Early Trade Deadline Targets for the Braves

Grant McAuley@grantmcauleyContributor IIJune 26, 2013

Early Trade Deadline Targets for the Braves

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    As the All-Star break approaches, it carries a reminder that the trade deadline is not far behind.

    Clubs will look over their rosters, assessing strengths and weaknesses and determining what, if any, steps can be taken to solidify their chances for a playoff berth.

    The Atlanta Braves have enjoyed a comfortable lead in the NL East over the season's first three months, despite having to navigate through peaks and valleys offensively.

    The Braves are a fascinating team when it comes to taking an inventory.

    Atlanta's lineup has shown a deficiency when it comes to putting the ball in play and scoring runs on a regular basis. With three righty bats struggling to produce consistently, general manager Frank Wren may need to look for another proven middle-of-the-order threat.

    The Braves have been buoyed by strong pitching to start the season. Their rotation has depth, but adding one or two more veteran arms to the bullpen should be expected.

    With the trade deadline just over a month away, the following is a list of potential trade targets for the Braves.

    All salary information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Oliver Perez

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    Player: Oliver Perez

    Position: Left-handed reliever

    Current team: Seattle Mariners

    Age: 30

    Contract status: Signed through 2013

    Profile:  After spending a year and a half trying to regain his form in the minor leagues, Perez made the full-time transition to the bullpen with Seattle in 2012.

    The resulting success just may have saved his career.

    Perez turned in a 2.12 ERA in 33 appearances last year, prompting the Mariners to reward him with a one-year deal worth $1.5 million over the winter. He has been even better this season, allowing just three earned runs over 30 appearances.

    His 0.98 ERA is strengthened by 38 strikeouts and a .210 BAA in 27.1 IP. Those numbers are a direct result of Perez regaining his velocity. After being clocked as low as 86 mph on his fastball during 2010 with the Mets, Perez has averaged 93.7 mph in 2012 and 92.8 mph this season.

    Perez may enjoy a long career as a lefty reliever, but trading for him would be strictly a rental at this point. Thriving in his new role could land him a multi-year deal after the season, especially if he is able to help put a contender over the top.

    Despite his recent success and minimal salary obligation, his career track record makes him somewhat of a gamble.

    Moving on a trade with Seattle for Perez should not cost more than a mid-level prospect. If the asking price goes any higher, Atlanta will likely continue shopping elsewhere.

Matt Thornton

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    Player: Matt Thornton

    Position: Left-handed reliever

    Current team: Chicago White Sox

    Age: 36

    Contract status: Signed through 2013 (Team option for 2014)

    Profile: Veteran lefties are always in high demand around the deadline, and Thornton is sure to draw some interest from contenders across both leagues.

    The fact that there could and should be no shortage of suitors means that the White Sox will be looking for a decent return. Thornton's age will caution teams not to make the Larry Anderson for Jeff Bagwell mistake, but it will not stop Chicago general manager Kenny Williams' phone from ringing.

    Thornton will likely serve more as a situational left-hander from this point on in his career, but is still a serviceable arm. Currently, he is the only left-hander in the White Sox bullpen.

    In 34 appearances this season, Thornton is 0-2 with a 3.33 ERA over 24.1 innings. His strength has been neutralizing lefty hitters, who are batting just .152 against him in 46 at-bats. Right-handed hitters have turned in a .357/.449/.476 slash line this season.

    Looking at the bigger picture, his strikeout rate has been dropping in each of the last four seasons, while his ERA and opponents' batting average have risen. He is not an impact arm, but could help fortify a bullpen like Atlanta's that is need of another southpaw.

    On the plus side, Thornton does have a team option for 2014, so he does not have to be purely a rental. He would be due roughly $2.5 million for the remainder of the season, while the option is for $6 million in 2014 with a $1 million buyout.

    Like Perez, Thornton figures to bring a decent prospect in return, but the bidding could help the White Sox get a little bit extra from the right buyer.

Jesse Crain

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    Player: Jesse Crain

    Position: Right-handed reliever

    Current team: Chicago White Sox

    Age: 31

    Contract status: Signed through 2013

    Profile: This trip to the White Sox bullpen brings back a right-handed result. Crain has spent his career in the American League Central as a reliable arm out of the pen for both Chicago and Minnesota.

    Entering the final season of his three-year, $13 million deal signed in the winter of 2010, Crain has been outstanding for Chicago. This season has been his best.

    Crain just set a White Sox record by reeling off a string of 29 consecutive scoreless appearances. He carries a microscopic 0.52 ERA through his 36 outings. Opponents are batting just .202 against him, including a .162 average for right-handed hitters.

    Unlike Thornton, who is six years his senior, Crain's strikeout rate has been on the rise for seven consecutive seasons. It has gone from just 5.5 K/9 in an injury-plagued 2007 all the way up to 11.9 K/9 in his 34.2 IP this year. Crain has struck out 46 batters while issuing just 11 walks, which gives him a career-best ratio of 4.18 K/BB,

    All of that said, Crain is another reliever who is in his walk year. There is no disputing that the disappointing White Sox will be entertaining multiple offers for his services. Crain would be more of an impact acquisition, which means the price tag could likely involve a higher-end prospect.

    The Braves are well-stocked with quality starting pitching prospects, and that could be the price to acquire Crain.

Jose Veras

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    Player: Jose Veras

    Position: Right-handed reliever

    Current team: Houston Astros

    Age: 32

    Contract status: Signed through 2013 (Team option for 2014)

    Profile: Veras is a journeyman reliever who inherited the ninth-inning duties in Houston because, let's face it, somebody has to do it. As a result, the Astros have a piece to deal as they continue their rebuilding process.

    Originally signed by the Tampa Bay Rays out of the Dominican Republic in 1998, Veras has spent time in eight different organizations.

    He throws in the low-to-mid 90s with both a curveball and split-finger, which led Houston to give him his first shot at closing in the big leagues this season.

    Veras has converted 15 of his 18 save opportunities, while fanning 37 batters in 33 innings of work. That 10.1 K/9 is right in line with his work over the prior three seasons. His ERA of 3.82 is in line with his four-year average of 3.74 since 2010 as well.

    Opponents are batting only .198 overall against him, including a .175/.278.349 mark by righty hitters. That mark comes in a good 21 points lower than his already solid .219 BAA entering the season.

    A low base salary of $1.85 million this season and an affordable team option of $3.25 million with a $150,000 buyout makes Veras a decently attractive option all things considered.

    He is a pitcher who has been available each offseason since 2009, so no team is likely to overpay for Veras in a trade. Houston can use help at virtually every position, which means a potential deal would have countless possibilities.

    This may be the right candidate and just the kind of price that fits Atlanta's needs when it comes to adding that "one more arm" to the bullpen.

Glen Perkins

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    Player: Glen Perkins

    Position: Left-handed reliever

    Current team: Minnesota Twins

    Age: 30

    Contract status: Signed through 2015 (Team option for 2016)

    Profile: Since moving to the bullpen in 2010, Perkins has quietly proven to be one of the best lefty relievers in the game. His evolution continued in 2012, as he took over late inning duties for Minnesota.

    While his time in the rotation was spotty, Perkins turned into such a reliable asset in relief that the Twins signed him to a four-year, $10.3 million extension last spring. That deal was signed while Perkins was serving as the primary set-up man, which makes it all the more attractive when compared with the high-dollar contracts typically handed out to closers.

    Perkins is 19-for-21 in save chances this season, and has converted 35 of his 39 save opportunities since taking over as Minnesota's closer on June 20, 2012

    Obviously, Perkins would not be closing if acquired by Atlanta, but his proven track record of getting big outs late in games could single-handedly offset the losses of Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty.

    He has dominated right-handed hitters in 2013. Perkins is limiting them to a .149/.203/.257 slash line, nearly 100 points lower across the board than last season. Left-handed hitters are batting just .231/.276/.308 against him in 29 plate appearances this year.

    Even though the Twins are hanging around the .500 mark, there may not be a better time to maximize their return for Perkins. However, that very palatable contract will likely play in Minnesota's favor as teams inquire about the lefty's services over the coming weeks. If they do not find the market to their liking, the Twins could simply retain Perkins as the club's closer.

    Between his success at the back end of the bullpen and his affordable deal, Perkins would demand a high-ceiling prospect who is close to the big leagues in return. That would likely mean a starting pitcher the likes of Alex Wood, J.R Graham or Sean Gilmartin.

    With Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm both free agents at the end of the season, dealing away young arms would only happen after careful consideration.

Aramis Ramirez

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    Player: Aramis Ramirez

    Position: Third base

    Current team: Milwaukee Brewers

    Age: 35

    Contract status: Signed through 2014 (Team option in 2015)

    Profile: The Braves began the season with a platoon at third base and have gotten solid, if not spectacular play from Chris Johnson.

    Still, the value of adding a slugger like Ramirez might be worth a long look.

    Ramirez has been one of the most consistent power-hitting corner infielders in the game for over a decade. Since 2001, he has averaged .290/.348/.515 line with 28 homers and 97 RBI per season. The only thing that knocked his power numbers below 30 home runs and 100 RBI was an injury-shortened 2009 season in which he played only 82 games.

    After spending his entire career in the National League Central, this could finally be the year that Ramirez is dealt out of the division. He does not have a no-trade clause protection that nixed deals in the past.

    Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has already indicated that any deals his club makes are likely to be toward building for the future, rather than trying to to salvage this season.

    Ramirez signed a three-year, $36 million deal that is largely back-loaded. He made just $6 million of that last season, while hitting .300 with 50 doubles, 27 homers and 105 RBI in 149 games.

    His run production is proven, but his price tag in salary alone makes him substantially more expensive than any of the other players on this list.

    He is also the only position player appearing in this list, because Atlanta is either financially committed and/or covered in every other spot outside of catcher for at least the next two seasons.

    With the Brewers already out of the race, several teams in need of a middle-of-the-order threat will be calling about Ramirez. The possible bidding war could help Milwaukee avoid paying most of the roughly $25 million remaining on his contract.

    There is a $14 million mutual option with a $4 million buyout for the 2015 season. The buyout is already factored into the $25 million obligation. That is a large sum of money for any team to take on for a season and a half from a 35-year-old player.

    It is not a stretch whatsoever to imagine both the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers to be calling Melvin. Their deep pockets could provide financial parameters that Atlanta may not be willing to offer.

    Brian McCann, Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm all come off the books following the season, but factoring in the escalating salaries of younger players through arbitration will be important in the years going forward. Not to mention, the money could be spent on extending some of those core players.

    Paying the full $25 million to Ramirez may not be an avenue the Braves are willing to go down. His short-term impact on a team that is scrapping for runs more often than it would like may be worth gamble, however.