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Colby Wilson’s Braves Report: Dreary Deadline

[1]I wanted to wait a day for the conclusion of a trade deadline that figured to be pretty quiet on the Braves end.

Frank Wren can usually be counted on to do something kooky, but between salary constraints and no true long-term needs, getting into a bidding war for David Price or John Lackey or over-paying to rent Jon Lester for two months seemed more pipe dream than plan.

The market for the trade deadline seems to take shape differently every year. Bud Norris was the top prize last year – Bud Norris! And it took two prospects and a competitive balance pick for the Orioles to snag him!

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran (49) throws in the 2nd inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.  (Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports) [2]

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran (49) throws in the 2nd inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. (Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)

Contrast that with 2011, when the Giants got a tail-end-of-his-prime Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler, the Braves got two years of Michael Bourn from Houston for Jordan Schafer and a pile of crap and Ubaldo Jimenez, then considered an ace (ask your parents; 2011 was a weird year, man) was dealt to Cleveland for three career minor leaguers and Drew Pomeranz, who made 30 starts in three years with the Rockies before being dealt to Oakland.

Clearly, pitching ruled the day this year; once the A’s grabbed Jeff Samardzija, every contender went Caligula-crazy grabbing pitching.

All of a sudden, 35-year-old John Lackey [3] is worth a potential All-Star on the right side of 30 (Allen Craig) and a high-upside hurler (Joe Kelly) whose best years are still ahead of him and who started Game Three of the World Series less than a year ago?

Renting Jon Lester [4] means sacrificing Yoenis Cespedes?

The Orioles gave up their third-best prospect for Andrew Miller, for heaven’s sake. And then the Tigers rolled in and gave up a guy struggling to move from reliever to starter (Drew Smyly), a perfectly average outfielder (Austin Jackson) and a prospect who may or may not ever amount to anything for David Price [5].

Were the Rays dumping on Price for guys they thought they could reasonably re-sign? Did Mozeliak over-play his hand to get Craig out of town and make Oscar Tavares a mainstay in the lineup? Did Ruben Amaro [6] leave his cellphone at home and was just too embarrassed to tell anyone?

But this is supposed to be about the Braves, and Frank Wren looked around, saw what his contemporaries were doing and said, “Nah, I’m good.” Billy Beane and Dave Dombrowsky said screw it, win the World Series or die trying. John Mozeliak pulled a poor man’s version of Beane’s stunt, hoping his offense will be able to form enough to cohesion to make up for the (comparable) dearth of rotational prowess.

With Mike Minor struggling mightily, Aaron Harang on pace for his heaviest workload (no pun intended) since 2007 and Julio Teheran the only option that makes any reasonable Braves fan say, “We’re in good hands with that guy every five day,” Wren could’ve packaged some combination of Jose Peraza, Lucas Sims, Christian Bethancourt and/or Aaron Northcraft for one of the big guns.

Atlanta Braves third baseman Chris Johnson (23) is met by starting pitcher Aaron Harang (34) after scoring a run in the fifth inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports) [7]

Atlanta Braves third baseman Chris Johnson (23) is met by starting pitcher Aaron Harang (34) after scoring a run in the fifth inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

Instead, he made one small move, moving talented minor league catcher Victor Caratini – ranked eighth among prospects moved during the trade season by Baseball America [8] – who would be stuck forever behind Bethancourt and Evan Gattis, for a year and a half of James Russell and do-it-all utilityman Emilio Bonifacio.

Russell gives the bullpen a veteran lefty, sorely needed in the absence of… really everyone since Luis Avilan has struggled, Chasen Shreve needs more seasoning and Jonny Venters is about to lose two full seasons of his career. Bonifacio has speed, versatility and leadoff experience, especially valuable if B.J. Upton continues to suck all kinds of suck like he has against the Dodgers.

If the Braves can get into the postseason – and nine National League teams are within five games of a spot as of this moment, so no guarantee there – will this move be the reason why? Probably not. One prefers Bonifacio as an upgrade on Jordan Schafer rather than an everyday answer to B.J. Upton, and Russell is probably going to become the go-to lefty to get Pedro Alvarez, Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, Adrian Gonzalez, Bryce Harper, Jay Bruce, Christian Yelich or Joey Votto down the stretch or in the postseason but nobody has been comparing him to Billy Wagner, with his career 4.40 FIP and all.

It’s easy to be envious of the teams that swung the big deals – Price and Lester are game-changers, and if you’re an A’s or Tigers fan you can’t complain about swinging a deal for someone of that caliber if it nets you a World Series. Those moves say, “We think we’re close and we are not going to pass on this chance to bring home a title.” They’re inspiring. They’re the moves you make when you’re a piece away. James Russell and Emilio Bonifacio don’t inspire that same kind of ‘Wow, we’re contenders now!’ reaction.

Frank Wren seems to believe he’s got the people he needs on-hand to make a run at this thing… or he’s punting on this season, not willing to sell the farm for a flawed team and in doing so, maintaining flexibility for 2015 when they will have a younger, healthier rotation and his youthful core will have another year of experience. Or the financial shackles are too severe to allow him to hunt for big game. The truth may be some combination of the three.

What to Read

This [9] is one of the nuttier things I’ve read in a while…

Stat o’ the Week

And here’s why. Regardless of what they do at the plate, Andrelton Simmons and Jason Heyward are the two best defensive players in baseball at their respective positions. While Heyward’s power numbers are down – his .119 ISO number would be the lowest of his career – his walks are up, his strikeouts are down and his line-drive rate is above his career average. Simmons has bounced around the lineup and hasn’t set the world ablaze at the eight-spot, but like Heyward he’s improving in his plate discipline and while his line-drive rate has dropped, he’s not getting much help with a below-average .272 BABIP.

However, replacement-level hitting can be overlooked when you’re the best at what you and Heyward and Simmons are that with the leather. The pair have combined for 46 defensive runs saved, with Heyward leading the league with 30. For perspective…

If you only catch one game of the Padres series, make it…

If you want to see what happens when the resistible force meets the movable object, Mike Minor and Eric Stults [10] battling to see who can maintain a plus-5.00 ERA in the best pitcher’s park ever created will make for good Friday (9:10 p.m. CT) viewing. However, if the wily veteran versus the talented youngster putting it all together is more your speed, Harang and Tyson Ross [11] will square off in Sunday’s rubbermatch (3:10 p.m. CT).

Complementary Old-Timey Baseball Quote

“You decide you’ll wait for your pitch. As the ball starts toward the plate, you think about your stance. And then you think about your swing. And then you realize that the ball that went by you for a strike was your pitch.” – Former Yankee Bobby Mercer

Craig Kimbrel Fact No. 38

Craig Kimbrel turns down for nothing.