However there is something to be said about the anticipation of the trade deadline as it’s almost the summer version of the winter meetings in which it allows teams to make that one final push towards their ultimate goal of winning a World Series. And while some fan bases will have renewed hope or further reassurance that their team is in it to win it, other fan bases will suffer the harsh reality that their team is no longer a contender and that they will be more or less packing it in for the rest of the season.
Over the winter meetings the Braves put themselves in kind of tricky spot, possibly without even realizing it. When Frank Wren signed BJ Upton and traded for Justin Upton to create a young and dynamic outfield as they would be combined with a young budding super star Jason Heyward, Wren was not just going for the gold in 2013 but he was building an outfield that could be together for the next 5+ seasons.
Now in doing so I loved the moves and was very optimistic about what the Braves would be able to accomplish this season. Now with that being said they’re in 1st place as of today by 5 full games and stand a solid 12 games over .500 despite their most recent 3 game losing streak.
Frank Wren’s move to build this epic young outfield put him in a situation that would prove to be difficult if things didn’t go his way. I say this because Wren will have to sit on his hands and hope for his young outfield to continue to progress and show signs of improvement or he will be forced to tear it down and admit that he made a mistake. The moves to obtain not 1 but both Upton brothers essentially locked Wren and the Braves into a strategy that would lead them down a road of difficult decision and produce a team that would give them some lack of flexibility at a point in time such as say, the trade deadline.
The Braves outfield isn’t going anywhere which means that 1/3 of the starting line up is locked in stone. Freddie Freeman is locked in at 1st base, Uggla is locked in at 2nd base and Simmons is untouchable at short stop.
The ONLY two pieces of this team that could change at the deadline would be third base and catcher. Now trading Brian McCann to receive some sort of value type player out of fear of not being able to resign him this off season makes some sense for next year and beyond but you have to remember, Frank Wren wants to win now, the team is built to win now as much as it is in the future.
You won’t be able to get enough in return (most likely) to replace the offensive output that McCann will give you down the stretch. Mind you his numbers aren’t staggering by any means but he also missed 6 weeks of the season due to his recovery from shoulder surgery and has been playing pretty well since he came back. Altering our catcher situation doesn’t seem like the way to go so I’d say lock McCann in as well.
That leaves Chris Johnson who came over with Justin Upton in the trade with Arizona and to be honest CJ has been a pleasant surprise for the Braves this year. He’s hitting .332 which is good for one of the highest batting averages on the team for a regular every day player, only Freeman is even comparable.
But despite Chris Johnson’s success he’s still not filling the void that really makes the Braves vulnerable. What the Braves really need is a lead off hitter and a way to get Simmons as far away from that lead off spot as possible. If we could bat Simmons 8th on a regular basis where he feels a lot more comfortable and is a lot more likely to produce, combining that with a solid lead off man that can play every day, I think this Braves offense would start to take off.
Yes, the Braves have Jordan Schafer who has played extremely well in limited action and of course he could fill the void at lead off. However the issue is there’s no way he’s going to play everyday. Fredi Gonzalez can’t sit Justin, BJ or Heyward on a regular everyday basis. Unless he came up with some sort of Outfield Rotation where one of the 3 outfielders sat every 3rd or 4th game and let Schafer into the line up. But I doubt that would go over very well and I’m not sure how productive that would be in trying to get steady offensive production from our other outfielders.
With all of that being said what the Braves are looking for is a rare find and rare breed of player. What the Braves need is a 3rd baseman who is capable of playing solid defense and batting in the lead off spot, someone who is capable of hitting over .280 consistently and possesses decent enough speed that they can be a threat on the base paths.
The difficult thing is we could all name multiple outfielders who could fill this void if we didn’t have such a jammed packed roster full of talented outfielders already. You may find a lot more short stops or 2nd basemen with these types of skill sets but with Uggla and Simmons on the roster those spots aren’t really available either.
It will be very interesting to see how Wren deals with and addresses the short comings of the ball club which knock on wood so far have been fairly minimal judging by their record and status within the division. However come October these types of weaknesses will be magnified and as the Braves search for more consistent offense I don’t think there’s any where else better to start the search then the top spot in the line up.
By: Bob McVinua
On Sunday afternoon we watched Mike Minor give us a “solid” but not great outing against the Mets. He kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win the game. Now I’m sure most of you didn’t think much of the start by Minor but for me something suddenly hit home. It was like I realized the earth was round. Something so simple that it seems to be escaping everyone.
What has Derek Lowe been giving us all season? Decent outings at best. Very similar to the one that Mike Minor gave us this past weekend. When we look at the numbers they are not overly flattering for the veteran Lowe. Below are the ERA’s posted by Derek Lowe over the course of the past three seasons.
2009: 4.67era/ 2010: 4.00era / 2011: 4.78era
It’s been years since Lowe lasted posted a respectable ERA which I consider one that is under 4.00. Yes he had a great run in September of last year when he went 4-0 with a 1.08era. I’m not saying that wasn’t impressive because it certainly was. He carried us on his back down the stretch last year and was the biggest reason why we were able to clinch the Wild Card spot. I mean maybe Derek Lowe and Jason Heyward should room together on the next road trip so that they can talk about all the success they had last season while the team is trying to WIN NOW.
Mike Minor is 23 years old. Derek Lowe is 38 and at the end of his career. If we are getting very similar results from both pitchers then why not put the younger guy into the rotation? There is a 15 year age difference between the two players. In a year or two Derek Lowe will most likely be retired. Mike Minor is part of the future of this team that’s already very young anyways, why not add a little more youth to it. Minor can still develop and improve, while Lowe is clearly on the way out and is only going to start to deteriorate.
Mike Minor is sitting on a 4.85era this season. That’s not something that he should write home about but is it really that much worse than the 4.78era that Lowe is currently sporting? To me they are one in the same. I see very little edge in putting Lowe out there over Minor. Not to mention if Minor begins to out pitch Lowe. Another edge to having Minor in the rotation is that it gives us a lefty in an all right-handed rotation.
Now I’m not saying that we should release Lowe or do anything crazy like that. Obviously nothing drastic like that can or should happen. Lowe is a big game pitcher and loves to be in the game in crucial situations. Why can’t Lowe move back to the bullpen where he once called home. Let’s take a look at how Derek Lowe did while coming out of the pen. Granted he was younger during his bullpen days but there are lots of veteran pitchers that call the bullpen home. Coming out of the pen is more of a mind set then anything else.
In 1999 Derek Lowe saved 15 games while sporting a 2.63era. In 2000 he had a breakout year as the Boston closer, saving 42 games with an outstanding 2.56era. Even with a slight drop off in 2001 he still managed to save 24 games and produced a solid 3.53era.
Jair Jurrjens will come back from the DL. He will need a spot to fill and it can either be Mike Minor’s spot or Derek Lowe’s spot. The bullpen right now is solid but could stand to be even better. Take a guy like Christhian Martinez out and put Derek Lowe in his place. Or you could replace Anthony Vararo. To me those are the two weakest links in the bullpen right now. Even if Peter Moylan comes back there is still room for both him and Lowe to have spots in the pen.
If this all went according to plan the Braves bullpen would look something like this: Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, George Sherrill, Arodys Vizcaino, Derek Lowe and Peter Moylan.
Who would want to face that bullpen come October? Derek Lowe gives the bullpen two huge advantages late in games. The first is that Lowe gets a ton of ground balls, perfect for getting double plays late in games. Say you have a 1st and 2nd situation with only 1 out in the 8th inning. Your up 1 run and want to protect that lead. Wouldn’t it be nice to bring in Derek Lowe? Just insert him into that situation. Another thing is that he does have a starter’s stamina. He could always give us 3 or 4 innings in long relief if we went into a long extra inning game or if one of our starters got knocked out early in the game. He could save a lot of wear and tear on the other guys in the pen.