Look on the bright side. If you have to put your catcher and your center fielder on the disabled list, better to do it four days before the trading deadline than four days after. Right?
“You didn’t give me the alternative of not putting anybody on the disabled list,” Fredi Gonzalez said, speaking before his Braves played the second leg of their odd Wednesday doubleheader. (The first part ended at 1:50 a.m.) But the DL has become to the Braves as the Downtown Connector is to the Georgia DOT — a place of high occupancy and much consternation.
Among other developments over the course of 19 innings Tuesday-into-Wednesday, the Braves lost their best player. Brian McCann went on the DL with what we like to call Braves Syndrome — a tweaked oblique. Jordan Schafer, who got plunked in the left forearm in the 11th inning, was disabled with a broken left index finger. (”Needs to take the target off his left arm,” Gonzalez said.)
Complicating matters, Chipper Jones remained unavailable to do more than pinch-hit Wednesday night, and Jason Heyward, who was hitting .222, didn’t start because the Pirates were deploying left-hander Paul Maholm. This was the Braves’ starting outfield: Martin Prado, who’d gone 0-for-9 over the 19 innings; Nate McLouth, who was hitting the McLouthian .228, and Wilkin Ramirez, just up from Gwinnett. Batting cleanup for your Atlanta Braves: Dan Uggla, just now nuzzling up to .200.
The belief before those 19 innings was that general manager Frank Wren would make some manner of major trade ahead of the deadline. That belief is now a raging conviction. But doesn’t the knowledge that the Braves are without McCann complicate matters?
“Obviously it changes things a little bit,” Gonzalez said. “I think we were going to try to improve our club no matter what — even if Mac hadn’t gotten hurt. Now maybe the asking price just got a little higher.”
Did it? Said Wren: “It’s not as if he’s out for the year. If that was the case, things might be different. But for what we’re trying to do, the dynamics haven’t changed.”
A day that began with plate umpire Jerry Meals making a lousy call that became the buzz of the sports world remained frazzled throughout. (The Braves would win Wednesday night in a scant 10 innings, amassing two runs on 14 hits.) Colby Rasmus, identified by some as a person of interest to the Braves, was shipped to Toronto by St. Louis. Various reports held that Carlos Beltran, seen as the biggest of available names, was headed to the Giants, who might again play here in the Division Series.
It had been reported by Buster Olney of ESPN that the Braves removed themselves from the Beltran bidding by refusing to part with any of their four top pitching prospects — Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado. Was that indeed the case?
Said Wren: “We’re not going to trade those guys for a short-term fix. That really doesn’t make sense. Those are premium-type prospects.”
Such a hard line makes sense — in theory. Beltran will become a free agent at season’s end and is represented by the dreaded Scott Boras. If the Braves are going to deal a Minor or a Delgado (or both), in a perfect world it would be for a guy like Houston’s Hunter Pence, who fills a need, makes reasonable money and is under contract through 2013. That said …
When you look on this lineup, you see, shall we say, imperfection. The scary part is that Uggla has hit in 18 consecutive games and raised his average, at least for a couple of innings, above the Mendoza Line, and still the Braves are hitting under .240. And that was with McCann having an MVP-type season. What happens these next few weeks?
“We’d like to improve our team,” Wren said, and the proper adjustments could make this club, which is on pace to win 93 games, a world champion. But those adjustments could come at a hefty price. As much as baseball are loath to part with young pitching, sometimes it’s the only way.
We’ll know soon enough if this GM is willing to ante up. The guess here: He’s willing, and he will.
By Mark Bradley