(UPDATED: 11 p.m.)
Unless there is a sudden change in wind direction, don’t expect much. Major trades happen when a team is willing to give up a significant part of its present or its future, and as of now the Braves seem to be predisposed to doing neither.
They didn’t get Carlos Beltran from New York because they wouldn’t part with Mike Minor. To get Hunter Pence from Houston or Carlos Quentin from the Chicago White Sox, neither of whom are impending unrestricted free agents, would take more than one young arm. Also, to get somebody Philadelphia really wants might mean showing a willingness to spend more money than the Phillies.
This doesn’t mean general manager Frank Wren won’t make some move. (Maybe Josh Willingham will be this year’s version of Ryan Church. You can never have enough former Nationals). It doesn’t even mean that the Braves, as currently constructed, aren’t capable of making the playoffs, or winning the division, or going to the World Series, or winning it all.
But can you be comfortable right now?
The Braves lost to Pittsburgh on Thursday night 5-2. In the last six games, they have scored 2, 3, 1, 4, 2 and 2 runs — and the 4 came in 19 innings. Record in that span: 2-4.
This won’t cut it in a pennant chase.
Wren would be playing a dangerous game if he doesn’t make a major move. The Braves aren’t healthy. They may not get healthy. Even Chipper Jones used the word “erode” when describing the decline of his own aging body the other day, adding, “For some reason, I can’t keep my leg muscles together.”
Wren wants to win. He certainly has done a nice job reshaping this roster the last couple of years (we attribute Kenshin Kawakami to temporary insanity). But without a significant acquisition, he would be banking on hitting a parlay. It goes like this:
♦ First bet: Nearly every injured Brave of significance gets healthy or can play at a high level with his existing injuries. That includes Jones (quadriceps, for now), Brian McCann (oblique) and Jordan Schafer (finger). It also assumes that Dan Uggla (who appears to have turned things around ) and Jason Heyward will be solid contributors in the next two months. Those are five assumptions.
♦ Second bet: Because sheer logic suggests that not everything will go right, the Braves will need to somehow recapture the chemistry and magic that enabled them to manufacture runs, wins games and endure injuries and obstacles down the stretch last year. And that has not always been evident this season.
When asked if he believed his team needed some help, manager Fredi Gonzalez chose his words carefully: “I think we can improve the ballclub, yes. I think if you ask 30 managers that, they’re all gonna say, yes. … If there’s a player out there who we’re able to acquire and he makes us better, I think we’ll do it.”
Is he more inclined to bang on Wren’s door after injuries like those to McCann and Jones?
“I think Frank’s watching the game,” Gonzalez said, smiling.
The Braves were a resilient bunch last season. They went through a blur of lineups and batting orders, survived a long string of injuries, made the playoffs as a wild card and ultimately lost three of four one-run games to San Francisco, the team that went on to win the World Series. A series of unlikely occurrences led to wins, with their final win of 2010 topping them all: Rick Ankiel (.210) homering in the 11th inning for a 5-4 playoff win over the Giants, making a winner of maligned reliever Kyle Farnsworth.
Ankiel and Farnsworth — there’s an unlikely exacta of heroes.
Much of the 2010 team remains in place, but chemistry isn’t an easy thing to recreate. The Braves need something more tangible — another bat.
Back in spring training, Gonzalez said: “It makes it fun to come to the ballpark when you’ve got good chemistry. When they take care of their own problems, it makes it easy.”
But it won’t be easy for the Braves to overcome their problems without some help.
By Jeff Schultz