Friday, August 19, 2022

Braves trade deadline preview: Biggest needs, possible fits, top trade chips ahead of Aug. 2

The Atlanta Braves may be heartened to realize that, at 58-39 and 1 1/2 games back of the New York Mets in the National League East, they’re in a much better position this trade deadline than they were last, when they entered July 31 with a 52-55 record. Of course, the direness of that situation inspired general manager Alex Anthopoulos to make a series of additions that later proved pivotal to the Braves’ World Series run, including Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, and Jorge Soler.

The Braves undoubtedly prefer their current situation to where they were this time last year, but the endgame remains the same: win a championship — and, in the process, become the first repeat World Series victor in more than two decades. How might Anthopoulos and the Braves go about doing so before the Aug. 2 deadline? Below, we’ve established what the Braves appear to need, who they might target, and which prospects they may offer up in order to make a deal happen.

Needs

The Braves don’t have many, if any glaring needs, but they could look to upgrade in a few key areas, depending on how the market plays out.

The Braves, like most every contender, will likely sniff around for a top-notch starter and/or an additional reliever. The former isn’t a pressing matter, since the Braves can enter a postseason series with Max Fried, Kyle Wright, Charlie Morton (who has pitched better as of late), and Spencer Strider serving as their rotation. (Ian Anderson is also around, though his inconsistency makes him a lesser option.) On the bullpen side of things, it never hurts to have one more veteran arm.

Elsewhere, the Braves could look for a boost in the corner outfield, given the shortcomings of Rosario and Adam Duvall in 2022. Seeing as how the Braves are running out Robinson Canó at second base, it might prove prudent to add another middle infielder, just in case Ozzie Albies is unable to return from injury in August as originally expected.

Potential targets

File this one under “it doesn’t hurt to ask.” Luis Castillo is the top starting pitcher on the market, and there are several other contenders who have a greater need for him than Atlanta. The odds of the Braves submitting the highest bid, then, are slim. That said, Anthopoulos has shown a flare for making bold moves in the past, and this would qualify. (Ditto for making a move for Athletics righty Frankie Montas.)

Once a promising starter, Michael Fulmer has recovered from years of injuries and underperformance to become a quality reliever. Fulmer has altered his arsenal since making the move to the bullpen, leaning heavily into his slider. If there is a knock here, it’s that he’s issuing more than a free pass every other inning, leaving him with a 1.89 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Some contender, perhaps even the Braves, will likely overlook that and add him to their middle-relief collection this summer.

There’s a reasonable argument to be made that Jordan Luplow is the best short-side platoon outfielder in the majors. If the Braves want to give the benefit of the doubt to Rosario, then adding Luplow to replace Adam Duvall would make sense. If Anthopoulos isn’t as confident in Rosario — and remember, he signed him to a multi-year deal over the offseason — then perhaps the Braves aim higher.

Potential trade chips

The top of the Braves farm system has thinned some because of the recent graduations by outfielder Michael Harris II and right-hander Spencer Strider, as well as the amount of prospect capital the Braves used to acquire Matt Olson. (They used some more, albeit to a lesser extent, earlier this month by sending Drew Waters in a package deal to the Kansas City Royals for a compensatory draft pick.) They’re not tapped out, however, particularly not on the pitching side of things.

The Braves employ a number of enticing arms, beginning with 2020 first-round pick Jared Shuster, who has already achieved success at the Double-A level. Other top names here include big lefty Kyle Muller (he has top-notch stuff and he’s gotten the walks under control), readymade back-end starter Bryce Elder, and breakout righty AJ Smith-Shawver.  The Braves don’t have as many standout position players on the farm anymore. Infielder Vaughn Grissom (another solid find by Atlanta’s underrated scouting department) and outfielder Jesse Franklin are tops in the group.

It seems unlikely Anthopoulos would move any of the above for a rental. Rather, more realistic asks might include some soon-to-be Rule 5-eligible types, such as outfielder Brandol Mezquita, starter Darius Vines, and reliever Victor Vodnik. 

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