for the Bravos. However, if a team bites on Lowe, all bets are off for the remainder of the trade deadline.
As much as Braves fans will love his addition, this move will never happen. Pence makes almost $7 million a year, and the Braves will have to move some salary, give up some talent, or accept some cash in order to make this deal happen. The Braves simply can’t afford to make this deal, and as much as they will vilify Frank Wren over this, it is a smart move in the long run. While Pence has played some center field in his career, it is not his natural position. He has a cannon for an arm and decent range, but these attributes are more suited for a right fielder. The Braves have a solid, young right fielder in Jason Heyward, so this deal is doomed. The Astros have no cash to give, Pence is the face of the franchise in Houston, and Houston is going to be shopping Pence for far greater options than Atlanta will be able to give up.
This is a great deal for Atlanta, but bear a few thoughts in mind. First, Bourn is a left handed hitter. The Braves are in great need of a right-handed bat in the lineup to keep opposing bullpens on their toes. Second, Bourn makes 4.4 million a year, right in the Braves wheelhouse, and eligible for arbitration next year. Third, he is a true leadoff hitter and center fielder, which is a hole in the Braves roster. With Nate McClouth and Jordan Schaefer performing average at best, this could end up being a good deal for the Braves, regardless of his lateral left handed bat. However, in the end, the Braves may have to give up too much in return for landing this superstar. Houston may ultimately bite on this deal in exchange for some young Braves talent.
Optimum trade strategy for the Braves if they choose to take it. The Dodgers need to deplete some payroll in light of their recent financial troubles. Matt Kemp will make almost $7 million next year, but comes at a bargain at just over $4 million, with possible MVP status for this season. Kemp will still be trade bait next year, but if he can boost the Braves to the playoffs and beyond, next season he will be worth just less than what Dan Uggla makes this season. Worst case scenario the Braves add a right handed bat in the middle of the lineup that can hit for power and average while playing a true centerfield. However GM Frank Wren, at least in the press, seems sold on the idea of Jordan Schaeffer being Atlanta's centerfielder/leadoff hitter of the future. Kemp doesn't fill the leadoff hitter hole, but in this scenario Martin Prado moves to leadoff and the Braves form a troublesome matchup for left handed relief pitching down the road. This is our most favorable trade to stimulate our offense, but ultimately, in my opinion, the Braves will still pass here.
Even though Frank Wren is publicly denying courting Ludwick, baseball insiders suggest that the Braves would like the addition of Ludwick’s right-handed bat in the lineup. However, this trade simply doesn’t make sense for either party. The Padres have absolutely no interest in Derrick Lowe’s age, record, or $15 million salary. Ludwick is 33 years old and is hitting a miserable .238 this season, mired in a terrible slump as the deadline approaches. Ludwick’s near $7 million salary in 2011 means that the Braves either need to deal Lowe to the Padres or receive cash in the deal. Finally, as is the case with several players on this list, Ludwick is not a true center-fielder. This means that Martin Prado, also not a natural CF, assumes the role in center to make room for Ludwick. This deal is doomed on too many fronts to be seriously considered.
I could almost delete Ryan Ludwick’s name from the last article and repost here. Willingham is 32 years old, makes 6 million a year, and is a natural left fielder. While hitting .244 on the season, he is simply not worth the price and will not fit with the Braves needs. This scenario also moves Prado to center field. The Braves have to move Derek Lowe to afford Willingham, and the Athletics are simply not buying.
On the surface this may seem like a great deal for the Braves. But when you dig a little bit, this deal has some drawbacks. Beltran is 34 years old, and has been protected by the Mets for much of the year from a sore right knee. His age and injury hamper his ability to shift into centerfield in Atlanta means that Prado shifts to center. However, his ability to switch hit would be welcome in Atlanta’s lineup. The Mets are offering to pay the rest of his salary for the remainder of the 2011 season, which fits well with the depleted Braves bankroll. The Mets are interested in prospects in return for Beltran, and the Braves are certainly rich in this area. Beltran has a clause in his contract which forbids the inclusion of draft picks in any deal he is involved in, which may sour this deal somewhat. Basically, the Braves would receive a veteran switch-hitting outfielder for the remainder of the season, and then Beltran enters the free-agent market at season’s end. I think there is a high likelihood that the Braves pull the trigger on a deal involving Beltran and a middle relief pitch by the trade deadline. However, they will have plenty of competition with other teams that are hungry for Beltran's services.
Editor's note: The Mets are actively scouting Randall Delgado and Arodys Vizcaino for a possible Beltran trade, ESPN reports on Thursday.
Aside from a right-handed bat, the Braves are in need of a stable, proven relief man to maneuver the waters of the playoffs. Peter Moylan, an excitable, yet proven Braves reliever is on the shelf for the rest of the season. Kris Medlen also appears to be done for the year. Scott Proctor has been a nightmare of late. Enter Kerry Wood. Wood is a starter by nature, but injuries relegated him to the bullpen. Wood forced his ego aside and signed a pittance of a contract to play for his beloved Cubbies in 2010. He has post-season experience, but he will mainly be used as an innings guy if dealt to the Braves. At the end of the day, Wood possesses too much downside with injuries and inconsistency for the Braves to seriously consider.
Now we’re talkin’. It’s difficult to pull off a trade with a division rival, but the Braves might need this one. There are few solid relievers out there, and even with the recent trade of K-Rod, the Mets might be looking to dump more old weight for the right price to re-sign JJ Reyes. Izzy has quietly bounced back from surgery with a respectable season thus far, and is a steal at $750K on a one year deal as opposed to $1.5 million with Kerry Wood. Since the Mets are already actively shopping Beltran, Isringhausen is the perfect addition to this trade. The likely scenario for the Braves sends Nate McClouth and a prospect such as Randall Delgado to the Mets in exchange for Isringhausen and Beltran.
The bottom line is the Braves are in great shape to challenge the Phillies for NL East supremacy. Whether they choose to opt for a trade at the deadline or to call up some young guns to get their feet wet in September, they are currently #4 in ESPN’s MLB power rankings, putting them right behind the Phillies. I would personally love to see Julio Tehran and his 98 mph fastball in the bullpen in place of Scott Proctor come playoff time. He would get some valuable experience and be groomed for a spot in the rotation next year. I don’t see a trade taking place for a big time right handed bat. The Braves would have to receive cash to make a deal happen, or give up too much young talent in return. At this point the ESPN insider buzz is fairly silent regarding the Braves. Detroit is not going to pick up Lowe’s $15 million salary. Unless someone else is willing to, come trade time, the Braves will be handicapped without dealing some prospects. If nothing else, look for the Braves to add a proven relief pitcher to bolster the bullpen. While I would love to see any of the marquee players on the trading block in an Atlanta uniform, Frank Wren will play his cards close to his vest and opt for the safe, sound, business savvy decision. This is my first posting, so thank you for your time. I will try to reply to all intelligent comments and questions promptly. Go Braves!