When Ryan Dempster balked at the opportunity to come to Atlanta, Braves general manager Frank Wren did not flinch. Instead, he kept his focus on his team’s needs and ended up completing what appears to be a better deal.
Wren was deservedly displaying a smile when he met with media members just after midnight to reveal he had landed starting pitcher Paul Maholm and veteran backup outfielder Reed Johnson from the Cubs. Sure he might have had to part ways with a prized young arm in Arodys Vizcaino.
But in the end he gave up less and got more than he would have had Dempster agreed to be traded to the Braves.
And for the second straight year, Wren and his staff managed to satisfy their needs while working with some definite financial constraints.
Like the Astros paid for the remainder of Michael Bourn’s 2011 salary after he was acquired before last year’s deadline,the Cubs provided the cash necessary to take care of the money owed to Maholm and Johnson for the remainder of this season.
Obviously, this might require giving up a highly-regarded prospect like Vizcaino. But as Chipper Jones nears his final year, the Braves players will appreciate Wren’s dedication to make a move that improves the odds that this year’s team will be a threat down the stretch and potentially in the playoffs.
Had Dempster accepted last week’s trade, the Braves were going to compensate the Cubs with Randall Delgado, a highly-regarded 22-year-old pitcher who already has made 24 Major League starts. Approximately four hours before this trade was completed, a National League scout said he regards Delgado as the best of the Braves’ pitching prospects.
Once Delgado grows more comfortable with his curveball, he has the potential to be an even more valuable part of Atlanta’s starting rotation. With Julio Teheran struggling and leaving many scouts unimpressed with the life of his pitches this year, Delgado’s value to the Braves has risen.
Once Vizcaino, ranked as the Braves’ third-best prospect by MLB.com, recovers from Tommy Johns elbow reconstruction surgery early next year, he has the potential to be Carlos Marmol’s successor as the Cubs’ closer. The hard-throwing right-hander with the impressive curveball is a tremendous talent. But with most within the industry projecting him as a reliever, it seems easier to move him than the other young prospect who could strengthen a rotation for many years to come.
When the Braves approached the Brewers about Zack Greinke, it was apparent that they were not going to get anywhere in the negotiations without guaranteeing that Delgado, Teheran or Mike Minor would be part of a multi-player deal.
While it might have been easier to accept such a price for a difference maker like Greinke, the Braves would have taken some heat had Dempster accepted the trade that would have sent Delgado to Chicago. Though Dempster is in the midst of an impressive season, there is reason to wonder if his hesitancy to accept a trade might have made him any more valuable than the red-hot Maholm, who has posted a 1.02 ERA and limited opponents to a .203 batting average in his past six starts.
Maholm provides the Braves a reliable middle-of-the-rotation asset who will cost just $6.5 million with his option for the 2013 season. The 30-year-old left-handed pitcher grew up a Braves fan and he has posted a 1.69 ERA in five career starts at Turner Field.
Along with Maholm, the Braves received the veteran versatility provided by Johnson, who can serve as a backup at each of the three outfield positions and strengthen what has been a weak bench. Johnson has batted .448 (13-for-29) as a pinch hitter this year and also shown the ability to hit both right-handed and left-handed pitchers. He has hit .321 (27-for-84) against lefties and .282 (24-for-85) against right-handers.
Johnson will essentially fill the role that had been filled by Matt Diaz, who is dealing with a right thumb ailment.
With Maholm’s presence, the Braves now have the choice to skip the struggling Tommy Hanson when his next turn comes around. Maholm will either make his first start on Friday (if the Braves choose to give Tim Hudson one extra day of rest) or on Saturday. This would set up the opportunity for Kris Medlen to return on regular rest to start in Hanson’s place on Sunday.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez hinted that this could be a possibility after he had watched Hanson labor through five innings against the Marlins on Monday night. Hanson has issued 14 walks and allowed opponents to hit .309 against him in the 14 innings he has completed since the All-Star break.
Hanson does not appear to be having the shoulder discomfort that plagued him and eventually shut him down after last year’s break. But the Braves might be wise to skip him for at least one turn with the hope that he might regain some arm strength and command.
As Jason Heyward gracefully rounded third base while scoring from second base in the seventh inning of Sunday’s win over the Phillies, there was once again reason to wonder when the Braves were last blessed to have such a talented player blessed with this kind of power and speed.
Some will say a young Andruw Jones. Others might remember the early years of Ron Gant’s career. And of course some of you tenured fans might choose to tell us that Heyward occasionally reminds you of Henry Aaron, the talented young outfielder you saw play for the Milwaukee Braves.
Whatever the case, Heyward is in the midst of a special season that could put him in select company. He recorded his 16th homer and 15th stolen base of the season during this weekend’s series against the Phillies. With 61 games remaining, he has a shot to become Atlanta’s first 25/25 player since Chipper Jones in 1999.
Dating back to 1990, there have been just three Braves players to record a 25/25 season. Gant did it three times (1990, ’91 and ’93). Andruw Jones joined the club in 1998 and Chipper one year later, when he hit 45 home runs and notched 25 stolen bases on the way to being named the National League’s Most Valuable Player.
Heyward is currently on pace to hit 25 home runs and record 24 stolen bases. The odds of him entering the 25/25 club have increased as he has batted .304 with 10 home runs, six stolen bases, a .364 on-base percentage and .541 slugging percentage in the 48 games he has played since the start of June.
But there shouldn’t be any assumptions he will reach this mark this season. Over the past 61 games played by the Braves, Heyward has hit 11 home runs and stolen six bases. If he matches these totals over the season’s final 61 games, he will obviously fall short in the stolen base department.
Heyward was 9-for-11 in stolen base attempts during the season’s first 27 games. He then totaled just two stolen base attempts during his next 46 games. But he has been 5-for-7 in stolen base attempts over his past 27 games. Since moving into the third spot of the lineup, he has run more frequently and there is not much reason to think he will not continue to do the same over the season’s final two months.
MONDAY WARNING: The Braves have lost each of the 12 games played on Mondays this year and as one of my favorite Twitter followers (@BravesAmerica) pointed out last week, the Braves have not won on a Monday since Jair Jurrjens beat Ryan Dempster on Aug. 22. Yep, we’re inching closer to a whole calendar year of Monday futility.
While totaling 18 runs in 12 Monday games this year, the Braves have batted .186 with a .498 OPS.
Here is what they have done each of the other days of the week:
Sunday: 17 games, 71 runs, .248 batting average, .707 OPS
Tuesday: 15 games, 78 runs, .277 BA, .772 OPS
Wednesday: 15 games, 86 runs, .275 BA, .788 OPS
Thursday: 9 games, 40 runs, .235 BA, .742 OPS
Friday: 15 games, 97 runs, .295 BA, .877 OPS
Saturday: 18 games, 73 runs, .239 BA, .646 OPS
Stay tuned for updates leading up to tomorrow’s Trade Deadline. Click here for this morning’s update. Since then, I’ve received some questions about Cliff Lee. Quite simply, the Phillies would have to eat much of the $75 million he is owed over the next three seasons and I’m pretty sure they do not have any desire to pay him to pitch for the Braves.
The Red Sox called the Braves to gauge their interest in Josh Beckett. They would have likely received a different response had they asked about Jon Lester. But it does not appear Lester will be made available before Tuesday’s Trade Deadline.
Even with the possibility that the Red Sox might be willing to eat more than half of the $37 million still owed to Beckett through the end of the 2014 season, the Braves do not seem to be a fit. The veteran pitcher has experienced a decline in velocity while posting a 4.57 ERA in 17 starts last year. With a 5.78 ERA in 2010 and 2.98 ERA in 2011, Beckett is trending toward being one of those every-other-year pitchers like Javier Vazquez was during his career.
The Braves would be more interested in Lester, who is in the midst of the most disappointing season of his young career. Lester is four years younger and cheaper (owed $11.625M in 2013 and has a $13M club option with a $250,000 buyout for the 2014 season) than Beckett.
With a little more than 24 hours left before the Trade Deadline, the Braves will continue their search for a starting pitcher. Many industry sources seem to agree that the Rays are not aggressively attempting to trade James Shields. As for the Ryan Dempster situation, it remains cloudy. If the Dodgers are not able to work out the trade Dempster has been hoping for, there is still a chance the Cubs could come back to the Braves.
If the Cubs come back to the Braves, they might not get the same package that was in place before Dempster blocked a trade to Atlanta last week. In other words, there is no guarantee Randall Delgado would also be available in this package.
The Braves have also checked in on some relievers. Wade Davis has been mentioned among their targets, but the Rays also seem reluctant to move him. The Rockies have indicated former Braves top pitching prospect Matt Belisle is not available. But there is a chance they could move right-handed reliever Rafael Betancourt.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has often said, “Nothing good can come from Twitter.”
So there was even more reason to laugh on Sunday morning when he told reporters that he feared for the worst late Saturday night after his son, Alex, informed him that Chipper Jones (@RealCJ10) had concluded one of his Tweets with, “Got a date wit the Doc tmrw. Go Bravos.”
When Gonzalez left Turner Field after Saturday night’s 2-1 win over the Phillies, he did have any reason to be concerned about Jones’ troublesome knees or any other aches or pains the 40-year-old third baseman might have been experiencing. So it’s safe to say he had some trouble sleeping.
After returning to the stadium on Sunday morning, Gonzalez immediately went to the trainer’s room to check with trainer Jeff Porter.
“I said what’s Chipper going to see the doctor for and he said, ‘what are you talking about? ” Gonzalez said. “So I tell him the story and I put two and two together and it’s Doc Halladay.”
Count this author among those who never thought Jones would ever do more than simply create a Twitter account to protect himself against imposters. But he seems to be having fun with the social media outlet. Plus, entering Sunday’s matchup against Halladay and the Phillies, the Braves were undefeated (4-0) since he joined Twitter.
Jones was back in Sunday afternoon’s lineup as the Braves attempted to sweep the Phillies for the second time this month. So too was Dan Uggla, who has batted .110 with a .292 on-base percentage and .169 slugging percentage in his past 42 games. The Braves have managed to go 26-19 during the 45 games that have been played since Uggla began this skid on June 6.
Uggla entered Sunday with 10 hits, including three home runs, and 10 strikeouts in 28 career at-bats against Halladay.
As Gonzalez debated how to construct his lineup for Sunday afternoon’s game, he thought about playing Jose Constanza in left field and moving Martin Prado to the shortstop position. But with Tim Hudson, who owns a 1.24 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio on the mound, he opted to keep sure-handed shortstop Paul Janish in the lineup.
When Andrelton Simmons broke his right pinky finger on July 8, the Braves were hoping he would not miss more than six weeks. Three weeks later, that hope is still alive. Simmons hopes to have his cast removed next Friday. At that point, he will be able to begin strengthening his hand and going through the rehab process that could make him available at some point during the second half of August.
After seeing their hopes buried by the Phillies last year the Braves have a chance to return the favor this year.
Well kind of.
Having taken advantage of the woeful Brewers bullpen, the Phillies enter this weekend’s series against the Braves with a four-game winning streak and reason to delay thoughts of serving as selling Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence before Tuesday’s Trade Deadline.
Philadelphia’s hopes of winning a sixth consecutive division title are essentially dead as they sit 14 1/2 games back of the first-place Nationals in the National League East race. But they sit just 9 1/2 games back of the Braves, who would gain the NL’s second Wild Card entry if the season ended today. And as you might remember it is possible for teams to lose a 9 1/2-game lead in the Wild Card race with as little as one month left.
With this being said, the odds of the Phillies reaching the playoffs are steep. But the club’s general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal that this weekend’s series in Atlanta will impact his mindset in the days leading up to the deadline.
“We have to play well against these guys,” Amaro told Rosenthal. “They’re a very tough team. We don’t necessarily have to sweep ‘em. But it’s important for us to win the series…If we don’t win two of three, it’s not the end of the world. But it certainly doesn’t help us.”
This weekend’s pitching matchups are: Ben Sheets vs. Cole Hamels (Friday) Mike Minor vs. Joe Blanton (Saturday) and Tim Hudson vs. Roy Halladay (Sunday).
With Tommy Hanson struggling since the All-Star break, Hudson, Sheets and Minor currently stand as the most reliable assets in this rotation that the Braves are hoping to improve by Tuesday.
The Braves have continued to show interest in Milwaukee’s Zack Greinke, who could certainly be moved before he makes his next scheduled start on Sunday. The Rangers, Angels and White Sox are among the other most likely suitors for the former Cy Young Award winner.
The Rangers certainly have the prospects needed to land Greinke and possibly stand as the one club that could prevent him from landing in Atlanta.
But a National League scout said he believes the Rangers are at least equally interested in acquiring the Marlins’ Josh Johnson. Right now the Marlins are looking for a significant return for Johnson and might not end up trading him.
But if there is some indication over the next couple days that the Marlins are lowering their demands, then there would be reason to believe Johnson will be traded.
As for the Ryan Dempster situation, it became more interesting on Friday with the revelation that Matt Garza will not pitch until after the Trade Deadline. Though an MRI exam revealed no damage in Garza’s recently-sore right triceps muscle, the Dodgers will likely hold off on trading for him. This means they could end up providing Dempster his wish to spend the final two months of the season with them.
If Dempster does not end up in Los Angeles, there is still a slight chance he ends up in Atlanta. But as Braves general manager Frank Wren said on Wednesday, that now seems “highly unlikely.”
The Braves have expressed interest in the Padres’ Edinson Volquez and the Rays’ James Shields. Like with Johnson, it will be interesting to see if the Padres and Rays start asking for less in return as we get closer to Tuesday’s Trade Deadline.
Volquez has been one of the game’s hottest pitchers as he has posted a 1.55 ERA and limited opponents to a .164 batting average in his past six starts. Shields, who finished third in last year’s balloting for the AL Cy Young Award, has posted a 6.15 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .323 against him in his past seven starts.
Some of Shield’s struggles can be pinned on a disappointing Rays defense that has been weakened by the absence of Evan Longoria. Six different players have made at least nine starts at third base for the Rays this year. Members of this group include Drew Sutton and Brooks Conrad.
When the Cubs visited Turner Field at the beginning of this month, the Braves gained the impression Ryan Dempster wanted to play in Atlanta. But now that he has an opportunity, Dempster continues to weigh other options.
The Braves and Cubs agreed upon a trade on Monday that would send Dempster to Atlanta for right-handed pitcher Randall Delgado and at least one other Minor League player. But Dempster has the right to veto any trade because he has played at the Major League level for at least 10 seasons and with the same team for at least five seasons.
A National League source said Dempster has not yet officially exercised this right. But as Tuesday progressed, the Braves had less reason to feel confident about this deal being completed.
According FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Dempster is holding out hope that he will eventually be traded to the Dodgers. The Cubs and Dodgers were unable to reach an agreement when they discussed a potential trade earlier this month.
Dempster has told reporters over the past few weeks that his first preference would be to play for the Dodgers. The Braves are believed to be second on his wish list.
If Dempster does indeed reject this trade, it is unknown whether the Braves would be receptive to trading for him if the Cubs are unable to strike a deal with the Dodgers. Over the next couple of days, they will likely turn their attention other starting pitchers available on the trade market.
Zack Greinke has been at the top of the Braves wish list over the past month. But with hopes of potentially keeping Greinke, the Brewers are asking for a significant return that would include Julio Teheran and at least one other highly-regarded prospect.
With this kind of asking price, the Braves will be more interested in attempting to sign Greinke as a free agent this winter.
As the Braves to learn whether Ryan Dempster will accept the trade that would bring him to Atlanta, they are continuing to evaluate other options. But as things currently stand, it appears it would be in their best interest if Dempster would accept.
The Braves have shown interest in Zack Greinke. But with Brewers seeking a return that would include Julio Teheran and at least one more top 15 prospect, the Braves would rather wait to pursue Greinke as a free agent this winter.
Early lTuesday afternoon, Dempster tweeted (@RyanDempsterFDN): “Nothing official to report. You will be the 1st to know. Thnx to all my fans for the support.”
Dempster provided indication he would like to play in Atlanta as recently as three weeks ago when the Cubs were playing at Turner Field. But his decision to prolong this decision is a right he has earned as a 10-and-5 player.
The Braves remain optimistic that Dempster will agree to the deal and if he does they could given him the option of starting Wednesday afternoon’s series finale against the Marlins. Dempster is currently scheduled to start for the Cubs during their Wednesday afternoon game in Pittsburgh.
With this in mind, time might be running out on that option of Dempster pitching for the Braves on Wednesday, but it is one that might give Tommy Hanson a chance to strengthen his arm with a few extra days of rest.
Hanson said he felt fine physically after allowing eight earned runs in just four innings against the Nationals on Friday night. He surrendered two home runs that night — one to Michael Morse on an 89 mph fastball and the other to Ryan Zimmerman on a 90 mph fastball. According to Fangraphs, this is essentially where his fastball has rested most of the season.
Still given Hanson’s velocity has not shown much improvement since he got a couple extra days of rest during the All-Star break, it might be in his best interest to stay on schedule with the hope this would allow him to prove more consistent with his command.
The Braves reached an agreement to acquire Ryan Dempster from the Cubs. But the trade has not been officially completed.
Because he has played in the Majors for at least 10 years and been with the same team for at least five years, Dempster has the right to veto any trade. After arriving at PNC Park on Monday afternoon, he said a trade had not been completed.
Dempster has the potential to serve as the stabilizing asset the Braves have been seeking to add to their inconsistent starting rotation. The 35-year-old right-hander has posted a 2.15 ERA in 15 starts this year and a 3.63 ERA in the 147 starts he has made since the start of the 2008 season.
Once Jair Jurrjens struggled again during Sunday’s loss to the Nationals, it became more apparent the Braves would aggressively pursue the acquisition of a starting pitcher. Their rotation has posted the third-worst ERA (4.34) in the National League this year.
Dempster will be a free agent at the conclusion of this season and he is owed approximately $5 million for the remainder of this season. It is not known whether the Braves will be responsible for the entire portion of this figure.
When the Braves began evaluating ways to improve their starting rotation, Dempster and Zack Greinke sat at the top of their wish list. But as the past few days passed with the Brewers have providing clear indication that they are willing to move Greinke, the focus fell on Dempster.
To get Greinke, the Braves would have had to likely part with top pitching prospect Julio Teheran and at least one other Top 15 prospect. Now they will likely simply pursue him on the free agent market this winter.
Like the Braves had success against the Phillies before the All-Star break in 2009 and 2010, the Nationals had their way with the Braves during the first half of this season.
Now the Braves can only hope to follow the same second-half path the Phillies traveled during those two previous seasons.
The Braves went 7-2 against the Phillies before the 2009 All-Star break and 3-6 against them after the break. They finished seven games behind Philadelphia that season.
The Braves went 7-5 against the Phillies before the 2010 break and then won just one of the six matchups in the second half. That one win came on the regular season’s final day, when Philadelphia had already celebrated a fourth consecutive division title.
With the aid of six wins in this year’s first eight head-to-head matchups, the first-place Nationals enter this weekend’s four-game series with a 3 1/2-game lead over the Braves, who have righted themselves while winning eight of their past 10 games.
After Thursday’s much-needed win over the Giants, Tim Hudson said the Braves need to at least split this weekend’s four-game series. While it’s easy to understand the logic in this statement, the Braves could certainly make a statement by winning three of four.
Looking toward the season’s final two months, the primary concern about the Nationals’ starting rotation seems to center around how many innings Stephen Strasburg might complete before being shut down. As he prepares to face the Braves for the fourth time this season tonight, Strasburg has completed 105 innings.
Since the start of the season, there has been a belief that Strasburg would likely be limited to approximately 160 innings. Now it sounds like Nationals GM Mike Rizzo will not utilize a definitive stopping point. Instead he will monitor his prized right-hander over the next few weeks to get a feel for when he might shut him down.
Regardless of what has been said in the past, just a hunch that the division standings might influence the decision.
As for the Braves, the focus on their rotation centers around who might be added before the Trade Deadline.
The Braves recently asked the Red Sox about Jon Lester, who does not appear to be available at this time. In addition, they have closely monitored Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster, who remains scheduled to start tonight’s game against the Cardinals.
Still the Braves primary focus appears to remain on Brewers right-hander Zack Greinke, who stands as the one available pitcher who could best match up against the other top starters that would be pitching in the playoffs.
With the Dodgers and Cubs struggling to complete a deal, the Braves are among the teams who could end up landing Dempster. Braves general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez have known Dempster for approximately 15 years, dating back to the days when they were with the Marlins together.
Because there is some demand for him right now, the Braves might have to put together a decent package to land Dempster, who will be a free agent at the end of this season.
Still even if the cost is not significant as the one needed to lure Greinke out of Milwaukee, the Braves might be more willing to go with Greinke, as long as they are confident they could keep him in Atlanta beyond this season.
The Braves are not interested in mortgaging their future for a two-month rental. So their interest in Greinke continues to hinge on the confidence they have in being able to sign the former Cy Young Award winner to a multi-year deal.
It appears they are willing to provide the former Cy Young Award winner approximately $20 million a year — a price that would rival what Matt Cain recently received.
In addition, Greinke has made it known that he would like to play for the Braves, who annually hold Spring Training within 20 minutes of the neighborhood he was raised in Orlando. So even if the Braves do not land Greinke via trade, there is a good chance they will make a run at him on the free agent market this winter.
Given yesterday’s entry focused on how Ben Sheets and Jair Jurrjens were going to stabilize the Braves rotation, it seems fitting to spend today analyzing how Dan Uggla will provide the consistency that the lineup needs.
While Jurrjens endured a rough outing last night, Uggla has endured a six-week slump that has grown more concerning as it has progressed. The jury is still out regarding whether he reached a turning point when he homered in the final game before the All-Star break. In the 12 plate appearances tallied in three games since then, he has recorded two singles and drawn three walks.
Since hitting two home runs in a four-hit performance against the Marlins on June 5, Uggla has batted .115 with a .298 on-base percentage and .192 slugging percentage. His .490 OPS during this 32-game span ranks as the third-lowest mark among all Major League players dating back to June 6. The only players with a lower mark are Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy (.388) and Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak (.469).
Last year, Uggla batted .173 through his first 86 games last year and then .377 during the 33-game hitting streak that followed. Obviously the same can not be expected again. But the Braves certainly need to soon see some kind of consistency from the veteran second baseman who is in the second year of his five-year $62 million contract.
Here is where Uggla’s numbers have stood through the first 87 games of the past two seasons:
2011: .178 BA 13 HRs .250 OBP .344 SLG .594 OPS
2012 : .221 BA, 12 HRs .353 OBP .389 SLG .743 OPS
Uggla has traditionally fared better after the All-Star break and August has proven to be his most productive month. Now that Brian McCann appears right and Freddie Freeman has started to look dangerous again, the Braves could truly find themselves with a very dangerous lineup if Uggla at least starts producing some consistency.
Speaking of Freeman, he has batted .390 with three home runs, a .479 on-base percentage and .661 slugging percentage in his past 17 games. Despite spending five weeks battling vision problems and a sore left index finger, he is on pace for 98 RBIs. Whether or not you put much stock in this statistic, this is an impressive pace.
Last night we were reminded that Jurrjens has very little margin for error every time he steps on the mound. With some offensive assistance he might have been able to overcome a blown call in the first inning and Michael Bourn’s slow reaction to Melky Cabrera’s fly ball. But one he missed first base and then watched Chipper Jones miss Barry Zito’s routine grounder, the Braves were on track to complete one of the ugliest games you will ever see.
Now Mike Minor will have a chance to help the Braves rebound and solidify a spot in the rotation whether or not Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster or another starting pitcher is added. Before watching Minor face the Giants tonight, check out what his friend David Price said about him at last week’s All-Star Game.
Lost in the ugliness of last night’s game was the fact that left-handed reliever Luis Avilan helped keep the bullpen fresh by tossing 3 2/3 strong innings last night. Because the Braves needed to use just two other relievers (Cristhian Martinez and Chad Durbin) for one inning a piece, there was not a need to send Avilan back to Gwinnett to open a roster spot for a fresh reliever.
With Jonny Venters not expected to be ready to come off the disabled list before Monday, Avilan could find himself used in a few key spots against Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche in this upcoming weekend’s series against the Nationals.