Atlanta Braves: Five Trades to Consider to Stay in NL East Race

Andrew Vigliotti@@Andrew_VigCorrespondent IJune 29, 2012

Atlanta Braves: Five Trades to Consider to Stay in NL East Race

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    The Atlanta Braves are in contention in a mediocre National League. There is no dominant team in the NL this season.  

    Atlanta is in a fight with the Washington Nationals for first place in the NL East. The Braves have been a streaky team this season due to countless circumstances.

    Manager Fredi Gonzalez has not filled out a consistent lineup card all season due to an assortment of injuries.  First baseman Freddie Freeman was out for some time with eye issues and a finger injury. Chipper Jones was placed on the DL in mid may due to a calf injury, and Brian McCann missed a week during the same stretch with flu-like symptoms.

    The lineup is healthy now and includes Jason Heyward, who has owned the month of June, hitting at a .370 clip with six home runs and 14 RBI. He was named player of the week from June 18-25.

    The starting rotation is the concern for the Braves. They are tenth in the NL in ERA (4.01). Brandon Beachy, who was the Braves' best pitcher with a 2.00 ERA, suffered a partial tear in his pitching elbow, underwent Tommy John surgery and will be out until the middle of 2013. Jair Jurrjens, who was demoted to AAA Gwinnett earlier this season, is back with the big club and pitching better. Mike Minor (6.14 ERA) and Randall Delgado (4-8) are going through growing pains of their own.

    Here are five starting pitchers the Braves should consider acquiring before the July 31 trade deadline. 

Matt Garza: Chicago Cubs

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    Garza is having a better season than his record indicates.  The California native owns a 3-6 record with an ERA just over four runs a game this season for the worst team in baseball.  In the last month, Garza has a 3.77 ERA and just under nine strikeouts per nine innings.  

    The 28-year-old is a pitcher who could give the Braves six to seven innings every five days in the back end of their rotation.  One of the Braves' weaknesses right now is their back end of the staff as Delgado and Minor don't get themselves far into games.  

    Garza is arbitration eligible for 2013 under super two status.  The Braves would be able to have him under contract through next season and could choose to sign him long-term.

    The Cubs would be looking to get back some prospects in any deal for Garza. GM Jed Hoyer is not going to just deal him for small pieces.  Chicago is in the process of rebuilding and would expect a package from the Braves.  

Jeremy Guthrie: Rockies

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    Guthrie isn't the hottest commodity in the trade market right now, but he could be an interesting piece for the Braves.  

    The former 2002 first round pick hasn't lit it up this season with the Rockies as he owns a 3-6 record with an ERA of 6.36, but he could serve as a veteran arm in the fourth or fifth spot in the Braves rotation. Keep in mind that Coors Field is one of the more hitter friendly ball parks in all of baseball.  Turner Field leans toward pitchers.  

    The biggest reason why the Braves should consider trading for Guthrie is that he would be rather cheap.  No significant prospects would be dealt to Colorado in exchange for the 33-year-old. The Braves would likely pay what is remaining of his $8.2 million salary, but it could be a low risk and high reward move for Atlanta.

Wandy Rodriguez: Astros

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    The Astros are currently in fourth place in the NL Central and are willing to listen to offers regarding their southpaw.  

    Braves' General Manager Frank Wren sometimes is known making under the radar moves.  Trading for Rodriguez could be the perfect example.  

    Rodriguez is having a solid season for the Astros with a 6-5 record and a 3.52 ERA in 16 starts.  He is signed through 2013 with a team option for 2014.  The Braves could have him under control for two more years after '12. 

    The 33-year-old has averaged just under 200 innings the last three seasons and would be a great fit for the Braves moving forward in their rotation.  The Astros would expect a package of high to mid-level prospects in return for Rodriguez.

Francisco Liriano: Twins

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    Liriano's struggles early in the season were so bad that the Twins had to move him to the bullpen. The Southpaw has a 2-7 record with a 5.30 ERA in 12 starts this season.  

    Since he was placed back in the rotation, Liriano has pitched at least six innings in five of his last six starts.  He has given up three earned runs or less in five of his last seven starts.

    Liriano has vastly improved his numbers in the last three weeks, and thus his trade value.  The Braves are interested in him. He is eligible for free agency after the 2012 season. With Michael Bourn's uncertain future after '12 with the team, and the contracts of Derek Lowe ($5 million this year) and Chipper Jones' retiring, Atlanta will have some flexibility with their payroll.  

    The Twins consider him an asset to the franchise, but own the worst record in the AL. If Liriano keeps up this positive pace, Minnesota should consider any offers and see if they can land a solid prospect for the future.  

Zack Greinke: Brewers

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    I understand if your jaw has dropped to the floor, but Greinke to the Atlanta Braves makes absolute sense here.  

    The right-hander is having an incredible season with the Brewers as he currently owns a record of 9-2 with a 2.82 ERA in 16 starts.  

    The likelihood of a Greinke trade is increasing every day.  Milwaukee knows they have a slim to none chance in re-signing the 28-year-old.  They don't want to lose him to free agency without compensation. They learned that lesson with Prince Fielder at the end of the 2011 season. 

    Greinke is a guy who doesn't want to play in the big markets of New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. A social anxiety disorder plagued him in his early days with the Kansas City Royals. He does not like the big lights of the big cities. 

    The Braves are a contending team in a mid-market that would be suitable for him.  He is closer to his hometown of Orlando, Florida. He would most likely be willing to re-sign with Atlanta.  

    Of course the only way the Braves were to even think about trading for him is if he re-signs long-term with the organization.  Atlanta has the farm system to make such a trade and the money for it.  This might be the best fit for Greinke.