The Braves are trying to trade for upgrades in what has been a shaky bullpen, reports David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via Twitter), but the team is reluctant to part with young talent or pay significant money in order to make it happen.
Clearly, that hesitance will make it rather difficult to procure a meaningful upgrade by way of trade. The Braves’ farm system has improved rapidly over the past eight months thanks in large part to a strong offseason rebuilding effort from new president of baseball operations John Hart. It’s logical that Hart, having only recently collected so much minor league talent, would be loath to part with meaningful future assets when his goal has seemingly been to build a sustainable core for the future as opposed to putting an immediate contender on the field.
Nevertheless, the Braves are just one game under .500 after today’s loss to the Diamondbacks — a loss, mind you, that was incurred when the bullpen failed to protect a two-run lead over the game’s final three innings. With a collective bullpen ERA of 4.71 (worst in the Majors), it’s easy to make the argument that with a more effective relief corps, the Braves could be vying for a share of the NL East division lead. They are, after all, just three games out of first despite having traded Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Craig Kimbrel and David Carpenter this offseason.
Carpenter, for what it’s worth, was designated for assignment by the Yankees just today, making him a plausible target for the Braves to re-acquire if they feel a reunion with pitching coach Roger McDowell can sort out the troubles that he incurred in New York. Carpenter yielded 10 earned runs in 18 2/3 innings with the Yankees and saw his strong K/9 rate nearly halved while his walk rate went in the other direction. He did maintain his velocity, however, and he’s earning a reasonable $1.275MM salary, of which about $864K remains. Relievers Sergio Santos and David Huff are also in DFA limbo, though neither has had any sort of consistent track record in recent years.
If the Braves are simply looking for fresh arms, they could also consider exploring a group of pitchers that have recently opted out of their contracts. Juan Gutierrez, Robert Coello and Dana Eveland all come with varying degrees of MLB experience (Gutierrez and Eveland have significantly more than Coello), and veteran David Aardsma may or may not opt out of his Dodgers contract once the team’s 72-hour window to add him to the 25-man roster expires tomorrow.
Beyond these names, it is admittedly difficult to conjure up realistic possibilities given O’Brien’s stated restrictions. While the Phillies and Brewers are a pair of very likely sellers this summer, the obvious trade candidates on each club — Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Broxton — all come with considerable financial commitments. Despite the fact that it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which the team can successfully upgrade the bullpen while parting with little value, it’s telling that the team is even thinking in terms of adding assets. Entering the season, most pundits (myself included) pegged the Braves as an eventual seller, but for the time being, that doesn’t seem to be the direction in which they’re headed.