Inside Pitch: Braves may be sellers
Atlanta in an intriguing situation as Trade Deadline looms
One of the triggers in the final week of this year's midsummer trade session is in the hands of a perennial buyer: the Atlanta Braves.
Year-in, year-out, the Braves have been buyers, as they were last year when they obtained Mark Teixeira from the Rangers before the deadline.
This year, however, the Braves are in an intriguing situation. A strong case can be made that the Braves should be sellers. There are also solid arguments for the Braves to at least stay the course with the current cast.
"That's a tough call," an official from an opposing team said. "They aren't that far out and have the talent to get back in it in a hurry."
The Braves are 10 games back in the Wild Card race. They are five games under .500 and in fourth place in the National League East. But they are only six games behind first-place Philadelphia in the division race.
They Braves could get Mike Hampton and Tom Glavine back from the disabled list next month, potentially major additions to a team that has surrendered fewer runs than any team in the division. When healthy, the Braves have the depth of pitching capable of carrying a team to October.
On the other hand, John Smoltz is out, the offense has been inconsistent and the Braves could considerably strengthen for the future by dealing valuable veterans like Teixeira, Mark Kotsay, Will Ohman and Mike Gonzalez.
It's not an easy choice facing general manager Frank Wren, and one that could have a significant impact on this season and the future both in Atlanta and for the teams eyeing some of the current Braves for their own playoff pushes.
After finishing with the Marlins, the Braves will head to Philadelphia for three games this weekend, then return to Atlanta for a four-game series against another contender, St. Louis, at Turner Field.
What will the Braves do between now and next Thursday's 4 p.m. ET deadline?
The Braves aren't talking, but other teams say they are looking for a power bat and aren't interested in dealing Gonzalez. The Braves haven't completely shut the door on dealing certain players. They will listen to offers for Jeff Francoeur and Will Ohman and some insiders expect Teixeira to become available if the Braves have a bad week.
Should they decide to trade Teixeira, the Braves would have to get more than the two Draft choices they would get if they kept the first baseman and he left via free agency after the season. With so many teams looking for a power bat -- including the Braves, who have scouted Pittsburgh's Jason Bay and Xavier Nady -- Teixeira would be a hot commodity just like he was this time last year were he to hit the trade market again.
The series with the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park this weekend might decide things for the Braves. One way or the other.
The Phillies' continued search for a lefty reliever has the team looking at other options besides Colorado's Brian Fuentes. Charley Kerfeld, special assistant to Philadelphia GM Pat Gillick, was in Houston this week watching the Pirates-Astros series at Minute Maid Park. The Phillies had previously inquired about Pirate lefty Damaso Marte and are also eyeing John Grabow.
Francoeur is available. After his early success that included a spot on Team USA in the World Baseball Classic two years ago and a Gold Glove last season, the right fielder's production has tailed off the last couple of years.
This season Francoeur is batting .231 with a .286 on-base percentage, nine homers and 44 RBIs through games of Tuesday, July 22. His defense is not what it was, and the 24-year-old has put on at least 10 pounds.
Francoeur's on-base percentage trails all but three Major League outfielders with at least 300 at-bats, surpassing only Oakland's Emil Brown (.287), Minnesota's Carlos Gomez (.282) and Houston's Michael Bourn (.282).
Kansas City is thought to be one of the clubs with interest in Francoeur. GM Dayton Moore, formerly with Atlanta, is well acquainted with Francouer's talents.
One veteran scout believes having Matt Kemp in the leadoff spot will enhance the Dodgers' second-half chances.
"Some people say he strikes out a lot; OK, so did another pretty good leadoff guy, Bobby Bonds," the scout said. "Kemp gives them a dangerous bat at the top of the order, a guy with power who can run. They don't have that with [Juan] Pierre."
Kemp has hit safely in 17 of 19 starts since Pierre went on the disabled list on June 30. As a leadoff man this year, Kemp is batting .316 with with a .393 on-base percentage and a .925 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Ten of his 25 hits from the leadoff spot have gone for extra bases. In his last seven games, Kemp is batting .406 (13-for-32) with five multi-hit games.
San Diego's Greg Maddux has now gone winless in 14 consecutive starts. During that streak, Maddux has nine no-decisions, including Wednesday's at Cincinnati. Though Maddux has pitched better than his 3-8 record, more than one scout wonders how much help the 42-year-old Maddux could provide.
"He can still give you five, six good innings most nights, but I think that's about it anymore," the scout said. "His [starts] start going downhill quickly beyond that from what I've seen lately, and he pitches [home games] in a good pitcher's park."
Maddux has pitched beyond the sixth inning in six of 21 starts, but just twice since April.
Maddux, who has a full no-trade clause and 350 career victories, might OK a trade to the Dodgers. The right-hander spent half a season with the Dodgers in 2006, going 6-3 with a 3.30 ERA in 12 starts.
Staggering stat: In six games against Cincinnati this season, San Diego batters struck out 79 times, 49 in three games at Petco Park in a series in May and 30 more times in the three-game series at Great American Ball Park that ended Wednesday.
Free agent right-hander Freddy Garcia will throw in front of representatives of at least 10 teams in a couple of weeks. Garcia, 32, is coming off shoulder surgery and hopes to show a contender he can help out for the stretch drive. He was originally expected to hold a showcase session next week but it was pushed back until after the Trade Deadline.
The Astros, Cardinals, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox, Royals, Tigers, Mets, White Sox and Yankees are among the teams expected to send a representative to watch Garcia, who last pitched in the Major Leagues on June 8, 2007.
Cleveland's Casey Blake is being eyed by at least five teams, with the Mets, Rays and Twins among the interested parties, although the Twins seem more interested in Hank Blalock of the Rangers.
Blake brings a proven right-handed bat and an ability to play four positions adequately, making him a valuable commodity for contending teams.
The Indians might also be persuaded to part with Paul Byrd.
Hideki Matsui's knee injury has the Yankees looking hard for outfield help. Free agent Barry Bonds is an unlikely option despite some reports. Nady is a player the Yankees like but they face stiff competition for Nady from several teams, including AL East leader Tampa Bay.
It's looking more and more like Toronto's A.J. Burnett won't be dealt before the deadline.
The Blue Jays aren't looking to move Burnett unless another team meets their price, and the teams that were the best fits have already made deals to address their rotation needs.
Barring a change on one side or the other, Burnett will likely finish the season in Toronto.
Livan Hernandez has played a signifcant part in Minnesota's rise to contention in the AL Central, but with Francisco Liriano nearing a return from the disabled list, the Twins might be convinced to trade Hernandez to shore up other areas.
Every now and then we are reminded of how a trade can look completely different a few months after it goes down. Two examples come to mind this week.
The Marlins sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit this winter, stamping the Tigers in some people's minds as the team to beat and relegating the Fish to also-ran status. The Tigers have struggled to get into contention, the Marlins are very much in the race, and despite giving up the slugging Cabrera lead the Major Leagues in home runs.
The Tigers gave up a pair of prospects for Atlanta shortstop Edgar Renteria. One of those prospects, outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, has a bright future. The other? Well, where would Atlanta be without Jair Jurrjens?
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.