There are two weeks to the trade deadline, and the Braves haven’t decided if they’re buyers or sellers. That’s the good news. When an organization is coming off 93- and 95-loss seasons the past two years, indecision about postseason prospects in late July has to be considered progress.
Asked Tuesday if the Braves’ approach to the trade should still be about the future, manager Brian Snitker said, “I think it’s both. We need to get over .500 to be legitimately in contention, but if we can get on a run in the next couple of weeks, who knows what can happen.”
They’ve been entertaining. They’ve been spunky. Are they good enough to be a playoff team? Probably not. The Braves were seven games out in the National League wild-card race entering Tuesday, but according to the analytics site Fangraphs actually were given less of a chance (3.9 percent) than four National League teams that had worse win-loss percentages: St. Louis, Pittsburgh, New York, Miami). Likely reasons: The remaining schedule, their season run differential (minus-35) and their starting pitching.
That said, the Braves’ chances of making the playoffs should not determine their approach at the deadline.
They need starting pitching. Yesterday, today, next season, the year after, on a plane, on a boat, in a house, with a mouse. They have the green eggs and ham of pitching rotations.
They need starting pitching because despite all of the good that has occurred in this rebuild, mistakes and miscalculations over the past two-plus years, as well the ever-present uncertainty when it comes to young arms, has left major holes where it matters most on a team.
Let's imagine for a moment that the Braves don’t make a trade for a major pitcher. They again will go into the winter needing to add two starters. Hey, Bartolo Colon will be available again.
General manager John Coppolella and John Hart could wait until the winter to rebuild the staff again, but where's the advantage in that? The front-office duo believed/hoped the team could get by with the patch-and-spackle offseason that including adding Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia.
Teams that are serious about winning don’t go into the season with Colon, Dickey and Garcia comprising three-fifths of its starting rotation. Teams that are stalling do that. Sometimes stalling backfires.
It’s remarkable the Braves are in this position despite their pitching. But it's dangerous to derive too much comfort from that. A significant amount of their offense is being provided by four players -- Matt Adams, Brandon Phillips, Matt Kemp, Nick Markakis -- likely won't remain in Atlanta for the long-term. Ultimately, they'll need to do a better job limiting opponents' offense.
The problems this season stem from more than just Colon blowing up, and with Dickey and Garcia performing at expected levels. For as much as Matt Kemp has been a partial make-up call for the first Hector Olivera trade, his bat still doesn’t make up for the loss of Alex Wood. His current numbers:11-0, 1.56 ERA and 0.88 WHIP with Los Angeles. (Kemp also has fallen off in the past month and, as a reminder, makes $21.75 million per season through 2019.)
For as adamant as the front office has been about keeping its top prospects rather than dealing some in the winter for a proven starter like the Chicago White Sox’ Chris Sale, how good would Sale look right now in a Braves’ uniform? His current numbers: 11-4, 2.59, .089 WHIP with Boston). The Braves had interest in Jose Quintana, but couldn’t/wouldn’t match the Chicago Cubs’ offer. They reportedly were ready to part with Ozzie Albies, previously thought to be one of the “untouchdables,” but Albies has been passed by Ronald Acuna.
Oakland reportedly has put pitcher Sonny Gray on the trade market. Will the Braves get outbid for a starter again?
They believe in their scouting, their player development and their plan. That’s admirable, to a degree. But they had better hope their other young pitchers evolve better than Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair have to this point. They also presumably understand the reality of the situation going into 2018.
Looking ahead to next season, Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb are the most plausible starters on the current roster. Of those three, Foltynewicz is the closest to a sure thing. It can't be assumed any of the organization's top young pitching prospects -- Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, Max Fried, Touki Toussaint -- will be ready next season.
The Braves have obvious players to sell: Phillips, Adams, Garcia. But they also have obvious needs, and it would be unfortunate if the next two weeks amounts to something other than making the major league product better.
"We may have surprised some people, but I don’t think we’ve surprised ourselves," Markakis said. "We know the type of players we have."
Of the impending trade deadline, he said, "Whatever happens, we have to trust those guys (in the front office) will do the right thing for us."
Has the team given the front office something to think about?
"You’d like to think so," he said.
Help for this year's team at the deadline would be nice. But help for the future is a must.
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