Braves shouldn’t sacrifice top prospects in trades

The Braves needed bullpen help and lefty Jonny Venters will provide it. The team got better by acquiring Venters in trade Friday while surrendering zero big leaguers or prospects. That’s good.

It’s not nearly enough to give the Braves an edge in the NL East race, which the Phillies led by 2-1/2 games over them to begin the weekend. It’s possible no major Braves trades will happen before Tuesday’s deadline as general manager Alex Anthopoulos protects the budding talent in the minor leagues.

“We’ve got a farm system, and there are probably some guys we aren’t going to trade,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We are not going to give three of our better prospects away for one guy.”

And Anthopoulos shouldn’t do that -- at least not for the older players on short-term deals who seem to be flooding the trade market. The Braves have been a nice surprise this season in part because the prospects they’ve acquired have blossomed. There are more on the way, and they shouldn’t be sacrificed for short-term help.

Easy for me to say. Harder to take for those Braves backers who finally see a division title in sight after four consecutive losing seasons. They might tune out if the Braves make no big trades and fade over the final two months. I wouldn’t blame them.

But I'm guessing those folks would be back if that prospect pipeline keeps flowing. After all, attendance and television ratings are up this year. I'm guessing a substantial portion of that audience lost interest in the Braves when they were bad, and came back once they were good.

The Braves realistically can be even better next season and beyond. And it’s possible the Braves, as presently constructed, are good enough to win the division.

Before Friday’s games, FanGraphs projected the Braves would finish 84-78 behind the Phillies (87-75) and Nationals (85-77). had a different order: Phillies (89-73), Braves (86-76) and Nationals (84-78).  The Braves still could end up being the best of a middling lot.

The Mets and Marlins are bad and will stay that way. The Phillies just added Asdrubal Cabera, who can hit a bit but is a defensive liability and often injured. Meanwhile, the Nationals might be on the verge of giving up.

They are facing “growing internal pressure to sell,” according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, and might need to win three of four in Miami this weekend to avoid it. (Washington beat Miami in the series opener Thursday). Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports echoed that report.

If the Nationals sell at the deadline and the Phillies do nothing more than add Cabrera, the Braves can make a run in the East with the status quo. The Braves have a good lineup and they play good defense. Their starting pitching is shaky, but that will be hard to fix without forfeiting good prospects for temporary help.

If that can’t happen, then the Braves should keep grinding with the group they have. The Braves will play the Marlins and Mets a combined 18 more times this season. They draw the Phillies seven times over the final 10 days of the season.

The Braves went from 3-1/2 games up in the East to 2-1/2 down over 17 games in July, but there’s still time for them to pull it together.

“Let’s get back to playing up to our potential and what we are capable of,” Snitker said. “At any given day that could start to happen.”

At the very least Snitker now can call on Venters, who comes with a good personal story. He came back from elbow surgery to become a good pitcher for the Braves from 2010-12. Three more elbow surgeries kept Venters out of baseball for the next four seasons, and out of the majors until he joined the Rays on April 25.

Venters had been effective for the Rays, who used him as a situational lefty (just 14 innings over 22 appearances). Snitker said Venters is in line for more work with the Braves.

“A guy who can get ground balls, swings and misses from the left side, has good stuff,” Anthopoulos said. “Give him a shot.”

The Braves need more than Venters to have a clear advantage in the East. But they shouldn’t pony up any of their good prospects to get it.