Braves at the break: Another arm could push them to the top

Zack Greinke: Today a Milwaukee Brewer, tomorrow an Atlanta Brave? (AP photo)

Pitcher Zack Greinke: Today a Milwaukee Brewer, tomorrow an Atlanta Brave? (AP photo)

Something instructive just occurred: The Braves, who rank next-to-last in the National League in quality starts, ran off five in a row. That marked the first time this season that the rotation has turned over while producing only quality starts — at least six innings with three or fewer earned runs — and it came in the five games leading into the All-Star break. Not coincidentally, the Braves won four.

A team treading water began to look again like a good club. Yes, it helped that Brian McCann went on a homer-a-game jag, but in baseball everything starts, duh, with starting pitching. If the Braves pitch better after the break than they did before it, they’ll make the playoffs with room to spare.

For all that didn’t happen over a first half that even the cheerful manager Fredi Gonzalez described as “just OK,” the Braves haven’t played themselves out of anything. They’ve left the impression they coulda/shoulda done better, but what they did wasn’t awful. They’re second in the NL East, four games behind Washington. They’re also second in the wild-card standings, which means they’d qualify if the postseason commenced today.

But that doesn’t mean the Braves are a playoff lock. We learned a year ago that strange things can happen in September, and the strangest things happen when you’re strapped for pitching. That’s what befell the Braves of 2011: Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson got hurt and Derek Lowe couldn’t get anybody out and the rotation was reduced to Tim Hudson and a bunch of kids and the lockdown bullpen finally buckled under the strain.

We’ve already seen the Braves send a 2011 All-Star pitcher (Jurrjens) to the minors and lose their best pitcher (Beachy) to arm surgery. We’ve seen them grow so desperate they dispatched Kris Medlen to Gwinnett to remember how to throw more innings and signed Ben Sheets, who has been out of baseball since 2010, to a minor-league contract. But now the rotation looks as spiffy as it has all season. Time to leave well enough alone?

Nope. Because this rotation just spent three months proving it’s not good enough to sustain a top-shelf team. (Let’s also note that these five quality starts came against sub-.500 opposition.) To make the playoffs and do damage once there, the Braves will need someone who can be better than Jurrjens, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado have been. Maybe it’s Zack Greinke. Maybe it’s Ryan Dempster. From what we saw last week at Turner Field, it’s not Matt Garza.

Landing a Greinke or a Dempster will almost certainly involve trading a young arm for an older one, which isn’t usually wise, and it could yield only a short-term rental. (Both Greinke and Dempster will be free agents. Remember, however, that the Braves won’t be paying Chipper Jones or Lowe next season.) But let’s review where the Braves are: They’ve missed the playoffs five of the past six seasons; they haven’t won a playoff series since 2001, and they’re coming off an Epic Collapse.

This is a big year for everyone involved with the organization. The Braves will reach the trading deadline with a real chance of playing beyond the 162nd game, and July has become a general manager’s time to fish or cut bait. Asked last week if he felt he had work to do this month, Frank Wren said: “We all have work to do.”

It was out of character for Wren to stand pat over the winter. It’s unthinkable he would do it again. His team has two blatant needs — its middling rotation and a lousy bench that will be taxed even more with Andrelton Simmons’ broken finger. Wren needs to address both. The guess here is that, just this once, he’ll be willing to pay a high cost in young talent to do it.

We caught a glimpse of how good the Braves can be if their starting pitchers can get them to the seventh inning. Even with Jonny Venters ineffective/injured, the bullpen is still stellar, and there are enough proven hitters in this batting order to do damage. The reason the Braves haven’t been better is that they haven’t pitched well enough. If Wren can fix that, his team can take the division.

By Mark Bradley

124 comments Add your comment

Hankie Aron

July 9th, 2012
3:51 pm

First my friends

Benjamin

July 9th, 2012
3:52 pm

First. And I endorse this message.

Nick Purdy

July 9th, 2012
3:52 pm

I see Grienke happening. Delgado goes. Fair trade, even for a rental, which I usually would be against. Owe it to Chipper maybe?

Benjamin

July 9th, 2012
3:53 pm

I never liked Hankie Aron. :(

Dawg Haus

July 9th, 2012
3:56 pm

I read an opinion piece in the Washington Post that advocated the Nationals signing Greinke to a.) push their pitching over the top and b.) to thwart the Braves’ chances of catching them. Good to know ATL is on their radar, but this deal HAS to get done. Imagine how horrible it would be if the Nats end up signing him.

Wrecker

July 9th, 2012
3:56 pm

@Purdy Yeah, it might take more just to get the rental. With all the money coming off the books from Chipper and Lowe, we might get him or someone else on a sign and trade.

shorty

July 9th, 2012
4:03 pm

Start the 2nd half off right remove the ineptness from the dugout…Fire Fredi the Fail!

Mark Bradley

July 9th, 2012
4:03 pm

Kudos, Hankie. And a hanky for Benjamin over such a narrow loss.

gtt

July 9th, 2012
4:08 pm

Greinke! Not Len Barker!

Sweet Old Buck

July 9th, 2012
4:08 pm

And you already knew about Simmons when you wrote this. What’s your waiver price?

AlanFalcon

July 9th, 2012
4:10 pm

What a forecast, the team has not been consistent in any phase, look at them as a whole, if you trade, trade for next year as this one is already lost whether you know it or not.

Harpie

July 9th, 2012
4:11 pm

Ain’t gonna happen…

Nateforpresidnt

July 9th, 2012
4:11 pm

Hudson,Hanson,JJ,Sheets,Greinke = 2012 world champs.

Trade minor for help on the bench

Chris

July 9th, 2012
4:12 pm

The Nationals aren’t getting Greinke, nor are they trying to. That makes no sense for them and they just gave up a lot of young talent to get Gio. They need a CF, not another starter and they won’t make a lopsided trade just to block the Braves. That doesn’t concern me in the least. The only way the Braves trade for Greinke is if they can be assured that he will sign a long term extension here, which is very possible and would allow the Brewers to get more in return. I can see Dempster as a rental and he might be equally as good for the Braves. I would give up Delgado/Minor and 2-3 prospects for either of those guys, although if I was the Brewers I would be demanding Teheran and then go from there. I think Wren will trade one of Teheran/Delgado/Minor, but not more than that.

Kyle

July 9th, 2012
4:14 pm

You HAVE to trade for a pitcher, preferrably Greinke. An inconsistent line-up combined with a pitching staff that lacks quality starts will not equal success in the playoffs. Thats assuming they even make it. Greinke, Hanson, Hudson, Jurrjens, Minor is strong enough to get you in. Greinke, Hanson, and Hudson can win you a Series if the baseball gods look kindly on Atlanta in October and the Braves get hot a la St. Louis circa 2011.

Chris

July 9th, 2012
4:14 pm

@AlanFalcon, I’m assuming you haven’t been watching this season to think this one is lost. That makes no sense whatsoever. If Beachy and Chipper don’t get hurt, we are in first place. Still, we are right in the middle of the playoff race and with an extra top of the rotation arm and maybe a bench bat, we have the best team in the division and will win the NL East. Not a doubt about at that, just depends on what moves we make and how much they cost us.

JoeFan

July 9th, 2012
4:18 pm

The Braves have to many other holes that need attention rather than over paying for Grienke.The bench is woeful, the bullpen just average. The Braves expecially don’t need a starting pitcher that throws a temper tantrum when an ump’s call doesn’t go his way.

Dawg Haus

July 9th, 2012
4:22 pm

Chris, I don’t really see Washington going after Greinke either. It was an editorial. But just the thought of that happening made my stomach churn. The Braves will get a pitcher (maybe two- I like signing Greinke long-term and renting Dempster) to help out and I think they have enough bargaining chips to make something decent happen.

wayn-o

July 9th, 2012
4:23 pm

HAAA, “if chipper don’t get hurt” yea, right.

willieghatelibertymedia

July 9th, 2012
4:27 pm

they need to get a short stop period trade rookie pitcher for a short stop , to bad furcal didnt resign a gew years ago look the seattle mariners get king felix and there ss for delgado , padtornicky,and 2 more minor leagers and atlanta is in ws as long as chipper is healthy.

Hillbilly D

July 9th, 2012
4:29 pm

Greinke is a better pitcher in Milwaukee, than anywhere else, if you check his home/road splits for the last couple of years. Just something to keep in mind.

I would think the Braves would either go for Greinke or Dempster. Garza would cost them and that’s not Frank Wren’s style.

bvillebaron

July 9th, 2012
4:38 pm

No problem trading one of the heretofore “untouchable” pitching prospects, Pastornicky and a lesser prospect for Greinke IF and ONLY IF you can sign him this year to an extension. He only turns 29 this winter and, if signed to a new contract, could anchor a rotation for at least the next 5 years. If you can’t sign him to an extension, then I say, don’t bother and see if you can sign him this offseason. No more Texerita deals where you give up promising propsects for a rental who leaves and you get nothing or next to nothing in return.

I would NOT make the same deal for Dempster for several reasons. First and most importantly he is older. Second he has alwasy been a good pitcher, but has never been the ace of any staff. Third, he has pitched over his head the first half of this year. Fourth, he has already been on the DL this year and the last thing this rotation needs is another injury to the starting staff.

I also say no to guys like Garza, Millwood, Vargas, etc. Much better to keep this kids and simply deal with their growing pains.

Just my 2 cents.

jfreak13713

July 9th, 2012
4:47 pm

If we can get and KEEP Greinke I’d say make the move with a young arm because Greinke is still young and a proven ace. However, I’d say no on Dempster as he is really a number 2 at best and really a number 3 on the good teams. The Braves certainly need bench help and I suspect that will be their priority. Besides, why give up all your good arms when you can sign Greinke as a free agent after the season for nothing more than a pay check? If Greinke commits to long term deal I’d give the Brewers their pick of any guy on our staff but outside of that I’d wait.

Peter R.

July 9th, 2012
4:48 pm

I don’t think Matt Garza will help us at all. Now we have a glaring need at SS again… The Braves are really hamstrung this season: Chipper is making too money and Lowe’s 10 million has really been the difference. There’s always next year. Might as well avoid making another fiasco trade like the one for Teixeira. The Braves ownership should also get a clue; competing in MLB nowadays typically takes a minimum payroll of 100 million.

Herschel Talker

July 9th, 2012
4:59 pm

MB:

A manager with brain cells could push them to the top.

FIRE FREDI THE FOOL!!!

HT

GT Alum

July 9th, 2012
5:00 pm

Bville -

My feelings exactly. People seem to be forgetting that was the last time we traded for a player to put us over the top. He didn’t put us over the top, and we’d be a stronger team today and over the past few years if we hadn’t thrown all those players at Texas. There’s no guarantee a rental will be the difference maker, so don’t overpay for one.

Brian B

July 9th, 2012
5:03 pm

Deal Minor and another prospect for Greinke … while Minor was more “major-league ready” than some other prospects when drafted out of Vanderbilt, the Braves always thought Delgado, Teheran and Vizcaino had much more upside. Privately, the Braves will tell you that Minor has just about achieved what they think he can. He has AAAA written all over him. I’m prepared to be proven wrong, but I don’t think I am ….

JSS

July 9th, 2012
5:07 pm

That team in DC is like the 91 Braves, tip your hat to them! Come on October 3rd!!!

J-MAN

July 9th, 2012
5:13 pm

I think Hinske and Diaz are no longer effective. We could fix this by trading or releasing them and placing Constanza and Meja to take their spots also we need a utility guy like Omar infante was for us. Now I think we should go after Grienke or Hamels and we need another bullpen arm and my suggestion is Jonathan Broxton.

City of Losers

July 9th, 2012
5:13 pm

The only move to make is by getting a Top Level starter. A Greinke doesn’t give this city a chance for a ring. If we make a move for pitching, it needs to be a guy who starts a Game 1 or Game 2 of a playoff series.

Brian B

July 9th, 2012
5:15 pm

Deal for Greinke … find a right handed bat to come off the bench … plug Pastornicky in at short and hope for the best the next few weeks … hope Venters grabs each ear and pulls his head out … hope everyone stays healthy down the stretch … lot of hope involved, but stranger things have happened.

jerry

July 9th, 2012
5:16 pm

Just make it interesting until football season and I will consider it a successful season.

Brian B

July 9th, 2012
5:18 pm

You don’t have to go out and get an ace, you just have to make it to October. The Cards were nowhere close to the best team in baseball, but they snuck into the playoffs and got hot. You don’t have to be the best over 162 games, you just have to be the hottest for 3-4 weeks in October.

Skeezix

July 9th, 2012
5:19 pm

I agree we need to beef up the pitching and Garza is not the answer. I’m okay with Greinke or Dempster (if FW doing give away the store). Greinke, with his personal issues, may be more of a management challenge for Fredi/Roger, but he no doubt has the talent.
….I read recently that the Phillies might be shopping Hamels.

Skeezix

July 9th, 2012
5:20 pm

correction—…’doesn’t give away the store’

Snake Doc

July 9th, 2012
5:28 pm

Wait, I thought the guy they just signed and sent to Double AA for a couple of starts was the answer to their prayers. Now they need another pitcher even though this team of born again losers can’t hit good pitching?????? Makes no sense to me.

splendid splinter

July 9th, 2012
5:31 pm

MB – One of the best articles and analysis you’ve done lately. In a nut shell – Braves are good but not great – but they could get hot if they make a couple of good trades. I like it and think you hit the nail on the head.

Someone mentioned trading for Hamels. That would be awesome. I had heard earlier he might be on the trading block. He would be worth a couple of good prospects and could power the Braves to the WS.

Chuck70

July 9th, 2012
5:32 pm

@Peter R., You are crazy if you say chipper is making too much money. He should be one of, if not the highest paid player on the team. He is a 20 year veteran, future hall of famer, still one of the best 3rd basemen in the league, and not to mention hes making a fraction of what other players of his caliber make around the league. And I completely agree with you that the brves need to open up to spending more, but frankly part of the reason they dont is because of people like you that do nothing but gripe when they’re giving money to someone that clearly deserves it.
#StraightUpBS

GT Alum

July 9th, 2012
5:32 pm

Plus, in JJ’s 4 starts since coming back, he’s pitched over 25 innings and only given up 6 earned runs. That’s an ERA just over 2. Since a terrible April, Delgado has shown improvement and been a solid fifth starter. Minor’s the weak link that is dragging us down. We’ve still got a little time before the trading deadline to determine if Sheets can fill that spot. The problem is if someone else goes down or is ineffective, we’re looking at Minor/Medlen/Teheran or a waiver deal.

IlliniBrave

July 9th, 2012
5:35 pm

I’m enthusiastic about the idea of getting a quality arm for some top-shelf prospect or two.

But I am absolutely opposed to making any kind of deal for a six-week SS that would involve giving up anybody not named Wilson, Francisco, Hinske,or Diaz. I.e., no deal at all.

The farm system is already thin, and we don’t need to get rid of a prospect for a guy who we really only need for a month or so after the AS break.

Pj

July 9th, 2012
5:37 pm

With the Nats prepared to shut down Strasburg in August, the Braves have the perfect chance to catch and lap Washington.

splendid splinter

July 9th, 2012
5:41 pm

@Chuck70 – Peter R may or may not be a dolt, but I don’t think what Chipper makes has anything to do with what Peter says or thinks :-) I don’t mean to be critical – I’m just saying….

IlliniBrave

July 9th, 2012
5:50 pm

Pj: Given how well the Nats are doing and how well Strasburg is pitching, it wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t truly shut him down – but instead just limit his starts to 5-6 innings. The opportunity to win now, along with pressure from the media and baseball experts, will convince them to take the risk. Strasburg will want to keep pitching too.

PLEASE SHUT UP

July 9th, 2012
5:58 pm

“Another arm could push them to the top”

How many times have predictions NOT come true? About 98% of the time.

Plate Appearance

July 9th, 2012
6:13 pm

NO MORTGAGE

Frank, don’t mortgage the future for a short term fix.

Don’t put the Braves on the short side of a Smoltz for Alexander type of trade, which would occur with Dempster.

Consider where the Braves might be today if they had not traded four quality prospects for Tex — two of which will be in this year’s all star game.

Don’t trade for someone who’s going to bolt for other pastures in a few months, who has no certainty of being signed long term, as with Grienke.

Don’t make this same mistake again — especially with Fredi yet “functioning” as the manager.

Think long term! Not short term!

Replacing Fredi would give the team a well needed boost without expending any prospects.

Go in this direction Frank!

Please, do go in this direction!

No more mortgages!

Hillbilly D

July 9th, 2012
6:17 pm

Illini Brave

I agree. If they are in a close race, I just don’t see the Nats shutting down Strasburg. And what if they make the playoffs, which looks like a good bet? Is he going to be shutdown through October, too? I’ll have to see that to believe it.

Hillbilly D

July 9th, 2012
6:18 pm

The Smoltz for Doyle Alexander trade was actually a good trade for both teams. Detroit needed someone to get them over the hump and the Braves needed a young pitcher with upside. Both teams got what they needed.

DaveinNEPA

July 9th, 2012
6:30 pm

Find a defensive SS on the waiver wire and call it a day with the trades.

This team is too inconsistent in too many areas to be giving up talented young players hoping to sneak into the playoffs.

IMO the only other things Wren needs to do between now and the end of the season are resign or extend Michael Bourn and cut ties with Fredi G. and Roger McD.

ChopChamps95

July 9th, 2012
6:30 pm

“Consider where the Braves might be today if they had not traded four quality prospects for Tex — two of which will be in this year’s all star game.”

At the time it may have been 4, but now its 3. I wouldn’t put Salty in that category anymore. Beau Jones (I think that was his last name) will be a career minor leaguer and Salty will end up being a journeyman. When Lavarnway is ready to assume the everyday role at catcher in Boston, he will personally show Salty to the door.

bfred

July 9th, 2012
6:34 pm

From what I’ve heard Strasberg would likely be shut down shy of 160 innings, then ramped back up for the post-season. If the Nats make the playoffs he will be in the rotation for sure.

I think everyone’s in agreement we can afford to deal some young arms if and only if Grienke (really the only one I really like) agrees to a long-term deal. He’s proven and he’s relatively young; that’s a nice combination.