What we learned about the Braves from their moves — and non-moves — before Monday’s trade deadline:
1. They’re now willing to spend to bolster their big-league product. Their biggest free agent signing of the past offseason was $3 million to re-up A.J. Pierzynski. In trading for Matt Kemp, the Braves added $25.5 million to the $28.5 million they were obliged to pay Hector Olivera. But they couldn’t in good conscience ask fans to pay more for seats at SunTrust Park without putting a semi-competitive team out there. They needed to start spending again.
2. Their next big outlay will be to buy a catcher over the winter. Matt Wieters and Wilson Ramos are scheduled to become free agents. They could also try harder to pry Brian McCann from the Yankees, but the reason their pre-deadline interest was tepid won’t change. Trading for him would involve shedding prospects. Note that in neither of last week’s deals — they also sent two journeymen pitchers to Texas for Travis Demeritte — did they dispatch a prospect. There’ll come a time to use some of their minor-leaguers as trade lures, but the Braves aren’t there yet. Next year, maybe.
3. The abject lack of power has gotten under their skin. In a season without a high point, the nadir might have come when the Braves were swept over four games by sub-.500 Colorado the week before last. They were outscored 26-12 and out-homered 9-1 in Coors Field, where both teams are supposed to hit. They’re again last in the majors in homers, again on pace to muster 100 for the season. (They hit 181 in 2013.) The only thing Kemp does well anymore is hit home runs; the best thing Demeritte does is … well, guess.
4. They weren’t thrilled with an all-lefty no-pop outfield. That’s what they had with Mallex Smith, Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis. (Combined homer total of nine. Aren’t outfielders supposed to hit home runs?) Kemp is a righty who hits homers. It would be no great shock if Inciarte and/or Markakis is the first Brave to go over the offseason, not that either will fetch a massive return. The Braves might have to pay some of Markakis’ salary — he’s due $11 million in both 2017 and 2018 — and the market for a pure glove man is always soft. Of the two, they’d probably prefer to keep Inciarte, who’s seven years younger and $10 million cheaper.
5. That they wound up doing nothing in the final 44 hours before the deadline didn’t mean they didn’t try. Say what you will about this front office, but lack of trying isn’t the issue. General manager John Coppolella has more ideas before breakfast than normal folks do in a month. I’m reasonably certain the genesis for the Kemp/Olivera trade was him running the numbers — he has a degree in economics — and showing team president John Hart how, for $8.5 million a year, the Braves could rid themselves of an embarrassment plus add a right-handed power hitter.
6. Also give them this: They didn’t get stubborn where Olivera was concerned. Getting him for Alex Wood, Jose Peraza et alia was this regime’s reach-iest move, and sometimes organizations are reluctant to concede that a reach has exceeded its grasp. Even after Olivera’s suspension for domestic violence, they could have Kept Running Him Out There in the dwindling hope he might amount to something. They dumped him before the suspension lapsed. They cut their losses and moved on — and landed Kemp to boot.
7. Having assembled what’s regarded as the No. 1 farm system, they’re not quite so desperate to stock it. In July/August of last year, they shed Wood, Peraza, Luis Avilan, Juan Uribe, Bronson Arroyo, Jonny Gomes and three guys named Johnson. This July they offloaded only two players from their big-league roster, neither of whom was a Brave 2 1/2 months ago. This is surely a sign that they believe Phase 1 of their rebuild — the dump-and-acquire stage — is nearing its end. Hart called the Kemp trade as the first move in assembling the 2017 Braves. There will be more soon.
8. Oh, and remember when Coppolella said he wasn’t trading Julio Teheran? He told the truth.
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