When Brian McCann strained an oblique muscle in his left side Tuesday, Braves general manager Frank Wren did not hurriedly call New York and cave to the Mets’ demand for a top pitching prospect in a trade for Carlos Beltran.
Some Braves fans probably wished he would have.
With the Sunday non-waiver trade deadline approaching, folks are getting anxious about the Braves, whose already inconsistent offense was dealt a big blow with the injury to McCann during Tuesday’s 19-inning marathon win against Pittsburgh.
The All-Star catcher strained his side making a throw to second base in the 10th inning and was placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday.
Veteran backup David Ross will serve as primary catcher until McCann returns and journeyman J.C. Boscan was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett to serve as backup.
“It’s very frustrating,” said McCann, who hopes to return after 15 days. “The timing of it — it’s the second, maybe third time I’ve been on the DL — I pride myself on getting out there every day. It’s frustrating, but I need to get this thing healed so it doesn’t turn into something a lot longer.”
Center fielder Jordan Schafer, the team’s leadoff hitter, also landed on the DL Wednesday for lingering soreness in his left middle finger, from the chip fracture he sustained last week when he jammed his hand into second base on a head-first slide at Colorado.
Outfielder Wilkin Ramirez was recalled from Gwinnett and in the lineup Wednesday in place of right fielder Jason Heyward, who was hitting .167 against left-handers. Pirates lefty Paul Maholm started Wednesday.
With their best hitter (McCann) and only serious stolen-base threat (Schafer) on the DL, and Chipper Jones having just returned from arthroscopic knee surgery and now nursing a sore quadriceps that limited him to pinch-hitter for the past two games, conventional wisdom said the Braves would feel a bit more of a sense of urgency to make a trade for offense.
Braves general manager Frank Wren said on Wednesday that was not the case.
“We feel the same today about the deadline and our needs as we did yesterday before the injuries,” he replied in a text message
Manager Fredi Gonzalez was asked if the Braves would be “forced” to make a trade.
“We were looking at it, trying to improve the team before Mac got hurt,” Gonzalez said. “Obviously [the need] changes a little bit. But I think that we were going to try to improve the club no matter what. If Mac hadn’t gotten hurt, I think we were in position to improve the club somehow.”
He laughed and added, “The asking price got a little higher, right? Some of the other clubs – ‘ah, yeah, you need something really bad now, right?’”
The Braves were involved in the pursuit of Beltran, but the Mets worked a trade with San Francisco on Wednesday. The Giants would give up a top pitching prospect in the proposed deal.
Cardinals center fielder Colby Rasmus was traded to Toronto on Wednesday, but it was unclear if the Braves had much interest in him anyway.
There were plenty of other outfielders available or potentially available for trade, and the Braves are known to have interest in Houston’s Hunter Pence, arguably the best in that group. Others that Braves officials are believed to be discussing include outfielders Ryan Ludwick (Padres), Michael Bourn (Astros) and Marlon Byrd (Cubs), and possibly B.J. Upton (Rays).
Bourn is a left-handed batter and the Braves prefer adding a righty, but his speed and all-around ability have at least been discussed by the Braves.
The Astros have made known their reluctance to trade the affable All-Star Pence, but a package of young talent including at least one top pitching prospect might get their attention. The Braves have plenty of pitching prospects, but so far have declined to include any of their big four – Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, Randall Delgado, left-hander Mike Minor – in any trade offers.
Teheran and Vizcaino are considered untouchable, and the Braves don’t want to trade either of the others for a three-month rental player. They wouldn’t have to in order to land one of the lesser players on their list, including a Ludwick or Byrd.
To get a better player under contractual control beyond 2011, such as Pence, it’s possible the Braves would consider a package that includes a pitching prospect not named Teheran or Vizcaino.
Meanwhile, McCann said he wished he could get a do-over and not make the awkward throw he made attempting to throw out a base-stealer.
“I hate not being on the field. There’s not a worse feeling,” he said. “Hopefully Chipper comes back in the next couple of days and we get full strength going into September … We’ve got the best backup catcher in baseball. We’re not going to miss a beat. It’s why he’s so valuable to this team.”
The Braves acquired veteran catcher Wil Nieves from the Brewers organization in a minor trade for cash considerations. Nieves will share catching duties at Gwinnett with Wilkin Castillo.