Today’s topic isn’t exactly new: The Braves vis-à-vis trades. Today, however, we offer a different slant from those expressed in previous installments. (Which we summarize thusly: This team needs help to make the playoffs.)
Today we ask: What if the Braves’ moves before Tuesday’s deadline began and ended with the importing of Jonny Venters, lefty reliever? What happens then?
Obvious answer: They probably don’t play beyond Sept. 30, although that’s not a certainty. These Phillies haven’t been in a pennant race. (Neither have most of these Braves.) The Nationals’ long-awaited surge might never happen. As of Saturday afternoon, the Diamondbacks led the Braves by a half-game for the second wild card. As constituted, the local club might have just enough.
It also might not. It might well miss the playoffs. Given the giddy way this up-from-oblivion season began, that would be a disappointment. I don’t know that it would be a failure.
The Braves won 72 games in 2017, 68 the year before and 67 the year before that. They weren’t trying to win then, and they approached this season in half-trying mode. The only major transaction made by Alex Anthopoulos, hired in November to replace the jettisoned John Coppolella as general manager, was at heart a salary dump. Unless you count the Jose Bautista experiment – and now Venters, re-acquired for a signing slot – there has been little movement since spring training.
This isn’t to suggest that Anthopoulos is sitting on his hands. There’s no reason to believe he hasn’t kicked every kickable tire. He knows he’s under pressure, unspoken but not unfelt, to give his team a chance to turn a get-well season into something more. But he’s also under contract for three years beyond this, and any significant move made this July would involve a heapin’ helpin’ of risk.
Many of the bigger names who figured to be available this month have been claimed – starters Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ and Nathan Eovaldi; relievers Kelvin Herrera, Brad Hand, Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia and Joakim Soria; infielders Asdrubal Cabrera and Mike Moustakas and, biggest of all, Manny Machado. With the possible exception of Chris Archer, who’ll turn 30 in September and who hasn’t had a big season since 2015, there’s only one guy who would turn these Braves into something approaching a postseason lock.
That guy is Jacob deGrom. He leads the majors in ERA. The Mets are 43-58, this after starting 11-0. As is the case with every seller, they’re looking for prospects. They just sent Cabrera to the Phillies for a Double-A pitcher. And a team getting deGrom wouldn’t be getting a rental: He’s under club control through 2020.
Over the fullness of the Braves’ rebuild, we’ve wondered if there’s a No. 1 starter among these many young arms. With deGrom, they would have their No. 1 – but at what price? Last month Jim Duquette of MLB.com speculated that the Mets would consider a package of Mike Soroka, Luiz Gohara, Max Fried and Austin Riley. That’s four of the Braves’ top eight prospects. (Note that Soroka is now on the disabled list.)
But I’d be shocked if the Braves offered that or anything close, and here’s why: deGrom is 30. It took him a while to become – apologies in advance – the deGrominator. If you export four top-10 prospects, you’re forfeiting what could be 25 years of club control for what two years and three months of someone who works only every fifth day, and then there’s the eternal question: What if your great pitcher awakes one morning with a twinge in his elbow?
A deGrom trade would be the Braves’ biggest deadline splash since 1993, although Fred McGriff’s famous debut was greeted not by water but by a fire in the press box. It could enable the Braves to overhaul the Phillies and win the National League East. Over the long haul, it also could be a mistake. Don’t forget that the Tigers got what they wanted from Doyle Alexander in 1987; he went 9-0 and they won their division by two games. But they sacrificed a future Hall of Famer, name of Smoltz, for that one October.
“I don’t envy our front office,” Freddie Freeman said Saturday. “Those guys have only been here eight months, and they’re still evaluating us. We’ve made them ask the questions (about being deadline buyers), which is I’m sure is what they wanted from us. It beats the questions (about selling) we were getting the last three seasons.”
Will Freeman be disappointed if there’s no shock-the-world deal by Tuesday? “I will not. I like our team. We haven’t been playing well, but this is still the team that started hot and was in first place for a long time. I truly believe we can still make the playoffs.”
They could. They’re right there. I fear, however, that the injuries within this rotation have started to show, and without a deGrom there might not be a solution. That’s this year, though. Next year, and the next and the next, are the reason the Braves can’t go all-in now. This isn’t a team of advanced years trying to bleed out one last postseason. This is a young club that will have more chances. This could be one of those deadlines when discretion is the better part of valor.
The esteemed Joe Sheehan wrote in his newsletter Friday that he expects the Braves to miss the playoffs by just a bit. He also wrote: “I’m already pretty sure, however, they’re my pick to win the division in 2019.”
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