Entering today’s action, the Braves sat in a tie for the second spot in the National League East. Had they been asked before the season, the organization would’ve been thrilled to learn that fate. But the sheen is decidedly lessened by the context: Atlanta still sits six games under .500 and is more than ten games out of a postseason spot of any kind.
Despite the placement in the standings, then, the Braves are highly likely to be in a position to sell at the trade deadline. That doesn’t mean, though, that the club will be terribly willing to consider dealing its more controllable players. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that certain veterans will be sold off for a reasonable return. And it’s still possible that Atlanta will at least look into dealing away some prospects to acquire an established starter with long-term control. With the organization determined to embark upon real contention in 2018, and to leave a good impression on fans even as the excitement of a new ballpark begins to wear off, a major tear-down isn’t likely.
Let’s take a look at some of the possible trade assets on the MLB roster:
Jaime Garcia, SP | Salary: $12MM
Garcia looks to be the class of the Atlanta rental crop. He’s through 82 2/3 innings with a 3.59 ERA, so he has been both healthy and effective. While the southpaw is producing less strikeouts (6.5 per nine) and more walks (3.4 per nine), he’s running a 56.5% groundball mate that’s an exact match for his career mark. It’s unlikely Garcia will be viewed as a mid-3.00 pitcher at the deadline, and he’s likely due for a bit of regression before that point, but he ought to hold real appeal.
Bartolo Colon, SP | Salary: $12.5MM
Colon’s pinpoint command just hasn’t been there in his age-44 season. He’s working at nearly double the average walk rate he carried over the prior five seasons and has been in the zone just 43.5% of the time (against a 52.4% career average). That is perhaps showing up in other ways, too, as Colon hasn’t allowed this frequency of long balls since he was pitching for the Angels. There’s likely also some poor fortune baked in the hefty .353 BABIP opposing hitters are carrying against Colon, as well as his meager 48.5% strand rate, but at this point he has minimal trade value after 59 innings of 7.78 ERA ball.
Brandon Phillips, 2B | Salary: $1MM (remainder of $14MM salary paid by Reds)
Phillips carries an attractive .306/.351/.431 batting line, but that’ll drift back as his .342 BABIP faded. Since he’s no longer an elite defender, Phillips just doesn’t profile as a first-division regular. That said, he’s cheap and comes with plenty of experience, so it’s easy to imagine interest — though it’s anybody’s guess whether he’d be happy playing in a bench role.
Kurt Suzuki, C | Salary: $1.5MM
The veteran receiver has been dealt twice at the deadline before (and probably should have been a third time). He’s swinging a pretty good stick for a catcher — .227/.342/.402 through 118 plate appearances — and could fill a gap for an organization that ends up thin at the position.
Jason Motte, RP | Salary: $535K (remainder of $5MM salary paid by Rockies)
As his 35th birthday approaches, Motte owns a seemingly resurgent 1.86 ERA. But even a quick glance behind the results shows that it’s likely a mirage. He is averaging less than six strikeouts per nine with 3.7 BB/9 while benefiting from a very low BABIP (.192) and 100% strand rate. It’s still imaginable another club will like how he’s throwing the ball, but the offers may not be significant enough to make it worth it for the Braves to make a move.
Controlled Through 2018
Jim Johnson, RP | Salary: $5MM in 2017; $5MM in 2018
Atlanta could have a somewhat difficult decision to make on Johnson, who is pitching quite well but might also help solidify the back of the bullpen next year. He’s generating a 9.7% swinging-strike rate — best of his career — to complement his typically excellent groundball induction efforts (56.0% groundball rate, currently). Johnson profiles as a setup man on a contending team, which could have a fair bit of value.
Nick Markakis, OF | Salary: $11MM in 2017; $11MM in 2018
The veteran keeps on posting roughly league average offensive seasons, so you generally know what you’re going to get. Currently, he’s getting on base at a nice clip (.371) but showing a total lack of power (.092 isolated slugging). Unless the Braves are willing to pay down quite a bit of money, it’s hard to see rival organizations getting too excited at that profile from an older corner outfielder.
R.A. Dickey, SP | Salary: $8MM in 2017; $8MM club option ($500K buyout) in 2018
Dickey is outperforming Colon, but that’s about where the plaudits end. He owns a 5.35 ERA through 77 1/3 innings, with his strikeout and walk rates each heading in the wrong direction. Dickey’s 7.6% swinging-strike rate is the lowest he has carried since his Cy Young campaign. All said, it’s hard to see where the interest would come from, and the Braves might hold in case a second-half turnaround makes the option appealing.
Tyler Flowers, C | Salary: $3MM in 2017; $4MM club option ($300K buyout) in 2018
After a strong offensive season in 2016, Flowers has opened the current year with a blistering .333/.435/.473 slash. There are lots of reasons to think that won’t last, but the 31-year-old doesn’t need to hit at that pace to be a significant offensive threat for a catcher. He’ll likely draw some interest, but Atlanta needs a catcher for 2018 and seems likely to hold.
Matt Adams, 1B | Salary: $2.8MM; arb-eligible in 2018
The 28-year-old has thrived since finding a second chance in Atlanta, though his overall profile as a hitter hasn’t changed much. It’s not clear there’ll be a ton of demand, though it’s also not clear what the Braves will do with Adams once Freddie Freeman returns.
Plenty of sub-.500 teams have interesting calls to make on controllable veterans, but it’s not clear that holds true for Atlanta. Freeman is hurt and wouldn’t be dealt anyway. (Neither will Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson.) Teheran is back on the downturn after a strong 2016 and is needed for the future anyway with multiple rotation spots unaccounted for past this season. Though Kemp is mashing, he has had some injury troubles and still looks like a defensive liability; plus, the Braves don’t have replacements lined up and surely like the idea of carrying him as a middle-of-the-order star heading into 2018.
And then there’s Vizcaino, who may be the most likely of this group to be traded at the deadline. He’s throwing well again, with a 1.93 ERA and 10.6 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9 through 28 frames, and the Braves control him for only two more years. There’s surely no need for Atlanta to push the flamethrower out the door, but it may be worth cashing in on a somewhat volatile asset if there’s a good enough offer on the table.