A lot has been made on Twitter in the past few weeks about what the Atlanta Braves should do to improve the club at the trade deadline. I’ve seen many of hot takes ranging from “the Braves should not make any moves because Charlie Culberson and Johan Camargo are good enough” to “we should trade 4 players for 2 months Manny Machado.”
I do not personally believe the Braves have a great chance to succeed in the playoffs with Brian Snitker. Anyone who follows us on Twitter knows that none of us here are big fans of Snitker’s bizarre and inconsistent in-game strategy, and the cracks in the armor are showing as injuries amount and their lead in the East shrinks.
In fact, the Braves are 15-15 in their last 30 games. They have the talent to go .500 from here on out and make the playoffs. Surely the likes of Manny Machado would increase those odds, but at what cost? Surely one too rich for the Braves, who are just now seeing the dividends of a complete rebuild, and whose owners keep the checkbook under lock and key. So surely there’s a way to upgrade while still retaining most of your talent, right?
Well, I think there’s a way. And it involves a certain obvious and uninspiring third baseman. We’ve talked a lot about the third base position in this site’s brief and inconsistent lifespan. But here I am, yet again beating that dead horse of saying the Braves should acquire a third baseman. Because at its worst, a trade for one would be a lateral move if it means the subtraction of Ryan Flaherty, who has a starting pitcher-esque .169/.217/.221 line in 83 plate appearances since a blazing hot 20 game start to the season.
Johan Camargo has been somewhat of a surprise, given his power output and walk rate are far higher than ever before. But in Camargo, the Braves have a player capable of handling third, second, short, and can even play first or the corner outfield in a pinch. Versatility will be a key element that this young Braves team will need to have in a playoff atmosphere against… well, far superior managers to Brian Snitker like Joe Maddon or Dave Roberts. The issues of rest have been brought up lately, as players like Ozzie, Freeman, or even the struggling Inciarte, who continues to be given the most times at the dish on the team. Being able to give these guys regular rest (or in Freeman’s case, rest at all period) seems like a smart idea if they want to be in this thing for the long haul.
Now, this has been a long-winded but necessary way to arrive me saying that I think the Braves should just trade for Mike Moustakas already. I know your first reaction is to scream about several players who are certainly better options on paper. Names like:
All of these names are likely to be an upgrade over the likes of Moustakas, who is down to just a 106 wRC+. Addition by subtraction, even if the line still isn’t very pretty. But where Moustakas can help the Braves is against right-handed pitching, particularly off the bench. He’s got an .827 OPS against right-handers for the year and boasts a .288/.384/.554 line in 83 plate appearances in high leverage situations, and an .871 OPS with runners in scoring position. Moustakas is also a reputable defender at the hot corner, which allows him to be more than just a bench bat, given Camargo’s flexibility.
But the main reason here is cost. The Braves aren’t and shouldn’t be in the business of giving away top prospects for rentals, especially with so much dead weight left on the team (players and personnel, alike). But guys like Moustakas, platoon players with limited flexibility in a dense market at their position, are not going to command those type of guys. And the Royals are the second worst team in baseball. They have zero leverage, as holding on to him means they get absolutely nothing, given that he cannot be offered another qualifying offer after turning down one last offseason. He’s also dirt cheap this year, as he was perhaps the biggest casualty of last years free agent market downswing. He’s owed about just $3.25M for the rest of this season, give or take.
In fact, this trade would resemble those frequently made at the deadline by Frank Wren, who was handicapped in his years as general manager with a depleted farm system (some by his doing, some by the old GM) and no money. A list of players he dealt for at the deadline over his final 3 years include:
The players given up?
A variety of marginally useful bit players for a bunch of scraps, with only current Brave Vizcaino ever sticking in the big leagues. Funny how that works out. The team possibly stands a chance to improve far better than any of those other players did and with similar caliber players. Guys like:
Dustin Peterson (Sorry @scottcoleman55)
Each one has lottery ticket upside with risk, but a package of guys at spots they need the most, say Sims and Ruiz, could be enough to persuade them. The Royals have the overall worst pitching (a combined laughable -0.1 WAR) in the game and the 3rd worst group of starters so far in 2018. Sims is once again, at worst a lateral move for them, and he has done well for himself as a starter in Gwinnett lately.
Moustakas is not a player I particularly like, as his flaws are obvious. But his strengths utilized properly fills many needs for Atlanta. You have a solid defensive substitution at third base, a backup first baseman, a dangerous pinch hitter, and a player good enough to start against righties. His presence affords Camargo’s versatility the ability to deepen the Atlanta Braves as a team. If I’m Alex Anthopolus, I’m offering:
Flaherty can be a salary offset at worst, and the Royals just might have the need for a body as third base is a position of no depth for them, which gives them a reason to want Ruiz. Sims is the centerpiece and represents the most upside. I wouldn’t even be mad if they threw in Wisler too.
Now it’s highly likely that this deal never happens, no matter how hard I try to show on paper why it could be very beneficial. That’s baseball. But this was an attempt at curbing expectations about the Braves’ impending trade deadline moves. The team under Liberty Media has never had much relative spending power, and the team didn’t just go through a rebuild to get trigger happy. They likely will not and should not trade any major assets for rentals, but perhaps could be swayed for a controllable player. But just because major assets won’t be moved doesn’t mean there isn’t value out there that could improve the club. Additions to the bench and bullpen will be absolutely necessary for this team to advance in the playoffs. It might just take a little bit of creativity that I hope the front office isn’t afraid to embrace.